I like to have a plan, have all my ingredients lined up and get things done in pretty military fashion. At lest, that’s the aspiration. Sadly, often, the reality involves opening the press during the cooking, shouting some profanity at the empty space and then driving in a panic to the supermarket to get some essential spice or aromatic. This time, it needed to be different. I have been to cookery school (Yes, I have!). I have learned from the experts. I simply have to be able to prepare a Lamb and Aubergine Curry without the use of the car.
Here in Ireland, we really struggle with ‘original Irish recipes’. Any discussion on traditional cuisine usually ends up in a culinary cul-de-sac with everybody agreeing that bacon and cabbage is the high point while boxti and coddle bring up the rear. A ‘pint of plain’ being the tipple of choice to accompany most everything. It’s not very inspiring. The principal reason for the lack of traditional culinary diversity is tied to our history. We were, for a long time, a peasant nation, doffing our caps to our masters while eating potatoes to survive. We barely subsisted on small holdings while absentee landlords from across the pond extracted what wealth the country had.
St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. It’s a little known fact outside Ireland that we short-of-stature and long-on-wit exchange gifts in advance of World Day of Drunkenness. I was lucky enough to be brought within the scope of benevolence of Pat Whelan, master butcher, advisor and innovator in all things meat related. This led to my cooking the internationally famous, traditional Irish staple of Bacon and Cabbage. But, I couldn’t leave it there. I had to put a modern twist on it. Hence, Bacon and Cabbage Two Ways. Sticking strictly with tradition, I served it with parsley sauce and floury potatoes. Also, with a ring of irony to it, I served it with a big dollop of English mustard.
I believe it’s important to face up to one’s shortcomings. If you can get into the way of doing this, it is very good for the soul. It also allows you negate the scornful snickering and finger-pointing of those with less emotional intelligence than you. I am lucky enough to live in a bliss-filled house where the Wife never alludes to my failings and daughters have only praise for my efforts in the kitchen. My beloved mother does as she has done for over 50 years. She doles out gentle encouragement for my culinary adventures. That’s all true up to a point. We passed that particular marker when I tried to cook Whiskey Marmalade Steamed Pudding.
Doesn’t the headline make you feel just a little bit uncomfortable? “He’s going to do something ironic and make us feel awful about eating pork.” “He’s going to pull at our heartstrings and make us think of the three little piggies and their curly tails.” “He’s possibly turned into a vegetarian!” Wrong on all counts. I just want to make the case for eating free-range, rather than cement cubicle raised, pork. That’s not unreasonable, is it?
I’m managing to totally befuddle myself. Up to a few weeks ago, I was pretty clear on the principles of Fusion Cooking. As I understood it, all one had to do was add some chilli, garlic, coriander leaf and a slice of lime to any tried and trusted European dish. Hey Presto! – Fusion Cooking. A regular beef stew could be transformed by the adding of a couple of bashed lemongrass stalks and a ghost chilli. Fusion was easy to understand, if less easy to comprehend. So, when I decided to cook some Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin Chinese Style, it was more confusion than fusion.
Just in time for the Chinese New Year, I could have titled this “Extremely Easy Oriental Part 1”, had I thought about it a bit more. At the risk of paraphrasing Jamie Oliver, this is a 30 minute meal. In this instance, the 30 minutes includes eating time. The star of the dish is the tamarind. On a recent trip back to Ireland, my brother who lives in Dar es Salaam, brought me a supply. Not that Dar is in the Orient. But, it’s easier to find there than here.
One of the great pleasures of the week is ‘Family Dinner’. We have this every Sunday evening. All are welcome and there is shame felt by any family member who “can’t make it”, no matter what the excuse. For over 20 years, my Mum has joined us for this weekly occasion. Her place is, rightly, at the head of the table and she has dispenses great wit, wisdom and example to the younger generations.
Let’s agree on something. This Sous Vide thing is pretty upscale. It delivers accurately, perfectly and deliciously cooked food every time. The soft texture of a piece of fresh fish cooked at 50º C for 30 minutes is sublime. The meaty taste and consistent ‘doneness’ of a nice steak given 53º C for between 1 and 2 hours will not be experienced by everyone. I have now, unwittingly become part of a distinguished, elite echelon of international gourmets.
Side note on echelons and gourmets: For those of you not in the know, echelons are always elite and gourmets always international. That’s just how it is.
I love a bit of authenticity. Particularly so when it comes to my kitchen equipment. So when it came to getting my hands on a paella pan, I did my research. They are a shocking price here in Dublin. So, reluctantly, as you can guess, I got on a plane and flew to Spain. Now, there really is no point in seeking out the ‘real deal’ on the Costa del Sol. One is more likely to be served roast beef with Yorkshire pudding than any traditional Spanish dish down that neck of the woods. No, I took myself to the beautiful village of Cadaqués, on the north-east coast. The village was home to that creative genius and surrealist, Salvador Dali. What better place to buy one’s cookware?