HomeArticles Posted by Conor Bofin

Author: Conor Bofin

There is a lot written about food evoking childhood and other happy memories. I smile quietly to myself at the mention of a sugar sandwich or jelly and ice cream. Less pleasant feelings surface when confronted with over-cooked Brussels sprouts or boiled mutton and white sauce. Often we associate places with particular foods too. I can’t go into central Dublin without being hit with a particular memory from my teenage years. It was a dire, cold wet night. We had been into town to see a movie. I had just enough cash left to afford a bag of chips. The rest of the lads jumped a bus. I chose to trip around to Middle Abbey Street for bag fo chips. I scoffed it waiting, on Burg Quay, for the last bus. I was cold. I was wet and the crunchy chips were over-salted. I didn’t care. They were delicious. At the bottom of the bag, the fluffy potato was soaked in acrid vinegar that made me cough. I was in heaven on a cold, wet, Dublin night. Every time I cross O’Connell Bridge, that memory comes back to me.

In an ideal world, all women would be a 10 so dress manufacturers would only need to make one size. Shopping would be a lot simpler too. Men would be happy with mid grey polyester-cotton trousers in 32” waist/ 34” leg. Retailing would be so much easier. In the same idiom, butchers could only sell mince meat and chicken breasts. Things would be so easy. But, for women, men and butchers, life is not that simple. Butchers need to offer a bit more than the top margin products that virtually sell themselves. Some try to do it by buying in a range of day-glow sauces and “adding value” by disguising the meat in these industrially produced “authentic” flavours. This may keep the wolf of competition from the door in the short term. Business logic tells me that the advantage will be eroded by supermarkets and this variety of independent butcher, like the guy trying to fit into size 32, will be under pressure again.

I love this stuff. Imagine if I had moved an apostrophe in “Idiots’” above. Then I would be saying, in a self-deprecating way, that I am an imbecile and that this is my guide to Oriental Lamb Shanks with Sauce. But, I’m not saying that. I am saying that this is a recipe which any fool, klutz or cretin has the wherewithal to prepare. If you don’t believe me or if you are still doubting your own prowess in the kitchen department, read on my friend, read on…

I admit it. I’m a hoarder. Not one of those guys who lives in a clapperboard house, having to crawl through tunnels of old newspapers to get to the loo. But, not far off it. It’s the plates and bowls that have got me into trouble. I can’t help buying more and more plates that will “Look good in a shot”. They need to have a bit of style about them and they also need to be a bargain (I may be obsessed, but, I’m not stupid.). I did a quick count in my ‘blog room’. I have ninety six, yes 96 different plates and bowls. That’s an obsession, before we look at the glasses, knives and forks, chopping boards, decorative saucepans and table cloths, backdrops and so forth. With all this in mind, you would think that I would be able to find a suitable bowl for my take on Thai Style Basil Chicken. As you can see from the photo, I obviously can’t.

Tomato and feta skillet bake (7 of 9)

There are questions in life that one simply doesn’t ask. Don’t ask a woman her dress size, her age or how many glasses of Pinot Grigio she drank this morning. Whatever you do, don’t ask when the baby is due. Don’t ask a man when he was last in the gym, how much he earns or how many pints he knocks back in a week. For that, don’t ask him when the baby is due either. Any of you from the creative industry will know to not ask for the original video footage or the InDesign files. Don’t ask a cyclist how much he or she spent on the bike (See footnote). All of you should know to never ask a chef for his recipe. It’s just not done. So, when one of Ireland’s top flight Chef Patrons offers you a recipe, take it and try it. But, don’t ask for another. It’s simply not done.

There are things that I love about food descriptions and things that I hate. In Oriental cookery, many of the descriptions are truly evocative and allude to history and culture in equal measure. Great examples include “General Tso’s Chicken”. This evokes thoughts of the great Zuo Zongtang, a Qing dynasty statesman and military leader. That’s as far as it goes as there is no known connection to him or the dish in his home province of Hunan. This dish is punching above it’s cultural weight as it really is just a sweet, sticky American chicken with rice. Then we have “Man and Wife Beef”, “Squirrel Fish” and the classic “100 Year Old Egg”. Great names all. But, sometimes possibly going wide of the trade descriptions act.

In my earlier days, I worked in the advertising business. Back then, it wasn’t frequent but not unusual to be involved in TV shoots that would last for days on end. The anticipation of working “on a shoot” added to the street cred that it gave one in the pub. Even I succumbed on occasion to saying things like “It may look like a lot of fun, but, it’s hard work.” “The ‘talent’ can be difficult to manage.” or “He’s one of the most gifted producers in world film today. We’re really lucky to have secured him for this paint commercial.”  In fact, working on a big budget TV commercial back in the days of 35mm film was a royal pain in the arse. Unplugging a light could stop a commercial for hours as union labour rights were reestablished. Not having a ‘chippie’ (carpenter) on set could send the project south altogether. Everything seemed to take an age. For the hapless client service executive (me) it meant hours of sitting around doing nothing but being on high alert in case the client wanted anything. God forbid that the customer requested a change at the last minute. That would surely send the day’s shoot into overtime and lead to a vast bill with everybody involved (except me and the client) getting paid a big bonus. The best thing about those days was hearing the director call “It’s a wrap.”

The sauce is a triumph. A bargain hunter’s dream come true.

I love a bargain. My big problem is what psychiatrists might call “Value driven impulse purchasing”. “Half-price menswear” – keep me out of the shop or I will buy up every pair of lavender coloured trousers and those gingham shirts that most sensible men on the planet have ignored. The “bargains” I buy usually spend a period of time in the wardrobe before being transferred to the charity-shop bag and out of my life. This behaviour is all the worse because I know that I do it. Yet seemingly, I can’t help myself. So, when I saw some lovely looking plums in the supermarket at 49c for a half kilo, you can guess what happened.

Butchers are like the rest of us. There are the good ones and there are the not so good. There are some worth marrying and some that deserve a life of loneliness. When it comes to the ‘lesser joints’, some butchers play a little on the ignorance of the buying public and sell them stuff that should really be going into the off cuts. Thankfully, there are many great independent butchers selling top quality meat. I believe that most of them are at least “in a relationship”. Butchers who are keen to educate their customers and are delighted to see people like me using the lesser cuts in different and interesting ways. So, when I encourage you to try this straightforward Beef Short Rib Stew, be sure you get the right ribs from the right butcher. It could lead to a beautiful romance and a long term relationship.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes an oxymoron as: “A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.”

Yet, here I am with as oxymoronic a dish as one could think possible. And to add to the culinary confusion, I froze it too. I suppose, to avoid accusations of culinary cultural appropriation, I should call this Oxymoronic Tandoori Style Chicken Sous Vide, Kindah. but, that’s to long for a headline and also “kinda” looks kinda Indian when it’s written down adjacent to Tandoori. But, I digress.

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