Trish Deseine On The Spice Of Life

Spring-cleaning her stock cupboards, TRISH DESEINE swaps exotic produce for HOMEGROWN VINEGARS AND OILS to pep up suppers …

Spring might be a little while away yet, but now is a good time, while there’s still some New Year resolve left, to give your pantry a good clear-out and rethink how you might use some of the weird and wonderful items lurking in there unused.

As our nation continues on its quest for food discovery and experimentation, many of us will have received something intriguing, beautifully presented and edible as a gift. Food markets and local stores are full of tempting chutneys, pickles, vinegars, oils and condiments. Every year, dozens of cottage industries emerge selling their blackberry jams, wild garlic pestos and elderflower cordials. But sadly, sometimes the packaging is the best thing about the amazing potion found at the bottom of a stocking or presented by party guests, and after one trial sip or dip, the rest stays, albeit prettily, on your shelf until well after its use-by date.

Adding their earthy tones to the colourful gathering are spices. Now two of my closest SuperValu stores (in Cork) have embedded vast, dedicated spice counters in the aisles and branded them “Le Souk”. There must be 50 different single or blended spices on offer, presented in high, fragrant, enticing mounds and hessian sacks. They look, and smell, divine. But Clonakilty is a long way from Jemaa el-Fnaa. Are we really buying and more importantly, cooking with, that much spice? Or is this simply another cynical marketing ploy, like the BMI scales sitting ominously in the next aisle, the one where the Gluten Free and other “Benefit Foods” live? I’m not convinced SuperValu Clonakilty is as caring of my tastebuds as of their profit margins, particularly as when I tried to buy some smoked paprika, I was told the smallest amount I could have was 100g, but that it was OK as it would “keep up to two years” in its flimsy plastic tub. Humm.

It’s hard to be brutal, and feel so wasteful, when it comes to throwing away old spices, vinegars and condiments, but there’s not much to be done about it, sadly. It’s always better, taste-wise, to buy spices in small amounts and in grain or seed form, then toast and grind them yourself, instead of letting the flavour eke away from an ageing powder. Try to use up the ends of jams and chutneys in the cooking juices as you roast or fry juicy meats and vegetables. Don’t worry about finishing the last drops of precious olive or flavoured oil in a weeknight vinaigrette, or a pesto made with fresh herbs and nuts, especially if it’s making way for something even more carefully selected by you or a loved one. As for that fancy vinegar, use it in the spuds! For the most delicious salt and vinegar potatoes, either pour the vinegar into the water you use to boil them, or toss them in it last minute when roasting them in oil.

Then make way for some new additions. Try one of Co Mayo’s Wildwood vinegars; they use foraged plants and berries such as wild heather, rose petal and mountain thyme in their recipes. And the bottles are gorgeous! I am also very fond of The Wild Irish’s fabulous selection of vinegars and syrups, with flavours straight from childhood memories of honeysuckle, meadowsweet and rosehip. Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms make a fantastic range of pantry staples in sensible sizes, from their excellent cep oil and mushroom vinegar, to dried selections of whole and powdered mushrooms perfect for pasta, risottos and stews. Voilà, your shelves are restocked and full of amazing Irish produce. They are not just pretty to look at. Open them quickly! Enjoy with simply-cooked dishes or raw vegetables, when their flavour is at its freshest and best.

Steamed organic salmon, lime and posh olive oil just like in HÔtel Costes

The height of good taste is to serve the best produce simply, and with our fantastic fish and seafood, we can easily achieve Hôtel Costes levels of both. Even if the Costes star is fading in Paris, with the new super-luxe palaces and Boho chic family-feel hotels, their pared-back, protein-rich food is still responsible for keeping hordes of models runway ready during fashion week.

For 4; 10 minutes preparation, 7 minutes cooking

4 organic salmon fillets

4 tablespoons of the best olive oil you can find/afford


3 limes

Fleur de sel, pepper.

Set the fillets in pieces of cling film, season with a squeeze of lime, some olive oil and a little salt. Close the parcels tightly then steam for 5 to 7 minutes. The flesh inside should still be pearly.

Serve with sliced limes, chive stalks and fleur de sel on the side.


Quails eggs with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil

Here’s a quick and interesting way of going a little off piste from our usual stir fries. You could use small hens eggs instead.

For 16 quails eggs; 30 minutes preparation

16 quails eggs

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Cover the eggs with cold water and bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat and leave them in the warm water for 5 minutes.

Remove the shells and rinse the eggs with cold water.

Put them back in a small saucepan with 150ml water, soy sauce and the sugar. Bring to the boil and let them simmer very gently until the liquid has evaporated and the eggs are coloured.

Roll them in the sesame oil before serving at room temperature.

Salt and vinegar potatoes

Add vinegar to the water as the potatoes simmer. Then crisp them up tossed in a little oil and seasoned with salt.

Serves 4-6

250ml vinegar

1kg small, firm potatoes, cut in half longways

Salt, olive oil

Method 1

(Preparation time: 45 minutes )

Put the vinegar in the pot with the potatoes and add enough water to cover them.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until they are tender. Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper if you want to make them extra crispy after roasting.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C, line a baking tray with some parchment or a silicone mat. Toss the potatoes in olive oil and salt and roast them for around 15 minutes, stirring them a couple of times, until they are crisped and golden.

Method 2

(Preparation time: 50 minutes)

The second method is simply to sprinkle vinegar over them once they are baked and crisp. This method is also better suited to our bigger, fluffier Irish potatoes.

Boil or steam them until just tender with their skins on, then cut them in half, in wedges, or smash them flat on to an oiled baking sheet.

Drizzle with oil and roast for 20 minutes.

Finish off the roasting by adding little dots of butter to each potato, or brushing them with melted butter.

Take them out of the oven when they are crisp and golden, sprinkle with vinegar and salt and serve.

(Delicious served with the steamed salmon recipe).


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