It’s the season for casual get togethers, with an emphasis on getting simple food on the table without losing your cool. This week, TRISH DESEINE rethinks summer buffet staples …
It’s family reunion season, and with it comes the headache of combining the generous hospitality that makes us Irish, creative, crowd-pleasing and not triggering the ultimate party pooper – which has long trumped any outbursts of old family resentment – anaphylactic shock.
In ye olden days of my Co Antrim youth, the gaudy abundance of the cold buffet was our Vatel-at-Versailles feast. Whether it was at home or in the North Antrim or Scottish hotels in which we holidayed, platters of hardboiled eggs were slathered in mayonnaise, dried-at-the-edges cold roast beef dotted with curly parsley, sides of poached salmon decorated with cucumber and tomato origami and (in our house anyway) raw beetroot and carrots encased in fruit jelly. There was always too much choice, which was part of the joy, of course. I would always choose the same thing: salmon and potato salad.
It’s hard, these days, to find salmon that tastes the way it did back then, but thankfully we have so many more resources at hand to modernise other obsolete ways and tastes of old, and still enjoy the supreme practicality and festiveness of the Irish cold summer buffet.
Thanks to Bangor, Co Down man Yotam Ottolenghi (he has a holiday home there with his Northern Irish husband Karl) we are now sorted for the next decade or so when it comes to exciting raw and cooked veggie dishes and salads. But how do we change our meat and fish habits in the ethical minefield that food shopping has become?
Let’s start with beef. We need to eat less, and better quality, on that we all agree. But that doesn’t work so well when we want to cater for a crowd. This is where we turn to Italy for help. Have your butcher tune his slicing blade to minimum and serve beef carpaccio. But raw meat will never wash in Toomevara at the youngest’s Communion! I hear you cry.
Lookit, you have to start somewhere, says I, and trust me, anyone with a curious mind and tuned-in palate now used to sushi, for example, can be converted. Your butcher might be a bit irritated the first time, especially if there’s a queue, slicing his prime fillet wafer thin, with a portion size around a third of the norm. But if both Paddy O’Donoghue’s and Twomey’s in Bantry say they will gladly do it, and if you are not living in the more culinarily enlightened hinterlands of Dublin, I’m sure you can cajole your butcher too.
If you want to be even more adventurous, support our dairy farmers, better animal welfare and champion less food waste, then this is the year you really should start eating and serving Irish rosé veal. We’ve all seen the horrific images of how male dairy calves are disposed of in other countries. In Ireland, we have the problem too, we just seem to make a habit of exporting pain.
Jack Madigan, of Kilkenny Rosé Veal, whose product is well established in Ireland’s high end restaurants such as The Lady Helen in Mount Juliet, Kilkenny, speaks passionately of the dairy farmers who call him every year in January, February and March, begging him to take their male calves, even for half the pitiful €50 the export agents are offering to ship them to Holland, Poland and Spain in often appalling conditions. Many of them are also keen to start their own veal production.
If the Irish consumer would let go of the erroneous notion that veal production is horribly cruel – the EU banned veal crates in 2007 – and their general squeamishness around paler beef, then demand would rise for this delicious, lean and versatile meat. We meat-eaters consume tiny lambs with little or no qualms, why can’t we do the same with calves who have been perfectly humanely reared to eight months?
You can buy Kilkenny or Broughgammon Farm rosé veal online and find it at excellent forward-thinking stores like Ardkeen in Waterford and Nolans in Clontarf. All-Irish butchers Twomeys assure me that if you ask, they will happily order it in and would love to have enough demand to stock it permanently. It’s time to start pestering your butcher. Our dairy farmers, so desperately under pressure, will thank you for it.
So for June, I’m giving you three relatively out-there recipes you can try on your summer tables, but perhaps not all at once? Making sure there’s plenty of potato salad and eggs in mayonnaise on the side, just in case.
1 Vitello Tonnato
A great Italian classic. Serve it covered in the sauce, as is the tradition, or on the side for more cautious eaters.
For 8 – 12 (on a buffet, 6 as a main)
45 minutes preparation
3 to 4 hours chilling
800g rolled veal fillet • 1 carrot, peeled, chopped • 1 stick of celery, chopped • 1 onion, peeled, chopped • 2 glasses dry white wine • 1 bay leaf • Salt and pepper • Olive oil
For the sauce
2 super fresh egg yolks • Juice of 2 lemons • 100g good olive oil • 200g good quality tuna (Shines Wild Irish Tuna is perfect here) chopped/flaked finely • 2 salted anchovies, chopped finely • 50g capers • 1 tbsp flat leaf parsley leaves • Salt and pepper
1. Prepare the marinade for the meat several hours in advance. Put the meat in a pan or bowl with all the ingredients for at least 3 hours, turning it from time to time.
2. Remove the meat, (keeping the marinade for it is your cooking liquid) dry it with kitchen paper, and then brown it on all sides in olive oil in a heavy-based pan. Pour in the marinade liquid and season with a little salt and pepper. Cover and poach on a low heat for 1 hour 30 minutes.
3. The meat should now be tender. Remove it from the pan, reserving the liquid, and let it cool, still covered. At this stage, you can put it in the fridge for slicing the next day.
4. Sieve the marinade and reserve the chopped carrot and celery. Keep cool in the fridge also.
5. For the sauce – which is essentially a loose, robustly flavoured mayonnaise – whisk the egg yolks with a little oil and lemon juice to emulsify, then add the rest of the oil little by little, whisking non stop, until you have a good thick consistency.
6. Add the rest of the lemon juice.
7. Mix together the tuna, anchovies, capers and parsley. Add 2-3 tablespoons of cooking liquid and the carrot and celery pieces, then mix into to the mayonnaise.
8. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and more lemon juice if needed.
9. Slice the poached veal thinly and serve with the sauce.
2 Beef carpaccio
It’s good to serve the beef at room temperature to best enjoy its flavour, but this works well straight from the fridge also. You can try the garnish I’ve suggested or any basic basil/rocket, garlic and parmesan pesto. Serve the plates of beef drizzled with olive oil to stop them drying out, and garnished with basil or rocket leaves. Rocket is particularly nice as an accompaniment to carpaccio.
For 8 (on a buffet, 4 as a main)
10 minutes preparation
1 hour resting/chilling
400g prime fillet, sliced wafer thin by your butcher • 4 tbps good olive oil • 3 tbps finely chopped chives • 30g freshly grated, good quality parmesan • 1 tbsp crushed pink peppercorns (if you can find them) • 1 tsp crushed coriander grains • 1 tsp crushed black pepper • Salt • Grated zest and juice of a lemon • 1 scallion, chopped finely
1. Spread the beef over a large platter, or several plates you can stack in the fridge. (Useful for drip-feeding the buffet).
2. Drizzle with the olive oil. Mix together the other ingredients apart from the scallion and lemon juice, scatter over the beef and leave to rest in the fridge for up to an hour.
3. Just before serving, squeeze the lemon over the dishes, add a little more olive oil if needed, season with salt and garnish with the scallions.
3 Slow-roasted Salmon
Shamelessly pinched from Bon Appétit the world’s second best recipe site (after the New York Times) this is a wonderful method for boosting the flavour of our now often sub-par salmon, and it looks very pretty. Avoid farmed salmon as much as you can, particularly from Norway. Organic is expensive but worth it here. As in most things, wild is wonderful, though very hard to come by, and if you do, there’s no need to do anything to it all apart from a little seasoning and some gentle herbs.
For 8-10 (on a buffet, 6 as a main)
10 minutes preparation
40 minutes cooking
2 hours or so chilling
800g whole salmon fillet • 200ml olive oil • 1 fennel bulb, sliced • 1 orange, sliced • 1 tbsp lazy chilli from a jar or a fresh chopped chilli • 3 tbsp dill • Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 135°C. In a shallow baking tin, mix all the ingredients, apart from the salmon and oil, then set the salmon on top of them and pour the oil over.
2. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, less if you like the salmon slightly pearly in the centre.
3. Remove from the dish, loosely break it up with a fork and set it on the serving plate to cool then transfer to the fridge to chill.
4. To serve, check the seasoning and spoon the cooked vegetables and some oil over the fish.
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