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A six pack and a potato. (BLACK PUDDING & HAZELNUT SALAD)

May 28, 2009

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What is an Irish seven-course meal? ….. a six pack and a potato. That joke dates back to Truly Tasteless Jokes Part 3, which my classmate stuck a Moby Dick bookcover on and frequently passed to me during class. He is an international lawyer now and I cook for a lovely group of Irish people who have helped me to dispel Irish food stereotypes. Working in their kitchen has been a real learning experience as I’ve been introduced to many incredible artisanal products from ‘back home’ such as smoked eel, trout and salmon, a barn-full of cheeses, black and white puddings and hams of many kinds, not to mention whiskey and beer and fantastic homemade brown bread. Sausages, butter and honey, fruit preserves, tea and biscuits, all fit under the belt of Irish cuisine and I am the lucky chef who gets to play in this high-quality pantry where products are obviously made with pride. I am given great freedom to interpret them in a new way, in a new setting.

The idea is to showcase these items in an assortment of interesting dishes that fit each event. Sometimes I am inclined to call on another country’s culinary traditions to help set the stage for some of this good stuff. For example, a few delicate pieces of smoked Irish eel go perfectly with a smooth puree of potato and garlic skordalia, borrowed from Greek cooking. Beautiful Cashel Blue Cheese and Irish blackberry preserves stuffed into a French gougere makes a sweet, salty, puffy hors d’oeuvre that begs the other hand to hold a glass of wine. Sous chef J9 and I have been at the stove for a few years inventing a whole string of canapes for these countless cocktail parties… but there are also many multi-course meals celebrated, with the silver brightly polished and the Waterford clinking merrily.

Most recently my J9 wasn’t there to help out at a ten person affair. So this post, in addition to telling a nice story about Irish specialty products and the kindly people who eat them, is for J9 who didn’t get to witness this particular three-course dinner. Alone in the kitchen, the evening’s menu was straightforward and seasonal. For starters there was a black pudding salad; crispy-topped, pan-seared blood sausage over whiskey-glazed apples, mixed baby greens and a hazelnut vinaigrette. The idea of blood sausage scares lots of folks but fear not get with it! Some form of blood sausage appears in almost every national cuisine. It is even tasty! I was skeptical at first too. See the recipe below for more details and get ten gold stars for trying it out. Second course was a take on well-loved Irish stew. Traditionally these stews are thick and dark, sticky with stout and laden with root vegetables. Since a meaty, heavy stew did not seem appropriate with spring hovering around, we went with a lighter version featuring healthy chunks of halibut and a sprinkle of spring vegetables. The broth was made velvety by pureeing some simmered veggies with wine, stock and aromatics and oven-roasted halibut, potatoes and fennel were set to float on top. A few green peas were added for color and pop and a knob of herbed butter was dotted on the fish for extra richness and flavor.

In case there was any room left at all, dessert featured a mixed berry trifle. Cubes of honey infused cake were layered with freshly whipped cream and all kinds of berries with their subsequent juice. Dairy plays a big part in Irish cooking, I guess for all of those big hungry cows, sheep, goats, etc. eating all of that lush green grass. The meal nodded reverently to Irish food but remained rooted in what this locale has to offer right now. Everyone wins, no joke.

BLACK PUDDING SALAD WITH HAZELNUTS
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 apple, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon oil
4 slices black pudding (about 3 ounces each)
4 cups mixed salad greens
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Hazelnut vinaigrette: (there will be extra)
1/2 cup hazelnut oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons shallot, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • For the dressing, simply drop the ingredients into a lidded jar or container and shake vigorously to combine.
  • For the salad, gently saute the apple slices in butter in a medium skillet until lightly browned.
  • Sprinkle whiskey and sugar over apples and cook until evaporated. Set aside on a plate and wipe out skillet.
  • Add oil to the skillet and when hot, place black pudding pieces in the skillet.
  • Cook until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes and flip. Fry on the other side until heated through, another 3-5 minutes. Drain on a paper towel before adding to salad.
  • Assemble salad: Dress greens with vinaigrette and divide among 4 plates. Top with apple slices and pudding. Sprinkle with hazelnuts.

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