Whisky On A Sunday

This was dessert for my Burns Night supper, and I originally intended to post it before then so you could enjoy it too – it made a fine, boozy end to a fine boozy meal. Apologies for that, then; but you shouldn’t need such an excuse to eat this. Winter is made for such small indulgences, and this is definitely a winter icecream, perfect for a warm house and a slightly over-full stomach. I prefer my summer ices a little less alcoholic.

 

A good, rich icecream made from scratch is one of the finest of simple luxuries, and – as with most things – is immeasurably improved by two fingers of whisky. Leave out the extras, though, and you have a very lovely basic recipe that is ripe for experimentation. If you make the custard carefully, you shouldn’t even need an icecream maker – the old whisk-and-freeze will do well, although it does take significantly longer. A word of warning – you might think ‘the more booze the better’, but too much and your mixture will not freeze. A double per pint is about the sensible limit, as in life.

 

WHISKY ICECREAM WITH SALT OAT PRALINE

Makes about 800ml

300ml whole milk

4 large egg yolks

130g caster sugar

300ml double cream

50g jumbo oats

A pinch of Maldon salt

50ml single malt (I used Macallan 10)

 

Gently warm the milk and cream to just below boiling. Meanwhile, beat the yolks with 100g of the sugar until thick and very pale. This is perhaps the most important part of the whole process – use an electric whisk, or you’ll get bored too quickly. When you’re done, the mixture should have doubled or even tripled in volume, and will be the kind of pastel yellow that gets called something like ‘chantrelle’ on colour charts. If in doubt, whisk a bit more. When you’re happy, whisk in the warm dairy.

 

Scrape the mix into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat very gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. (A lot of recipes recommend a bain-marie for custard, but it takes forever. Just be careful). As soon as it thickens, take off the heat and strain into a clean bowl. If you can be bothered, place in a sink of cold water or ice and stir until it cools down. You don’t want scrambled eggs, although a certain amount of curdling can be strained out. Leave to cool, and preferably refrigerate overnight.

 

For the praline, toast the oats in a dry pan until they’ve darkened a shade (you could get that colour chart out again here), then add the remaining 30g of sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir and toss until nicely treacle-toffeeish, then pour onto a sheet of greaseproof. When cold, smash up.

 

Ok. Either churn the custard in an icecream-maker, adding the whisky and praline when it’s frozen, OR pour it into a large tub and freeze, uncovered, for an hour. Take out, whisk the edges into the middle, and freeze again; repeat until nearly done, then stir in booze and oats. Either way, a spell in the freezer overnight will finish it off nicely. Some shortbread and the rest of the Macallan would do very well here.

 

Whisky & Soda

IMG_5569

 

Soda bread is great. Not relying on organic, temperamental yeast, it is incredibly quick and easy to make, and forgiving of mishandling. Leavened with bicarbonate of soda, it can also take much more in the way of flavouring than regular breads – yeast can be killed or severely retarded by salt, sugars and fats, which can all be thrown merrily into soda bread. It perhaps doesn’t last as long as a well-nurtured sourdough, but the day-old loaf makes fantastic toast – and anyway, you can just make another one, as it doesn’t take two days to prove. The whole process should take little more than an hour.

I’m making this to go with my Burns Night supper – more Irish than Scottish perhaps, but I’m working on a whisky butter to go with it (although I might just add a tot to the dough). Anyway, the flavours – sweet and salty, rounded, nutty and wholemeal – go well with anything cured or meaty or rich. Ideal for dunking in soups and stews, especially when topped with a snicket of cheese.

SODA BREAD

Makes one small loaf.

140g strong wholemeal flour

140g strong white flour

20g jumbo oats, plus a few extra for sprinkling

1 and a half tsps salt (or a little less if you’re going to eat it with Marmite)

20g/1tbspn golden syrup

2 tsp baking powder

125ml water

125g yoghurt

20ml milk (or whisky, maybe)

Heat the oven to Gas 6/200C/400F. Yes, preheat it before you’ve started making the dough; that’s how quick soda bread is. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, and leave to rest for five minutes, during which time it will absorb a little more liquid – although this is still a very wet dough.

Form into a rough ball, and flump this onto a floured baking tray. Sprinkle with oats and a little flour, then cut a deep cross in the loaf (like, halfway through deep). Rest for another ten minutes, then bake for 30-35 minutes -like most bread, it’s done when it’s good and brown and sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.

Leave to cool most of the way before you eat, or it’ll be a bit gummy. Slather with butter, whatever else you do with it.

Location, Location

I’m going for a meal next week at The Sportsman, in Seasalter, and have been researching it avidly, scanning old reviews to get some idea of what we can expect from the (rather large, pre-booked) tasting menu. Although a few dishes pop up frequently (oyster and chorizo, some kind of arrangement of lamb and seaweed), it is not individual dishes as such which form the focus of most reviews. It is the Sportsman’s location that really holds the interest – its position as a “grotty rundown pub by the sea”, as their Twitter profile has it – and the astonishing range of ingredients they wring from that location, their fierce commitment to localism.

Localism, in the world of food, comes in two main forms – localism of recipe, and localism of ingredient. Long since used to getting our spices, our fruit and our vegetables, from various colonies and allies, it is the former, I think, which is more prevalent in Britain today. Cornish pasties, Bakewell tarts, Melton Mowbray pies – all are very much a part of our everyday food culture. Localism of ingredient, on the other hand, has become privileged in Britain, a treat for the foodie classes. Although supermarkets are happy to tell you that your asparagus was grown by Dave in Lanarkshire, genuinely local produce is confined to the farmers market, and requires time and money that many are unwilling or unable to spend.

And why not? Local produce is not necessarily better. Ethically, perhaps; although the whole subject of ‘food miles’ has turned out to be more complicated than everyone thought (cf. Jay Rayner’s latest book), it’s still nice to support local businesses, maybe. Maybe not, if they charge twice as much, offer terrible service, and are in any case wealthy hobbyists with no real need to do well.

It’s different, I think, elsewhere, where local produce is still affordable and attainable, and necessary for making the local recipes. This is why the French have a word for terroire and we don’t. The best dishes from what we are pleased to call ‘peasant cuisines’ are the ones which combine a long human tradition with fine native ingredients, a powerful expression of social and natural history, heavy with a sense of place – bouillabaisse, caponata, fabada.

The closest we seem to come to this in Britain, fittingly enough, is with booze. The rolling hills of Kent, the fuzzy warmth of the West Country, find their perfect expression in the local ales and ciders (when Keats asked for a “beaker full of the warm south”, he was not talking about Biddingdon’s, though he might as well have been), while the multitudinous whiskies of Scotland, peat and smoke and ozone and brine, might be the landscape bottled.

Stephen Harris, along with Simon Rogan and perhaps a few others, seem to be trying for something similar in their cuisine. Although untethered from local culinary tradition (Harris applies techniques from French to Japanese to his ingredients), their food, foraged, farmed, boiled from the sea, is an attempt to offer up an expression or an excretion of the landscape itself, where localism is not an ethical or economic but an aesthetic choice, one seen through to its logical conclusion. I’ll let you know how lunch goes.