Simply the best

Simply the best

Martine Nouet exanines the benefits of learning local malts with local produce, a la Islay

Food | 16 Jul 2002 | Issue 24 | By Martine Nouet

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When wine experts explore accompanying food with wine in France, they most often recommend serving local specialities with local wine , such as Muscadet with oysters or Bresse chicken with a Savagnin from Jura. It’s just good common sense to let the soil speak. Gastronomic adventurers may find it less sexy than trying exotic and sophisticated combinations, but the simpler and more obvious choices often prove to be the best. And that also applies to whisky. What could complement an Islay single malt better than Islay produce, either seafood or meat?

Have a blether with a local chef and your mouth will soon be watering. For those who come to Islay Whisky Festival, the ‘triple Lagavulin’ sea-scallops are not to be missed: ‘Triple’ because they’re hand-picked by divers in Lagavulin Bay, laced with 16-year-old Lagavulin and enjoyed by the shores of Lagavulin Distillery. Could there be any tastier treat?
Douglas Law from The Croft Kitchen Restaurant in Port Charlotte has them on the menu every day, apart from some (rare) warm periods when the plankton blooms due to the rise of sea-water temperature and develops a toxin which affects the scallops, resulting in a temporary ban. “Dan Boness dives for them. I like to use this guy because he is careful not to destroy the sea-beds. I get my lobster, crab and langoustines from a local fisherman in Port Charlotte. I enjoy cooking Loch Gruinart Oysters from Tony Archibald at Craigens Farm. They are just superb.” Douglas specifies 90 % of the ingredients used in the menu are locally produced. The only real problem is vegetables and fruit. “We can’t grow potatoes properly on Islay because winters are too mild. We need a good spell of frost which we rarely have. I have to import my veggies from the mainland.”

So does Scott Chance from the Harbour Inn in Bowmore. He especially enjoys cooking Islay meat. “I find a massive selection of lamb and beef on Islay, not to speak of venison. As long as you have a good supplier, you get a very tender and tasty meat; certainly some of the best I have ever cooked in Scotland. And such a great selection of game: pheasant, woodcock, partridge, venison … all supplied by Islay Estate”. On Islay and Jura, venison is very tasty because the deer graze all year long on rich, abundant grass which makes their meat tender and fat.

Scott is particularly fond of a new product launched a year ago by Mark French, from Rockside Farm, the very farm which is to welcome the future Kilchoman Distillery. Mark, an entrepreneurial farmer, has a herd of 150 Aberdeen Angus cattle which graze on the grass of the rich machir – low-lying beach providing pasturage – by the coast. The beef is marinated for 23 hours in a secret mixture including muscovado sugar, spices and Bruichladdich malt whisky. It is then smoked over oak wood chips at a mainland smokehouse, though Mark will soon have his own smokery at Rockside. The smoked beef is thinly sliced before being wrapped in sealed packs. There is also a non-whisky version. Islay smoked beef is available through mail order all over Great Britain. The product won the innovation award at the Scottish Farmers Union Awards of Excellence in March 2002.

Scott Chance has worked on recipes using Islay smoked beef: “I tried it hot and cold. It has proved to be a very popular ingredient on my menu.” It is marinated in Bruichladdich 10-year-old. Scott uses the same single malt in his recipe (see next page). He likes to cook with all the island malts but confesses a particular fondness for Bowmore 17-year-old: the distillery is just across the street and the complexity and richness of that particular Bowmore comes out well in his dishes. “I also match Bunnahabhain with citrus fruit because it goes so well with soft flavours. Not everything includes whisky on my menu but there are quite a lot of dishes especially thought of to match single malts. I have a peat-smoked salmon which complements Bowmore single malt nicely. I have also combined a few menus with the Classic Malts range.”

Islay restaurants have been using whisky in dishes for a good few years. Rachel Whyte, an enthusiastic and imaginative cook, runs a charming Taste of Scotland guesthouse at Glenmachrie Farm, close to the airport. Most of the products she uses come from their organic farm managed by husband Alistair. They also have a large garden. “We have Highland cattle,” Rachel comments. “They are very slow to mature but they give the nicest meat you will ever get. I often say to my guests that our lamb is ‘marinated on the hoof’. You don’t need to cook it with herbs, you can actually taste the heather in the meat. We have our own smokehouse using whisky oak staves and old birch tree. Coming to whiskies, I always choose an unpeated malt for my fruit salads as you have to be careful with the strong medicinal finish of the south coast malts“. She generally favours peated malts though. Ardbeg and Laphroaig are used in a lot of dishes, Lagavulin in salad dressings, Laphroaig in lamb gravy or in mascarpone topping a nettle soup … Rachel would like people to associate Scotland with food and whisky the same way as France is associated with wine.

Port Charlotte Hotel chef Billy Broderick mainly uses malt whisky with fish, most of the time bought straight from the boat. A dash of Bruichladdich in a butter and lemon sauce enhances the marine flavours. Whisky accompanies most puddings: cranachan, parfait or pies are generously topped with Bruichladdich. Watch out for Port Charlotte in a few years! Clare Baker from Gruinart House supplies herbs, edible flowers and salads in summer.

Golfers at Machrie Hotel can indulge in Islay single malts at the dinner table as well as at the bar. French Chef François Bernier enjoys cooking with malt whisky: “To me, single malt is a major ingredient as well as other Islay products. I am myself very fond of whisky and can appreciate what it brings to a dish. I like to flambé Islay scallops with Laphroaig which gives a very distinctive taste to the sauce”. François is currently cooking up a recipe book dedicated to Islay’s finest fare.

Malt whisky stars with the best of Islay fare on local restaurant menus: yet another reason to visit this green, grassy island.

A recipe by Scott Chance

The Harbour Inn

Serves four

Layers of Islay smoked beef and rosti potato with wild mushrooms and Bruichladdich 10-year-old malt whisky.


  • 8 slices of Rockside Smoked Islay Beef


  • 2 good drams of Bruichladdich

  • (one for the sauce and one for the chef!)

  • 250g mixed wild mushrooms (washed and sliced)

  • 50ml chicken stock

  • 50ml white wine

  • 50ml double cream

  • Chopped chives

  • 25g shallots, chopped

  • 25g butter

  • Seasoning: salt & black pepper

Rosti potato

  • 500g Scottish potatoes peeled and grated

  • 2 shallots, chopped

  • 50g butter

  • Salt and pepper

1. Mix the potatoes, shallots, salt and pepper together and mould into eight equal patties. Squeeze hard to remove any water.
2. Heat the butter until it’s almost golden. Fry the patties on each side until brown. Place in a moderately hot oven for 10 minutes.
3. Cover the beef and put to warm in the bottom of the oven for 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Melt the butter for the sauce. Add the shallots and mushrooms. When soft add the stock and wine reduce by half. Add the cream. Reduce until quite thick and stir in the malt whisky.

To serve, lay one rosti on four plates with a slice of beef on top. Repeat to form a tower. Spoon the sauce around each tower, sprinkle with chives and enjoy!

Fillet of Highland Cattle beef, Glenmachrie style

Recipe by Rachel Whyte, Glenmachrie Farm

Serves four


  • 4 Highland Cattle beef fillet steaks (100-150g each)

  • 50g butter

  • 50g shallots, chopped

  • 100g button mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters

  • 250ml double cream

  • Dram of Laphroaig

  • Freshly ground coarse black pepper and pinch of salt

1. Melt butter in large heavy-based frying pan. Add steaks and cook briefly on either side to seal. Cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes according to taste. Remove steaks from pan and keep hot.
2. Add shallots and cook till tender, add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned. Stir in cream and whisky. Cook over low heat until cream reduces and sauce thickens. Season to taste.
3. Pour sauce over steaks and garnish with freshly picked herbs.

Rachel’s top tip

“I add some Laphroaig or Lagavulin grist (milled malt) to my homemade muesli. It gives it a wonderful smoky flavour.”

Roasted hazelnut and Caol Ila semi freddo

Recipe by François Bernier, Machrie Hotel

Serves eight

This is very clean and crisp with a distinctive finish as the combination of Caol Ila, hazelnut and honey lingers on and on. Great served with a bramble coulis. Due to the alcohol content the semi freddo does not freeze solidly.


  • 300ml double cream

  • 4 tbsp good quality thick honey (Loch Gruinart Honey or Pauline Ferguson’s from Portnahaven)

  • 3 medium egg yolks

  • 2 tbsp crushed roasted hazelnuts

  • 4 tbsp Caol Ila whisky

1. Beat the egg yolks adding the melted honey little by little to obtain a pale and thick mixture. Whip the cream until stiff.
2. Fold in the egg yolks and honey mixture, then the whisky.
3. Add the hazelnut and divide into eight moulds. Cover and freeze for 2 to 3 hours until firm.
4. Remove from moulds onto cold plates and serve with a bramble coulis.
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