A spicier side of Ireland

Celebrity chef Paul Rankin has always used whiskey in his recipes. Dominic Roskrow took a cooking lesson with him and visited his restaurant, Cayenne
By Dominic Roskrow
Beware lobsters with attitude. I have one in front of me. It’s moving. Celebrity chef Paul Rankin has congratulated me for the firm way I have picked it up, though he does note that I have gone for the smallest one.

And, as it happens, the feistiest. It’s waving its claws around aggressively at the moment and is keen to walk off the plate.
I’m grateful that the claws have elastic bands on them, though I can’t help wondering how they put a band on the first claw without the second claw taking their hand off.

Paul is now raising an eyebrow and looking concerned as I struggle to get my lobster to stay still. I know any further attempt at prevarication won’t work. So I pick up my knife, look the lobster between the eyes, and prepare to kill my lunch…

Cooking with Irish whiskey, and particularly Bushmills, comes naturally to Paul Rankin. He grew up in Ballywalter in Northern Ireland’s County Down and his love of the country’s respected single malt grew through adulthood.

So when he started cooking professionally in the early 1980s, it made total sense for him to include his local tipple in his recipes.

“I think it is one of the greatest tasting whiskeys around,” he says. “I have always replaced cognac in recipes with whiskey but think Bushmills is equally great as an aperitif or even as a food accompaniment.

“You wouldn’t necessarily have it with every course but it is a very flexible whiskey to work with and I have continued to develop recipes using it. It’s another way to bringing Irish ingredients to recipes.”

So great is Paul’s respect for Bushmills that when he opened his Michelin-starred flagship restaurant Cayenne he had a special light sculpture designed as the restaurant’s centre-piece.

It contains 1500 Blackbush and Bushmills Original 10 year old miniatures stacked up so that the black bottles form the words ‘Us’ and ‘I’ against the illuminated backdrop of the white ones.

The restaurant, sited just to the south of Belfast’s city centre close to an area of Asian and Chinese restaurants, is remarkably modest outside and quite stunning in.

The bar and lounge room feel make sure that the diner feels relaxed in what is a fairly informal atmosphere. But the service and standard of food leaves you in no doubt that you’re in an establishment of the highest calibre.

Despite a limited number of choices there is a surprising diversity on the menu, which combines traditional Irish produce with strong Asian influences.

Today our choice includes monkfish prepared in a Bushmill’s sauce.

“The idea is to show that Irish food can be of the highest quality,” Paul remarks. “I travelled extensively before becoming a chef and picked up a lot of the ideas from there. I just love working with spices and trying to give the best of Irish food a contemporary twist.

The Bushmills can be part of that. If you drizzle Bushmills over lobster for instance, it takes it somewhere entirely new. It is quite delicious, setting off the lobster perfectly And it works well in sauces.”

Ah, the lobster. The day before I visit Cayenne a number of journalists have been invited to Anton Mossiman’s Academy in London to take part in a ‘men in the kitchen’ cooking event with Paul.

The idea is to prepare ‘manly’ food – all containing Bushmills as an ingredient.

I note that a good proportion of my fellow hacks are in fact women and that when it comes to stabbing a lobster to death they do seem to do so with unfussy, even cold-hearted, efficiency. Perhaps theirs didn’t fight like mine. It takes me most of the session – and a hefty glass of Bushmills – to get over it.

The three recipes we prepare are lobster cooked with chili garlic butter in the oven and then drizzled with Bushmills; peppered steak with a Bushmills cream sauce; and a stunning egg-less dark chocolate mousse with a hefty slug of Bushmills for good measure.

While the food we prepare is excellent, the highlight comes when Paul demonstrates just how easy and effective cooking with whiskey can be.

He takes some shell on prawns, puts them in a frying pan, adds some seasoning, some spinach and some peppers and fries. Then he adds Bushmills, flambés the prawns in it, mixes it all up and serves. The effects are quite stunning.

“The thing to remember is that cooking and eating should always be about enjoying yourself,” Paul says later. “It doesn’t necessarily mean being stuck in the kitchen preparing food. And when you are in the kitchen you should be enjoying that too. You shouldn’t be rushing backwards and forwards from the kitchen exhausting yourself and your guests. Entertaining should be more effortless than that.”

At Cayenne, with a group of French journalists, the theory is put in to practice. We’re under immense time pressure and turn up very late. We have another event to go to. It bothers the restaurant’s staff not one jot and within minutes we have adjusted to our casual, embracing surrounds. Cayenne is an embodiment of the theory Paul had put forward the day before: “Getting this sort of thing right is all about going with the flow, not being too rigid about things, and when necessary, being spontaneous.

“Planning ahead and being organised help with that but some of the best evenings are ones that take a life of their own.

“Ireland has a reputation for this, for enjoying itself in a relaxed manner, and for providing great memories. I think whiskey really helps with that. It’s a fun thing to use in cooking.”

And to have on hand while you’re in the kitchen. Especially if you’re killing lobsters.

The recipes

Roast lobster with Bushmills malt and a chili garlic butter


  • 0.5 - 0.75kg lobster

  • 150ml dry white wine

  • 2 heaped tbsp finely chopped shallots

  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced

  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

  • 1-2 tsp crushed dried chilis (or 1 tbsp finely minced fresh chili)

  • 1 tbsp sweet chili sauce

  • 1 tbsp lime juice

  • pinch of salt

  • 120g softened butter

  • 3 tbsp Bushmills 10 year old single malt whiskey

Preheat the oven to high (200ºC)

1. First make the butter. Boil the wine with the shallots in a small pan over medium high heat until reduced by half. Add the other ingredients except the butter.
2. Blend this mixture in to the butter off the heat and taste for seasoning (note that this will make enough butter for eight people). Set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. Put the lobster in for four to six minutes then stop the cooking process by plunging the lobster in to cold water.
4. When they are cool enough to handle pull the claws from the body, crack claws and remove meat. With a large chef’s knifecut the lobster in half remove the tail meat and cut in to 1cm dice.
5. Wipe the body shells clean of any residue and place on a greased oven tray, Place the lobster meat back in the two halves of the shell and top generously with chilli garlic butter.
6. Place the baking tray in the bottom half of a hot oven for approx five minutes until the lobster meat is cooked through and piping hot and the butter is sizzling. Remove from the oven.
7. Place a lobster half on to each serving plate and drizzle with a good tablespoon of Bushmills.

Serve immediately

Bushmills malt chocolate mousse with a marmalade sauce


  • 400g whipping cream

  • 250g Couverture of the best quality plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids is ideal) broken in to bits

  • 50-75ml Bushmills 10 year old single malt

  • Irish whiskey

  • 350g chunky marmalade

  • 200ml water

1. To make the sauce, place the marmalade and water in a small saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Stir and remove from the heat.
2. Bring 150ml of the whipping cream to the boil and then remove from the heat. Add the chocolate to the cream and stir together until all the chocolate has melted and both are thoroughly mixed. Then add the Bushmills whiskey and whisk together.
3. Whisk the rest of the cream to a soft peak then fold in to the chocolate and cream mixture bit by bit until thoroughly mixed. Spoon into moulds and place in the fridge for an hour to set.

Serve with a dollop of cream, a mint sprig and the marmalade at the side.