We are deep into Autumn. The smoke of the first fire hangs in the air, the days are shortening and the chill has set in. These hallmarks of cooling weather are cues to unpack the knitted socks and scarves, get the chimney swept and dust off the crockpot in anticipation of braises and stews. In my pub kitchen they are also a reminder to order the nuts.
We fill our proverbial cheeks with as many as we can get our paws on: cobnuts, hazelnuts and the elusive filberts. They start to arrive in mid-September, purloined from the clutches of our squirrel friends. The counter heaves with clusters of frilly fronded cobnuts and glossy shelled hazelnuts as we set to work liberating the sweet kernels from the husk.
These treats are the perfect partner with whiskey, whether eaten straight from the shell, toasted and sprinkled with sea salt, or incorporated into an Autumn feast. Many whiskeys have nutty undertones, providing an opportunity to amplify the flavour. Working on a contrast with a sweet or fruity whiskey results in a pairing reminiscent of a Fruit and Nut bar. Throw a bit of sherry depth or pot still spice into the mix and the result is a taste revelation.
Sustainable sourcing, as ever is important. We source from sustainable farms in Italy, but if you are lucky enough to come across an abundance, Forager Sharon Green warns against overharvesting. ‘Pick only in small amounts. Do not over harvest as it will strip the wild areas too much and deprive wildlife.’
Barley Braise with Cobnuts, Porter & WhiskeyINGREDIENTS
- 175g barley, soaked for one hour and drained
- 450ml chicken stock
- 280ml porter or stout
- One measure of whiskey, I used Jameson Cask Mates, a whiskey matured in casks that once held craft brewed stout, this echoes the beer in the recipe
- One onion, finely diced
- Two stalks celery, finely diced
- Two cloves garlic, minced
- One bay leaf
- Two large carrots, cut into small cubes called a bruinoise
- A handful of chard leaves
- Four chicken supremes, skin on or if you have access to game birds, grouse or wigeon would also be lovely
- Two shallots, sliced in half, skin on
- Two tablespoons brown sugar
- 300g chanterelles
- A scoopful of blackberries
- 200g shelled cobnuts (walnuts would also work)
- Sea salt
- Olive oil
Spread the cobnuts on a baking tray and sprinkle with sea salt.2.
Sautee the onion and celery for ten minutes over medium heat in a pot.3.
Add the garlic and cook for another minute, being careful not to let it burn.4.
Add the barley, stout and stock to the pan with the bay leaf and allow to simmer over medium heat for 40 minutes, being careful to prevent it from sticking. 5.
Ten minutes before the barley is finished, add the carrots and whiskey to the pot and continue cooking. 6.
Preheat oven to 180ºC. Heat a little oil in a frying pan. Press the shallots into the brown sugar spread on a saucer, cut side down and then cook in the frying pan to allow the edges to caramelise. Leave aside and wipe out the frying pan, adding some more oil. Season the chicken then add to the pan skin-side down and fry until the skin is golden-brown. Turn over and transfer to the oven to finish cooking, adding the tray of cobnuts to the top shelf of the oven at the same time, for ten minutes total.7.
Split apart the ‘petals’ of the shallots and place in the oven on a tray to warm through. In the frying pan, add the butter and fry the chantarelles over medium heat, seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Add the blackberries and allow them to wilt and release some juice. To serve, arrange barley on four plates, topped with the chicken breasts and mushrooms on the side. Garnish with the shallot petals and cobnuts. Autumn on a plate!
Hazelnut & Whisky ButterINGREDIENTS
- 150g hazelnuts
- 340g chocolate (dark is good, but milk is best)
- 30ml flavourless vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoon icing sugar
- 2 tablespoon cocoa powder (omit if using dark chocolate)
- 25ml whisky of choice
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cool chocolate until it feels neither warm or cool to the touch. 2.
Toast the nuts as described previously, checking after five minutes, but ultimately letting them toast for 10mins. Remove from oven and before they are cool, rub the skins off with a tea towel. Let them cool slightly, but not completely. 3.
In the food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they form a paste (alternatively you could do this step in a mortar and pestle). Add the remainder of the ingredients except the chocolate and continue processing until the mixture is smooth. Add the melted chocolate, process to combine, then pass the whole mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove any nutty chunks that remain. The spread will thicken as it cools. Use within a week.
My whiskey of choice for this recipe is the Kilbeggan 8 Years Old. Its caramel sweetness is a perfect foil for the chocolate and nut. Some other great options are The Dalmore 12, for a darker and more sophisticated butter with some leathery spice depth, or Bowmore 12 for a smokey depth with a tropical tang.
Whole baked camembert with honeyed cobnuts
- A whole round camembert, unpasturised if possible, in a box, about 250g
- Olive oil to drizzle
- 500g hazelnuts or cobnuts
- 340g honey, as local as possible
If the nuts are unshelled, crack the husks and remove the kernels. Lay the nuts on a baking tray and bake for five minutes at 180ºC. Allow to cool.
Pack the nuts into a clean jar, alternating spoonfuls of toasted nuts and honey. Make sure the nuts are completely submerged in the honey. METHOD1.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Remove any plastic from the cheese and return to the box.2.
Score through the top of the cheese rind, about 1cm deep in a cross shape. 3.
Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for 18-20 minutes until oozing. 4.
Serve the melty cheese topped with the honeyed almonds, and toasted sourdough.
This would be a great shared starter with drams of Aberlour 12 alongside for your guests. The buttery body of the whisky stands up to the cheese, and won’t get lost or overwhelmed by the greasiness of the cheese. A balance is struck! The sweetness of the whisky echoes the sweetness in the honeyed nuts while the overall balance of the whiskey, especially the slight bitter char bring a harmony to the pairing. Ben Nevis 10 would also work well, as would Power’s John’s Lane.
Whole Baked Camembert with Honeyed Cobnuts
Hazelnut & Whisky Butter