What better place could a food and spirits writer dream of hosting a malt whisky dinner than a distillery? The idea was mooted in Paris by Ann Miller, Aberlour Brand Ambassador, at a gourmet food exhibition: why not propose the Aberlour Distillery Whisky Dinner as a food and whisky event at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in May? I grabbed my spatula, pans, nosing glass and apron without a second thought!
The dinner was challenging in more ways than one. I had set up numerous menus with just one single malt, menus with a different single malt with each dish but I had never thought about a menu with different expressions of one particular single malt. The immediate difficulty here is being able to emphasise the particular character of each version so as to choose the perfect combination of ingredients and have "a whole circus of aromas" (my favourite phrase!).
This was the first event to be held in the Fleming rooms, Aberlour's new VIP reception area. It was a bit like exploring a virgin land... with all the modern facilities! A well-equipped kitchen, a superbly decorated lounge and dining area, all designed to make you feel at home. The malt whisky dinner was brilliantly prepared by Penny Neep, chef and owner of the Dowans Hotel, and was a first experience for many of the guests. As they all agreed to come back next year, I concluded they had enjoyed it and survived unharmed!
The idea of starting the dinner with a soup seemed very Scottish to me. It had to be creamy and sweet to match the soft fruitiness of Aberlour 10. Carrots, teased by coriander, seemed the perfect choice. The single malt is mixed with the lightly whipped double cream.
Aberlour 1990 Vintage hardly has any sherry influence, which is very unusual in the Aberlour range. It's mainly matured in ex-bourbon casks which gives it a delicate freshness - citrus fruit and aniseed aromas. Fish was the ideal companion. Taboulé is a Lebanese bulgar wheat and tomato salad with a lot of mint and parsley. My take on taboulé has a hint of gravadlax with the malt whisky cured salmon, but with the addition of crunchy vegetables. The addition of fresh herbs gives the dish a link back to the original recipe. Finally, the fennel chutney adds a smoothness which echoes that of the single malt.
The pungent nature of a'bunadh means that you need to select a strong-flavoured meat. As a result Cabrach lamb is the star of the meal: this tasty meat fills the mouth before melting. In this recipe it is enveloped in a spicy crust that isn't overpowered at all by a'bunadh's macho personality. The honey sauce is included to act as a link rather than a sweetener.
Sherry notes allow superb combinations with fruit-based desserts. Aberlour 15 years old sherry finish offered the perfect bouquet of sweet aromas such as toffee, dried fruit compote and soft spices. Almond, apricot and cream: surely the perfect ingredients on which to base the final course of such a mouthwatering meal?
The warm welcome of Distillery Manager Alan Winchester, the witty and knowledgeable comments of Whisky Magazine's very own Editor-at-Large Charlie MacLean and the ambience of the location helped make the meal even more appetising. Surely the icing on the cake.
Whisky flavoured carrot and coriander soupServed with Aberlour 10 year old
Salmon and whisky taboulé with fennel chutneyServed with Aberlour 1990 Vintage
Lamb medallions in a spicy crust with honey and whisky sauce. Sautéed mushrooms, mashed potatoes with walnutsServed with Aberlour a'bunadh
Apricot charlotte with an almond and whisky cream and brandy snapsServed with Aberlour 15 years old
Salmon and whisky taboulé with fennel chutneyServes 6INGREDIENTS
For the fennel chutney
- 7 oz bulgar wheat or couscous
- 11 oz fresh salmon fillet
- A selection of crispy vegetables: celery, radishes, cucumber and fennel (allow 1 tbsp of finely cut mixed vegetables per serving)
- 1 Granny Smith apple
- 12 black olives, stoned
- 2 limes
- The juice of one lemon
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 bunch of dill
- 2 tbsps chopped fresh mint
- 1 bunch of chives
- 2 diced tomatoes
- 1 tbsp crushed coriander corns
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large pinch of salt
- 50 ml whisky
- 1 fennel bulb
- 6 sweet onions
- 1 tbsp demerara sugar
- 2 oz caster sugar
- 250 ml apple juice
- 50 ml malt vinegar
- 1 tbsp mixed spices (ginger, white and black pepper, allspice)
- 3 tbsp whisky
- Salt to taste
Prepare the chutney. Chop the onions and fennel. Warm the apple juice and add the sugars. When the sugar is completely melted, add the vinegar. Stir in the fennel and onions. Add the spices and salt. Let it simmer for 40 minutes to an hour. The liquid must have evaporated and the fennel and onions turned into a compote. Add the whisky and allow to cool.2.
Place the bulgar wheat or the couscous in a bowl and pour enough boiling water on it to cover it. Leave it to swell for 30 minutes then drain and put back in the bowl.3.
Prepare the marinade. Finely chop the zest of one lime and dice (small) the pulp of the lime. Squeeze the the rest of the lime. Mix the zest, the juice and the pulp, and add half of the lemon juice, 2 tbsp olive oil, half the measure of whisky, 3 tbsp chopped dill, crushed coriander corn and pepper. Cut the salmon fillet into small dice and pour the marinade over it. Add salt. Refrigerate for one hour.4.
Cut the crispy vegetables, the olives and the apple into tiny cubes. Add the rest of olive oil and the lemon juice to the couscous, as well as the chopped mint, dill and the mixed spices. Mix carefully. Add the salmon and half of the marinade. Pour in the rest of the whisky and stir again.5.
Place the taboulé in 6 small moulds, pressing down with a spoon. Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour and then place the moulds in the centre of a serving dish. Garnish by placing a small amount of fennel chutney on the side of the dish. Top the taboulé with a sprig of dill, finely cut chives and add a dash of colour with diced tomatoes.
Lamb medallions in a spicy crust with honey and whisky sauceServes 6INGREDIENTS
Lamb fillet (taken from the ribs: carré d'agneau)
1 small branch of celery
1 onion with a clove
1 bay leaf
4 oatcakesMixed spices:
6 cardamom pods, 8 coriander corns, 1 tsp cubebe pepper, 1 tsp ground black pepper, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp cumin and one big pinch ground cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 oz butter
2 tbsp heather honey
1 tbsp malt vinegar
50 ml whisky
Salt and pepper, to tasteMETHOD1.
Remove the fillet from the lamb ribs. Make a stock with 400 ml water and the bones, also using the carrot, the celery, the onion and the bay leaf. When the liquid has reduced by two-thirds, pour the stock through a sieve into a pan and then set aside.2.
Gently toast the spices in a dry frying pan then crush them in a blender along with the oatcakes. Spread these spicy breadcrumbs on a tray.3.
Use the same frying pan to pan-fry the lamb in olive oil and butter. Roll the lamb fillet in the breadcrumbs. Repeat the operation until the breadcrumbs completely coat the meat. Warm the pan with olive oil and butter, and fry the lamb fillet to your preference (in France, we eat lamb between rare and medium - when the meat is still pink we call it rosé).4.
Meanwhile, warm the stock, add the honey and bring to a boil. Let it boil for 5 minutes then reduce the heat and add the vinegar. Taste it and season it with salt and pepper. Keep it warm.5.
When the meat is cooked, place it a warm dish and pour the stock in the frying-pan. Stir with a wooden spoon, add the whisky and remove from the heat. Cut the fillet into medallions (put 3 on each plate) and top with the honey and whisky sauce. Serve the meat with sautéed mushrooms and mashed potatoes.
Add 3 tbsp of chopped walnuts to the mashed potatoes - this will echo the nuttiness of the a'bunadh.