Nibbling at festivals
Food has taken a place of its own in a number of whisky festivals, whether it be as a topic of masterclasses or with whisky dinners hosted in hotels or even distilleries.
No doubt whisky is becoming a ‘guest of honour’ and sits comfortably at the table alongside shellfish, meat, cheese or puddings.
I have hosted different food pairing events at the two main Scottish whisky festivals, in Speyside and on Islay.
Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival
Draff in the dish
The whisky dinner at Aberlour distillery has become a friends’ gathering. I have been hosting it for eight years and some guests have not missed a single one. It takes place in the Fleming Rooms at the visitors’ reception centre and gathers 60 guests around myself and Alan Winchester, who used to be Aberlour Distillery manager and is now in charge of all the distilleries of Chivas Bros.
In the kitchen, Eric Obry, chef of La Faisanderie restaurant in Dufftown, prepares the menu that we have previously designed together to match the Aberlour range. The challenge being to come up with new ideas every year, having to work with the same range of whiskies.
This year, I had a dream come true. The idea, which was developed after visits to numerous distilleries, was to try to capture all the aromas exhaled by mashtuns, washbacks and stills, especially the first ones. The malty scents vary considerably from one distillery to the other. As I was doing a week’s induction as a distillery worker in Glenfiddich some years ago, I thought it would be great to cook with wort. I was allowed to experiment and cooked pears poached in a wort syrup. The pudding was given a good welcome by my guests that evening and since then, my cooking fantasies wandered around all the distillation by-products: wort, wash, draff…
And finally this year, I submitted my daring ideas for the 2008 Aberlour dinner. Eric, the chef, immediately liked the challenge and we had great fun building up a menu around this concept. Not all four courses could include the distillery by-products though. The menu was designed around the four seasons. The four seasons of Aberlour, with four versions of the single malt featuring the aromatic character of a season.
Funny enough, it seems that each chosen dish intertwined not only with the whisky but with the spirit of the season, like a perfect puzzle. Even the colours, both of the whisky and the ingredients reflected the time of the year.
Spring was chosen for the starter, as the season features the revival of nature. A green peas and mint cream served cold was paired with Aberlour 10 Years Old. A refreshing dish with a velvety texture to echo the creaminess of Aberlour 10. The slightly acid green colour contrasting with the white topping (whipped cream with a dash of Aberlour) to illustrate the growth of nature (grass, trees etc) and the tenderness of the season.
We jumped into summer with the pan-fried langoustines and scallops, served with a saffron hollandaise sauce. Here again, the bright yellow and orange colours of the dish celebrate the warmth of summer. To accompany that dish, a special bottling (one that is offered to the distillery visitors) from a bourbon cask opened on aniseed and vanilla aromas. Perfect to match shellfish.
The main dish was the experimental one. I don’t know if you have ever smelt the draff when visiting a distillery. It has a very distinctive aroma of straw and honey with a touch of gingerbread. I imagined that wrapping a piece of lamb in draff would convey wonderful flavours to pair with whisky.We decided to try the experiment with a saddle of lamb which we stuffed with dried fruits – nuts, apricot, raisins – to bring in a sweet note. The coat of draff would protect the meat and keep all the moisture and meat juices. Slowly cooked in the oven, that fragrant piece of meat was laced with an orange sauce and served with mushrooms and root vegetables (parsnips). So autumnal. The earthy touch of the mushrooms, the sweetness of the fruit and the parsnips and the candied-like lamb paired with Aberlour 18 Years Old – a superb combination of sherry notes and bourbon toffee – had all the colours of autumn as did the dish indeed (tawny, brown, dark orange). The draff scents has really penetrated the meat.
To enter into winter, we need the comfort of sugar and chocolate. A sort of cocooning dish, as caressing and reassuring as a winter duvet! The wort worked perfectly to wake up “the child in me”as a Scottish sweet tooth once told me. The warm chocolate cake had a heart of chestnut cream and was laced with a wort “crème anglaise”which conveyed lovely notes of gingerbread and honey. A marriage made in heaven with Aberlour a’bunadh.
A new marketing idea for the distilleries ? Sell their single malt with a pack of draff or a bottle of (pasteurized ?) wort ?
The spirit of nibbles
The other challenge of the festival season was offered to me by Kilchoman to host a pairing food with whisky masterclass. Well we can’t talk of whisky yet. As I decided to work out something with the new make. The smoky and malty character of the fresh spirit allows some interesting combinations with food.
First thing was to cut the strength of the ready to fill spirit (63.5%) to 45% and keep it in the freezer for a night. We would taste a sort of “malt vodka”.
It was obvious that nibbles were best appropriated for a masterclass. I always find that raw fish and vodka are excellent companions. Why not try Japanese nibbles provided I could give them a Scottish touch.
Thus came the idea of a maki dressed in tartan, ie replace the nori seaweed by strips of lightly smoked salmon, the rice by pearl barley, and the wasabi by the traditional horseradish sauce.
A tasty combination which could challenge peat and smoke and rejoice with the sweet maltiness of the dram. The same with the lemon curd shortbread: the bite of the lemon balanced the buttery flavours of the biscuit. All smoothed and soothed by the syrupy texture of the spirit, due to its stay in the freezer.
Avery easy to prepare bite for a surprising apéritif!
Scottish MakiFor 15 makisINGREDIENTS
- 125g smoked salmon
- 4 tbsp of cooked pearl barley
- 2 tbsp of horseradish
- 1 tsp of chopped fresh coriander
- 3 tbsp of cottage cheese
- A half avocado
Cut the smoked salmon into strips of 2.5cm high.2.
Cut small sticks of the same length in the avocado. Mix all the other ingredients in a bowl. Season.3.
Place a little of the mixture on a salmon strip, leaving some space on each side. Place the avocado stick in the middle. Roll the strip holding it tightly to form a small cylinder.4.
Add a coriander leaf on the top for decoration.
You can replace the coriander with dill or basil.
Lemon CurdFor six personsINGREDIENTS
- The juice of three lemons and their grated zest
- 200 g sugar
- 70 g soft butter (unsalted if possible)
Place the lemon juice and zest, the sugar and the butter in a bowl placed on top of a pan with boiling water (a bain marie). Mix well.2.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and add them to the mixture when the butter has melted. Keep stirring firmly until the mixture has thickened (six to seven minutes). Take the bowl off the bain-marie. Let the curd cool and keep in the fridge.Tip
Try topping mini shortbreads with a teaspoon of lemon curd.