By accident of calendar, I recently had two encounters with nuts or more precisely cobnuts, which are a type of cultivated hazelnut. I first discovered them in a sausage as I was scanning Borough Market in search of some original food to pair with whisky.
I tasted a cobnut sausage from Cannon and Cannon. A succulent charcuterie with an appealing spicy rusticity which I paired with Kilchoman Machir Bay. Perfectly seasonal and bringing out farm-like flavours of hay and smoky straw.
My second encounter happened a few days later as I was visiting a friend in Kent. He took me to visit a cobnut and walnut farm in the small village of St Mary's Platt. There I met Alexander Hunt who had me taste cobnuts, walnuts and the derived products he has local bakers make for him.
That visit revived my nut inspired experiments with whisky.
Hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and pine nuts are an easy bridge to combine flavours.
Here are a few ideas:
Use them with spices and crushed oatcakes to make a crust before roasting meat (especially lamb) or fish (salmon). On the sweet side, I always add chopped nuts to my crumble (with butter, flour, sugar and oatmeal). It gives a lovely crunchy texture. It is important to gently toast the nuts before using them. To be paired with fruity and nutty single malts like Aberfeldy (did you notice the squirrel on the label?), Glen Garioch or Ben Nevis for instance.
They give a great flavour and texture in stuffings (mushrooms, poultry). I like to use them with sherried whiskies or single malts which have an oaky profile.
Whole cobnuts and walnuts
They are delicious, toasted and salted with a little touch of caramel for the aperitif. Or with cheeses like comté, matured cheddar and Dutch cheeses.
Hazelnut oil is delicate and enhances pan-fried seafood (scallops, langoustines) or a salad with fruit and cheese. Walnut oil has a stronger flavour and should be mixed with a neutral oil. Excellent with duck breast, pancetta, celery, blue cheese. Both oils are better when used uncooked. Buy them in small quantities as they tend to get rancid quickly. Store them in a dark and cool place.
Approved by chefs
It is a fact that passion can drive you nuts. Before meeting Alexander Hunt, I could not imagine that nuts could inspire a passion. Potash Farm Plantation in St Mary's Platt has been resurrected by one man who, during twenty-five years of his life, has worked restlessly for the promotion of Kentish cobnuts. When he started picking hazelnuts as a student job in his parents' neighbours' garden, he had no intention to become a successful businessman a quarter of a century later. He harvests around 27 tons of nuts each season from the end of August through October. He sells them on markets and also online with a full range of byproducts: cobnut shortbread, delicious chocolate coated toasted nuts, walnut and hazelnut oil, fudge and other delicacies. In a nut shell, all interesting items to pair with whisky. Michelin star chefs are also regular customers all over Britain.
Figs poached in port, walnut, blue cheese and rocket
9 fresh figs 100 ml LBV port
Mix of spices (pepper, ground ginger, cinnamon, chili, star anise)
6 Parma ham slices
100 g rocket salad
120 g walnuts (in half) Juice of half an orange
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1tbsp walnut oil
6 thin slices of blue cheese
Season the rocket with the dressing (the oils plus orange juice). Divide into 6 plates. Add the blue cheese and half walnuts. Season with salt and pepper. Cut the figs in two. Warm the port, adding one glass of water and the spices. Poach the figs in simmering liquid for 3 to 4 min. Take them out and let the liquid reduce until a syrupy consistency. Cut the Parma ham slices into 3 rashers. Wrap each half fig in a ham slice. Place in an oven dish. Pour half of the port reduction on the figs. Colour under the grill for 5 min. Delicately place three half figs on each plate. Spoon with the rest of the reduction.
The choice is obvious. A port finish whisky. The combination of flavours in the plate just echoes and enhances the port influence in the whisky. I would avoid peated whiskies though as the pairing essentially works on the fruity flavours.
Nougat Glacé and caramelised apricot
3 eggs (white)
80g caster sugar (2 x 40g)
3tsp running honey
50g cobnuts (plus a few for decoration)
50g almond (flaked or whole)
50g dried apricots
300ml whipping cream
1 tin of apricot halves
The day before, cut the dried apricots into four and soak them in the whisky. Chop the different nuts, and toast them lightly in a pan. Then sprinkle 40g sugar to caramelise the nuts. Stir gently until the caramel coats the nuts. Let cool on a sheet of greaseproof paper and divide into small pieces. Don't forget to do the same with whole nuts for the decoration. Beat the whites to stiff peaks. In a pan, pour the honey and add the remaining sugar. Bring to the boil until you reach 120°C (about 4 min). Carry on beating the white and slowly pour the warm honey. Continue beating until the meringue has cooled (this is what we call Italian meringue). Whip the cream to stiff peaks and add to the Italian meringue. Then add the fruit (with the whisky) and the caramelised nuts. Stir delicately. Place in a cake tin and freeze for 12 hours. Before serving, reserve six apricot halves, blend the rest with a little of the syrup to obtain a thick coulis. Sprinkle brown sugar on the halves and caramelise them under the grill or by using a blowtorch. Mould the nougat glacé, place a slice on each plate, a caramelized nut and an apricot half and finish with the coulis.
I like my nougat glacé to be really "nutty". The original recipe does not include other fruit. Though I like adding dried apricot, especially when I serve it with an apricot coulis. Of course I'd rather use fresh apricots in season. You can vary the coulis: if you choose to make it with red fruit, then use dried cranberries in the nougat glacé; if you prefer mango, put dried pineapple in the icecream. I tend not to use candied fruit as this dessert would become an Italian cassata. But don't hesitate to be creative!
Go for a reasonably matured fruity whisky, according to the nature of the fruit you will add. With apricot, I like Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or (Glenmorangie Ealanta is perfect as well). I also select Strathisla 12 Years Old, Aberlour 16 Years Old and Longmorn 16 Years Old. This dessert allows a large spectrum of matchings, depending on the nature of the coulis. Caramelised nuts make a flexible bridge with all fruity whiskies.