Skillfully organised by volunteers, the Groningen Noord-Nederland Festival attracts more than 3000 enthusiasts in three days. For the second time, a whisky dinner opened the festivities on the previous evening.
It is always a thrilling challenge to work with a new chef and different whiskies.
Johannes Hovius recently took head of WEEVA restaurant kitchen in Groningen. He is hardly older than the young and enthusiastic brigade he supervises. It was the first time he was working with whisky which made him a little nervous at start but he took up the challenge with determination and curiosity, expressing his creativity with modern culinary twists and traditional Dutch classics.
Designing a whisky dinner is like taking part in a skating competition. You have to find the balance between compulsory figures and free figures. The chef and I had to give rhythm to our “pas de deux” with Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. Malu Knippenberg, Dutch brand ambassador for Glenmorangie gave me carte blanche to chose from the range.
This work in collaboration with Johannes and Malu has highlighted some experiments which I wanted to share. One could think that pairing whisky and food has become such a routine that nothing new can be learned. If it was so, I would get bored and lose interest in the game. Every whisky dinner brings surprises, bad and good, which leads me to take risks.
Nothing more exciting than living dangerously!
Here are a few examples to contradict received ideas, not to say clichés, I often hear.
You should not start with an older whisky
Go from the youngest to the oldest, arguing that light, fresh and vibrant whiskies are more convenient as aperitif drinks? Not as simple as that.
Many mature whiskies keep that lively character we are looking for to start a meal. I chose Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban because I thought it would harmoniously match with “prunes soaked in red port”. The second appetiser was not so obvious but the chocolate notes of Glenmorangie found a bridge with the black pudding. We had two rich and concentrated flavours.
You should always serve single malt at room temperature
Well, no! I like to serve the single malt I have chosen to match with fish or shellfish slightly chilled, like a white wine. Just keep it for one or two hours in the fridge.
Ardbeg 10 Years Old was the obvious choice with the amuse-bouche and the starter. But I decided to serve them differently.
With the scallop and the whisky sabayon, guests were given a chilled glass of whisky, as the scallop was served warm with its creamy sabayon.
The chef had a bit of a struggle to get the exact proportions of whisky in the sabayon. He opted for a light hint.
Ardbeg was served at room temperature with the starter.
Some guests tasted it and said: “This is not Ardbeg 10, there must have been an error! It does not taste the same”.
The smokiness and earthy peat were more pungent and so was the alcohol feel. But it was still Ardbeg 10.
The match with the celeriac mousse, an earthy but sweet root vegetable, was perfect with these powerful notes. The watercress dressing added a peppery touch which enhanced the flavours.
The celeriac tamed Ardbeg with its sweetness.
You should keep the peated whiskies for the end
I started with two peated malts. Arbeg Uigeadail following the distillery flagship. Here again, the important is in the matching. The same applies to wine finally.
The old cliché promoting the “best old vintages” with cheese has had its day. Most often cheeses ignore the sophisticated character of a venerable claret.
The sherry character of Uigeadail brought out a meaty note which was linked with Groningen dried sausage.
This traditional specialty is spicy with black pepper and cloves. The turnips, another root vegetable, balanced those strong flavours with a sweet touch. A tasty and rustic combination.
A delicate and subtle dish will be ‘killed’ if following a pungent one
Now, how can we jump from a tough islander to the delicate fruity style of Glenmorangie Artein?
Easy, I just recommended the guests to drink a lot of water so as to flush peat and smoke.
Glenmorangie Artein, the latest in the Private collection range, has been finished in Tuscan wine casks. Although I am not a great fan of wine finishes, I chose Artein, first of all because I like its delicacy and refreshing fruitiness releasing fragrant summer berries notes. Also because the main dish featured veal. A delicate meat which was cooked in a traditional way: a very slow and low temperature, 24 hours cooking in the oven.
The result is a lovely light coloured (like the pink hues of the whisky) meat which is mouth melting. A shallot gravy and apple purée accompanied the meat.
This was the first time I ever paired Artein. So I was apprehensive when the dish appeared on the table, and relieved to appreciate how closely the flavours merged.
So to the closing courses
The cheese dish with peaches and toasted almonds was easy to pair with Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or, the sauternes finish beamed on the fruit and the almonds.
But the single malt needed a solid dash of water to harmonise plainly with the food.
The chocolate and mascarpone dessert and Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX were also a natural marriage. The orange hint in the cake echoed the candied peel note in the PX finished whisky.
My next rendez-vous: the Aberlour Whisky Dinner at The Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival and a few cooking with malt classes during Feis Ile.
Rouleau of lamb with prunes soaked in red port, a hint of mint, coriander, pine nuts wrapped in Coburger ham served on toast Groningen black pudding with pickled Goudreinette, raisins and homemade apple treacle with Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban.
Fried scallop with a sabayon of whisky and samphire braised in butter with Ardbeg 10.
Wadden sea prawns on celeriac mousse with a watercress dressing and crispy celery chips with Ardbeg 10.
Light soup of turnips and Groningen dried Sausage with Ardbeg Uigeadail.
Braised veal cheeks with “hot lightning” stew and a shallot gravy with Glenmorangie Artein.
Peach gratin with goat cheese and toasted almonds with Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or.
Chocolate tartlet with a crème of mascarpone and pear with Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX.