Food

Skye in the pie

Whisky is not just whisky, says Claire Macdonald, proprietor of Kinloch Lodge on Skye. What's great with smoked fish might not work with pudding
By Clare Mcdonald
Until 15 years ago I had seldom used whisky in cooking. Brandy, yes; wine, of course; rum, calvados - all these and frequently. But not whisky. What kick-started me into using whisky in the kitchen was an invitation to do a cooking demonstration for the Scotch Whisky Association. I began to experiment, and became more enthused with each recipe I adapted. Whisky proved surprisingly versatile; I discovered that it complements a wide variety of foods, both savoury and sweet. But whisky varies enormously, possibly more than any other alcohol with which we cook. Brandy is brandy from a taste point of view in combination with food, but with whisky one can exploit the differences. For example, I prefer to use a lighter whisky, such as Highland Park, with smoked fish, whereas a more densely flavoured whisky, such as an Islay malt, is, to my taste, better suited to red meat. On the other hand, I like our local whisky here in Skye, Talisker, for the pheasant (or chicken) breasts in creamy sauce with its hint of curry. I also like to use a Spey or Orkney malt in sweet recipes. Whisky, lemon and honey in combination have uses far beyond their medicinal function. Mind you, as far as a remedy goes for soothing the symptoms of a common cold, it is really impossible to beat a properly made hot toddy. Perhaps Whisky Magazine should do its own investigation of the medicinal aspects of whisky: I'm quite sure that it wouldn't be hard to find some willing guinea pigs.


The recipes



Venison fillet with whisky, ginger and green peppercorn sauce


Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • 50g / ¼ C butter plus 1 scant tbsp / 1½ US tbsp oil - either sunflower or olive

  • 3 venison fillets, trimmed of any membrane

  • 150ml / ⅔ C whisky



For the sauce

  • 4 shallots, each skinned and diced small

  • 2.5cm / 1 inch fresh root ginger, skinned and diced

  • 1 pint game stock

  • 1 tsp redcurrant jelly

  • 85g / ⅜ C butter, cut into small pieces

  • 3 tsp green peppercorns, drained

  • Salt and pepper to taste



Put the diced shallots and ginger into a saucepan with the game stock and bring to simmering point. Simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by two-thirds, then add the redcurrant jelly. Whisk in the butter, a piece at a time, and take care not to let the liquid boil after the butter is introduced to the sauce. When all the butter is whisked in add the peppercorns, taste, and season with salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm while you cook the venison fillets: in a large sauté pan melt the butter with the oil and, when it is foaming, brown the fillets well on all sides. You will need to do this one fillet at a time. As each is browned, remove it to a hot roasting pan. Then replace the browned fillets in the sauté pan and flame with the whisky. Pour the sauce over the fillets, cover with a lid, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Take up the fillets and slice. Serve with a spoonful of the sauce from the pan on each serving.


Chicken or pheasant breasts in cream and whisky sauce


Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 85g / ⅜ C butter

  • 4 chicken breasts or cock pheasant breasts

  • 2 medium sized onions, skinned and thinly sliced

  • 2 tsp medium strength curry powder

  • 150ml / ⅔ C whisky

  • 300ml / 1¼ C double cream

  • salt, pepper



METHOD
This is a rich main course, and it is best served with very well beaten mashed potatoes and a green vegetable such as steamed broccoli or sliced green beans. Beware too rich a first course or pud with this.Heat the butter in a sauté pan and brown the chicken (or pheasant) breasts well on both sides. Remove them to a warm dish. Add the sliced onions to the sauté pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are completely soft, transparent and beginning to turn golden brown and caramelize. Stir in the curry powder and cook for a few seconds. Replace the meat in the sauté pan with the onions and flame with the whisky. Then pour in the double (it must be double) cream and let it bubble around the breasts. Season to taste. Simmer gently, turning the breasts in the pan juices and cream for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve.


Panna cotta with whisky and orange compote


Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS
For the orange compote

  • 1 lemon - necessary to spike the flavour of the sweet oranges

  • 3 oranges

  • 575ml /2½ C water

  • 140g / ⅝ C sugar

  • 75ml / ⅓ C whisky



For the Panna cotta
Serves 4

  • 575ml / 2½ C single cream

  • 1 vanilla pod, split

  • 50g / ¼ C caster sugar

  • 1 sheet of gelatine, soaked in water



METHOD
For the orange compote
Wash the citrus fruit well under running hot water, to remove the preservative with which they are sprayed. With a very sharp serrated knife cut the fruit into neat, evenly sized dice. Put the diced fruit into a saucepan with the water - not yet the sugar - and cook, gently simmering, until the pieces of diced fruit are completely soft when you test them - your thumbnail is a good test for softness. Then stir in the sugar and the whisky, and stir until the sugar has dissolved completely. Simmer for 2 minutes, then take the pan off the heat and cool. Spoon this over each glassful of panna cotta.

For the Panna cotta
Put the cream and the vanilla pod into a saucepan over moderate heat until the cream reaches scalding point - don't let it boil. Take the pan off the heat and cool completely. A thick skin will form. Reheat the cream, stirring in the caster sugar and stirring until the sugar dissolves. When the cream is very hot, stir in the pre-soaked sheet of gelatine, which will melt quickly into the hot cream. With the back of a wooden spoon, scrape down the cut vanilla pod, to get the maximum flavour out of the pod. Then remove the pod, and divide the cream between the four glass dishes. Leave to cool; ideally, you should make this the day before you need it. Spoon the whisky orange compote on each glassful. It will give a just-firm set - panna cotta is, to my mind, ruined if stiff enough to be turned out. It should not be a creamy jelly as this is all too reminiscent of blancmange.


Extremely rich dark chocolate and whisky cake


Serves 8 or more. Any leftovers will freeze beautifully.

INGREDIENTS

  • 225g / 1C best dark chocolate (minimum 75% cocoa solids)

  • 150ml / ⅔ C whisky

  • 225g / 1C butter

  • 225g / 1C caster sugar

  • 4 large eggs

  • 225g / 1C ground almonds, sieved



Topping (optional)

  • 225g / 1C dark chocolate

  • 75ml / ⅔ C single cream



METHOD
Line a 22cm/9" cake tin with a disc of baking parchment and, if it isn't a non-stick cake tin, butter the sides well. Break the chocolate into a pan or bowl and pour in the whisky. Melt the chocolate carefully - over not too high a heat - with the whisky and stir to a thick cream. Beat the butter and caster sugar together well. Beat in the melted chocolate and the eggs, one by one, and lastly the sieved ground almonds. Scrape all this into the prepared cake tin and bake in a moderate oven, 350'F/180'C/gas mark 4 for 25 to 30 minutes. The cake should not be cooked through to the point where when you stick a knife into the centre it comes out clean. It should have a very rich and sticky texture. Cool the cake in a tin. Then turn it on to a serving plate and peel off the paper. Either dust it with sieved icing sugar and cocoa, or melt 225g/1C chocolate with 75ml/1/3 C of single cream, stir until it cools and thickens, and cover the cake with it.