It is funny how I fill up my mind with good resolutions when coming back to work after a long summer break. This sudden good-will syndrome gives me an irrepressible energy to tidy up my desk, reschedule my agenda in order to send my columns two weeks ahead of the deadlines.
I even find the strength to stop eating cookies and ice creams. Unfortunately that state of grace vanishes in a flash and life comes back to normal.
My phone soon disappears under piles of documents and magazines, I miraculously manage to meet my editorial deadlines sharp and going on a diet quickly becomes wishful shrinking.
I suppose this recurrent autumn crisis goes back to my school years when a brand new satchel and new teachers gave me the feeling I was making a new start in life.
The first weeks at school were also revising time. The teachers wanted to check that two months of sea, sun (and no sex!) had not wiped out a year of efforts to stuff our brains with present perfect, Pythagoras’ theorem or Napoleonic battles. A sort of spirits gathering.
This is probably why I feel like subjecting the readers to a revision programme.
Thinking that new readers not necessarily familiar with whisky and food have joined us all along these five years, it might be the right time to review the different techniques and methods I use when cooking with whisky.
Thank goodness, two weeks of Islay sea and sun have not had disastrous effects on my memory!
For those who like it hot
When they cook with alcohol, whether it be cognac, brandy or whisky, many chefs practise the flambé method to allow alcohol fumes to evaporate.
It does work so but most of the aromas are taken away too. It is a waste of time and money. Unless you want to make it a show. Bringing an Alaska bowl to the table with flames dancing on the meringue dome is quite spectacular but don’t expect to find the subtle aromas of your favorite whisky. Spectacular indeed and sometimes dangerous.
That reminds me of the story told by sadly missed whisky expert Malcolm Greenwood. He was Glenfarclas ambassador at that time. They were giving a reception at Château Palmer, one of the most renowned Margaux wines.
Malcolm had some genuine haggis sent to the chef for the party. Before Malcolm arrived at the castle, the chef had already dealt with the beast. This was the first time he had ever seen haggis.
He had emptied all the packs and was warming the haggis in a huge pan. Poor Malcolm was dismayed when he saw the haggis frying and drying up.
So he seized a bottle of Glenfarclas 105 (60% vol. alc.!) and poured it over the haggis to moisten it.
The pan immediately caught fire and flames started melting the extractor hood. The fire was finally under control, short of a disaster. Malcolm always said the guests just loved the haggis.
The virtues of steeping
Using marinade is certainly the best way to combine whisky and food, especially when working with raw ingredients. But do not go above 30 minutes when macerating meat or fish in whisky.
Alcohol tends to ‘cook’ the flesh and give it a greyish shade.
To make the marinade, mix a few spoonfuls of whisky with lemon or lime juice, different oils, Worcestershire or Teriyaki sauce and spices.
Here are some suggestions
- for shellfish: crushed garlic and ginger, chopped lemongrass, chives, pimento, lemon juice, sesame oil and whisky (20 ml). Ardbeg or Laphroaig are my favourites for this type of dish.
- for fish: a lighter marinade with lemon juice, olive oil, whisky and herbs.
- for lamb: honey, hazelnut oil, balsamic vinegar, whisky, spices.
- for duck: orange juice, marmalade, whisky, spices.
- for beef: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, onions, whisky, spices.
Think of some exotic ingredients such as coconut milk, pineapple juice, kiwi (this fruit also tenderises meat).
Choose your whisky according to your ingredients. Sherried whiskies will go well with orangey flavours and meats, honeyed Speyside or Highlands malts will elegantly combine with lamb.
Marinade speaks for itself when it comes to sweets.
Soak fruits such as pears or apples in whisky and honey before poaching them.
Candied and dried fruit ‘drink’ whisky easily too, whether it be raisins, dates, figs, or apricots.
They will better absorb whisky if you warm them with a dash of water for 30 seconds in the microwave before macerating.
Pour some whisky over chopped chocolate and let it macerate for 15 minutes before melting it.
Marinades are the best way to save whisky. You extract more flavours and in doing so, you use a lesser quantity.
The finishing touch
Do not throw away the marinade after use. Use it as a base for the sauce; the whisky will cook, especially if you make a reduction, bringing the liquid to the boil to evaporate water.
So you will have to add a good dash of whisky once the reduction is almost completed and let it simmer softly.
Trust your palate. Taste the sauce and if needed, drizzle the meat or fish with a few drops of whisky before serving, just to wake up the flavours.
That finishing touch is crucial for the balance of aromas.
You can literally spray a last teaspoon of ‘raw’ whisky on the dish with an atomizer or brush a cake with whisky just when taken out of the oven.
You will taste the difference, believe me. Cooking with whisky has nothing to do with Descartes‘ rationalism. It is more a question of keen senses than common sense. This is why I am so fond of it.
Scottish salmon marinated in spices and whisky, with avocado ice creamServes 6INGREDIENTS
Mixed ground spices:
- 1lb fresh Scottish salmon
- 1 celery stick (with the tender core)
For the avocado ice cream
- 1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp szechuan pepper, ½ tsp black pepper,
- 1 pinch chilli powder
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp hazelnut oil
- 2 tbsp whisky
- 1 tsp horseradish sauce
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
For the dressing
- 2 large avocados (perfectly ripe)
- ½ lime (juice and grated rind)
- 1 tbsp hazelnut oil
- 2 tbsp chopped chervil
- 4 oz mascarpone
- 2 egg whites
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp honey
- 2 tbsp whisky
Peel the avocados and cut them into large cubes. Blend them until puréed with lime juice and grated rind, hazelnut oil and chervil. Season with salt and pepper. Beat egg whites till soft.
Whisk mascarpone in a bowl, fold in avocado purée and egg whites. Stir until evenly combined. Place in an ice cream maker and keep in the freezer.2.
Cut salmon into small cubes. Marinate for 30 minutes with mixed spices, salt, oil, lime juice, whisky and horseradish sauce.3.
Finely chop celery. Mix with salmon and half of the chives. Place in six moulds. Allow to cool in the fridge for a good 30 minutes.4.
Boil the vinegar with the honey for two minutes, then add the whisky. Turn out each mould on a plate. Drizzle with dressing. Place a quenelle of ice cream on the side. Sparkle with chives.
Serve with oatcakes.
Chocolate and whisky tartServes 6For the pastry
For the garnish
- 40g icing sugar
- 140g unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp ground almonds
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 200g flour, sifted
- 250g dark chocolate (60 % cocoa minimum) roughly chopped
- 150ml double cream
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tsp instant coffee
- 40g unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp whisky
In a bowl, mix together the icing sugar, soft butter, almonds, salt and yolk. Then add flour and knead into pastry. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put in the fridge for one hour.2.
Roll out the pastry and line a loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the pastry with a fork. 3.
Bake the pastry blind, using beans to prevent the pastry from swelling.
Cook for 20 min at 180°C (gas mark 6), then remove the beans and cook for a further 10 minutes.4.
Put chocolate in a large bowl. Simmer the cream in a saucepan. Remove from the heat when bubbles appear and pour over chocolate. Stir until chocolate is well melted. Add instant coffee and butter. Keep stirring then add yolks. Leave to cool for 20 minutes. Then add the whisky and replace in the fridge for one hour. 5.
Garnish the pastry case (once cooled) with chocolate cream. Leave to set in the fridge for 2 hours. Allow the tart to come to room temperature 20 minutes before serving.
You can sprinkle the tart with caramelized nuts or almonds, which gives a delicious crunchy texture. My favoUrite whisky for this sweet is Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition. I would also recommend a sherried malt (Macallan, Linkwood, Mortlach).