Food

The whispering gallery

Martine Nouet finds the perfect match for the whispering whiskies requires a light hand when seasoning and careful attention in choosing delicate ingredients
By Martine Nouet
The concept requires some development. When I broach the topic with my colleague and partner in drams, Dave Broom, I can often catch a glance of incredulity if not irritation in his eye (it seems that females get it quicker. Sorry gentlemen for this sexist comment!). Whispering whiskies?Come on, I’ll have a word about it with my horse as we say in French. Mind you, does not Robert Redford whisper to his horse? Let’s not lose the focus…

What I name in my tasting-notes “a whispering whisky” is a whisky which expresses itself through almost transparent halftones, in subtle and delicate touches.

A watercolour as opposed to a thickly brushed oil painting. Glencadam would feature the first while Ardbeg would embody the second. The nose may be quite restrained to begin with but, over time, it reveals itself in sweet notes, floral or fruity. We are talking of juicy fruit, raw rather than stewed. You will also often pick herbalist’s shop notes: lemon balm, angelica, lime-tree. On the palate, a whispering whisky will have this ethereal character: light, fruity with honeyed, summer fruit and sometimes candied fruit notes - that in older versions. The texture will be silky and fluid. The lingering finish may dry out on soft spices. Obviously, to acquire such an aromatic profile, the whisky will have matured in ex bourbon casks or refill hogsheads, and not in sherry casks. A sauternes cask finish may have brought out more sweet character.

But when you think “whispering”, you don’t mean bland. And this is where the misunderstanding usually starts. Yes one can be delicate but yet show a strong character. One can be sweet without being unctuous, syrupy or sugary. One can be light without lacking depth.

Expressing oneself through whispers rather than through cries does not mean one has nothing to say. The listener just needs to be all ears, that’s all. In the end, these whiskies are more difficult to assess in a tasting maybe. They are a challenge to the taster. It might be one of the reasons why I like them. Difficulty adds some excitement to the task.


Silk, satin, smoothness and delicacy



Some examples of whispering whiskies? Glencadam, mentioned above, unveils on orchard fruity flavours in a pure and refined style.

Arran in most expressions, such as Peacock Edition 1996 which reveals a floral and fruity profile, on tangerine and fresh hazelnut notes, with a soothing as well as soothed finish.

Some expressions of Glenmorangie have this watercolour-like character, especially Nectar d’Or. Finished in sauternes casks, it displays, maybe on a higher tone than a whisper, an array of exotic fruit notes and a satin-like texture which marries perfectly with puddings.

Less widely circulated (but now it is going to be integrated into the “private collection” range), Glenmorangie Sonnalta, finish in Pedro Ximinez (PX) casks, shows an elegant profile on nutty, biscuity and fruity flavours.

A few other whispering whiskies recently tasted include Auchentoshan 1999 and Glen Ord 1999 Eilean Gillan, a range bottled by Olivier Blanc from Léopold Gourmel, a cognac producer. I have described the first one as “sweet and refined. Like the caress of a summer breeze or a soft toned watercolour. Luscious, smooth and refreshing”.

Kornog, just bottled by Celtic Whisky Compagnie in Britanny, although a peaty version bottled at high strength, is “sweet and pleasantly mouth-coating: a caressing cask strength one”.

All these whiskies would delightfully feature in a special moment menu. They will harmonise with any of the following dishes. However, Glenmorangie Sonnalta and Kornog would suit the main dish better than the pudding.


Starter



Lemon and whisky sweet potato velouté

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 litre of chicken stock (preferably home made or use a good stock cube)

  • 500g sweet potato (one large or two medium)

  • 1 chopped onion

  • mixed crushed peppers: szechwan and long peppercorns

  • 1 clove

  • 1 pinch of chilli powder

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 200ml double cream

  • 1tbsp grated lime zest juice of half a lime

  • 100g flaked almonds

  • 1tbsp chopped parsley

  • 60ml whisky



METHOD
1. Peel the sweet potato and dice it. Bring the stock to boil, add the diced sweet potato, the onion, the mixed peppers, clove, chilli and salt. Let simmer for 25 minutes. Pour the soup into a blender and process it until perfectly smooth. Leave to rest.
2. Whip the cream, gradually adding lime juice and zest, and then the whisky.
3. Gently toast the flaked almonds in a pan. Keep aside.
4. Bring the velouté close to boil, stirring constantly. Pour hot velouté into six bowls. Place a quenelle of cream in the centre of the bowl with a little parsley. Sprinkle with flaked almonds. Serve immediately.


Main dish



Salmon and shrimps crumble, whisky jus

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 fennel bulb

  • 2 sweet onions

  • 80g butter

  • 10cl dry vermouth

  • 1 lime (grated zest and juice)

  • 150g shelled shrimps

  • 3 salmon steaks (350g)

  • 2tbsp chopped parsley

  • 3tbsp whisky

  • salt, pepper



For the crumble

  • 100g flour

  • 50g oatmeal flakes 80g chopped hazelnuts

  • 120g salted butter Pepper



METHOD
1. Make the crumble. Preheat the oven (180°C). In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and add the butter by small dice. Knead until you have a “crumbly” texture. Sprinkle on a sheet of greaseproof paper and cook for 10 min in the oven.
2. Cut the fennel in thin slices. Do the same with the onions. Melt 50 g butter in a pan. Add the onions and fennel. Let simmer for a few min, add the vermouth and a glass of water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 min on low heat until the liquid has reduced by half.
3. Place on a baking tray. Dice the salmon. Melt the rest of the butter in the pan and seal the the diced salmon and the shrimps for a few min. Add the lime zest and juice. Deglaze with the whisky. Place the salmon and the shrimps on top of the fennel. Then cover with the crumble. Bake 10 min at 200°C.


For the apéritif



Fresh goat cheese gougères

Gougères are savoury chou pastries. Stuff the mini gougères with fresh goat cheese and herbs (chives, tarragon). Add a dash of olive oil and a drop of running honey.

Verrines trois couleurs

Mix half an avocado with some ricotta and a little zest and juice from a lime. Add a pinch of chilli powder. Divide into small glasses. Chop a smoked salmon slice, mix with a tablespoon of crème fraîche. Season with pepper. Top the avocado with the mixture. Cut a cooked betroot into very small dice, add a dash of vinegar. Then finish by filling the glasses with it.

Sesame sticks

Cut thin strips of puff pastry. Brush with melted butter and maple syrup. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and pepper. Bake 10 min in a hot oven.


Dessert



Sweet pineapple millefeuille, coconut and whisky custard

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pineapple

  • 3tbsp maple syrup

  • 1tsp liquid vanilla

  • 2 grated long peppercorns

  • 1tsp powder szechuan pepper

  • 30g butter

  • 3tbsp whisky

  • 3tbsp caster sugar

  • 2tbsp lemon juice



For the custard

  • 3 eggs

  • 80g caster sugar

  • 40g flour

  • 20cl coconut milk

  • 10cl milk

  • 2tbsp whisky



METHOD
1. Make the custard. Separate yolks and whites. In a bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar, then add the flour. Pour milk and coconut milk while whisking continuously. Heat for a few min while stirring. When the custard thickens, add the whisky. Let it cool down then add the beaten whites.
2. Peel the pineapple carefully, taking off every bit of skin. Cut six thin slices. Dry them in the oven (140°C ) so that you get some sort of crisps. Cut the rest of the pineapple in 5 mm slices. Take the centre off. Melt the butter in a pan and seize the pineapple slices. Add the spices, maple syrup and vanilla. Cook until golden and all the juice has evaporated. Place the pineapple slices on a plate and let cool.
3. Take metal rings and place them on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Start with a slice of pineapple, then add a layer of cream, another pineapple slice, finish with custard up to the top of the ring. Place in the freezer for 2 hours at least.
4. 15 min before serving, take the millefeuilles from the freezer. Place each ring on a plate and let warm up a little then take the rings off. In the pan, make a caramel with the lemon juice and the caster sugar. Deglaze with the whisky and pour a little of that caramel on each millefeuille. Decorate with a pineapple “crisp”.