James Whelan Butchers: Citrus Sunshine

The weather is strange at present, even by Irish standards. The rain is expected but the yo-yo-ing temperatures are beyond odd. Normally at this time of year the summer clothes are well and truly out, even if the day is slightly grey and overcast, as it is usually mild. Despite the longer, brighter evenings there is still an abundance of overcoats; unusually so if you ask me. I love each and every season but I’m not keen on this mixture. As far as I’m concerned it’s now early summer and so even if it looks wintry on the outside I think we should cook like summer on the inside. The difficulty is the rain and the cold don’t encourage light summery foods. A salad seems less than satisfying when the wind is howling and the rain pelting off the windows. There is a way around the dilemma and that’s by cooking warm foods with a summery attitude.

Looking to warmer countries the obvious and easy way to do this is by adding fruit. Nothing is more summery than oranges, lemons and other fresh fruits. We seem to leave it to the Chinese to add citrus flavours to meat, but Mexico, South America, Italy, Portugal and Spain also use their locally grown fruits to great advantage in savoury dishes. Summer Fruit

Fruit juices have traditionally been used as marinades for meat. The acid found in fruit naturally tenderises the meat. When put together the sweet of the fruit works its magic with the rich flavours of the meat and the resulting alchemy can be quite the treat for your taste buds. Marinades are often associated with barbeque meats and while they do work really well there’s nothing to stop you grilling indoors. If you are taking the marinade route be sure to keep it in the fridge and well covered. Three to four hours marinating should do it or overnight if possible, but be aware that you can overdo it. Left too long, meat can start to disintegrate in the acidic bath. Never underestimate the acidity of citrus fruits in particular.

I caught an episode of Saturday Cookbook last week where chef Mark Sargeant made a lovely Sticky Lemon Chicken recipe. I downloaded it and then, being me, wondered what it would be like if I substituted the lemon for an orange? Obviously it immediately changed the flavour but, I thought, in a very good way. It won’t work every time but there are many recipes using lemons that could be changed for oranges to give a little kick.

We are used to certain fruit and meat combinations; Duck a l’orange, Lemon Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken or Ham and Pineapple; all quite common. I had the great fortune while abroad once to have a superb beef in orange sauce. I didn’t think it could get much better until the same restaurant, a few days later, served a rather unusual dish of Spicy Orange Oxtail. Curiosity alone made me try it and it was great. I tried to recreate the dish at home but without much success. However I did find a recipe on line which came pretty close. The website was lowcarbcooking.co.nz and I did make a few changes, but basically it took a rather inexpensive oxtail and with a little time, spice and citrus, transformed it into something very special. I have added my adjusted recipe from that site at the end, should you want to try it.Lemon Chicken

If you don’t want the full on sticky and sweet flavour of fruit you could try just using the zest to give a little oomph. Lemon zest grated into Italian meatballs always adds a summery dimension. You could also mix oranges and lemons. I often add a little zest to chicken stuffing and then quarter up the fruit and let it cook in the cavity of the chicken. The resulting juices always lend something extra to the gravy. Don’t forget lamb and pork will also work well with orange.

If you are a little unsure then you could try making a fruit sauce. If you think about it most gravies and savoury sauces can be quite calorie laden. A fruit sauce can be a healthy, summer alternative. Freshly made fruit sauces are packed with nutrients. Personally I would put them with pork and poultry. If you want to dress up a midweek chop, there’s nothing like it. There are also great fruit choices; fresh pineapple, apple, orange, mango, kiwi, lemon, lime and even melon (but not watermelon). Salsa type sauces are probably the easiest. All you have to do is chop the fruits small in whatever combination you choose. Simmer them over a low heat in a little natural fruit juice until it dissolves slightly and thickens into a delicious sweet chunky sauce; it couldn’t be easier. A little extra effort is required if you want to make a smooth plum or peach sauce but it’s not difficult and there are many recipes to try. Don’t neglect traditional apple sauce for pork. If you think a shop bought one is good, try making your own and you may never go back.

It may not look like summer but that’s no reason not to cook like summer. Drop by the James Whelan Butchers’ website for some more inspiring ideas or drop into our shop at Oakville Shopping Centre Clonmel, where our craft butchers have many fresh, marinated meats ready prepared.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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