James Whelan Butchers: Spring Forward

With the Easter blowout over and spring (hopefully by the time you read this) in full swing properly with longer evenings, it’s time to freshen our plates and our palates once more. It must have been one of the coldest Easters on record and if not, it certainly felt like it. Despite all the lovely spring recipes in the magazines and pastel coloured Easter baking booklets that fell out of the papers last week, it was distinctly hot beefy stew weather rather than the lighter ideas they were promoting for this time of year.

I think a nice segue into spring is risotto. It has the convenience of a one pot with the depth and creaminess of a dish that tastes as if it took much longer. You must use risotto rice (Arborio is a common type of risotto rice found in supermarkets). Risotto always feels fresh and spring like while at the same time being filling and satisfying. The main thing is not to overcook it. You need the risotto to retain a little bite and remember it’s not a dish that will hang around for too long; the best restaurants serve it the minute it’s cooked. Risotto is also hugely versatile when it comes to adding things to it; make it a full meat dish, with prawns perhaps or keep it vegetarian. Depending on what exactly you add it is relatively low fat so you can retain that little angel’s halo over your head while enjoying the wonderful tastes. Chicken and mushroom are always a good combination, prawn and asparagus with a touch of basil or ham and basil are also some good mixes. Sprinkle in some fresh herbs with the onions at the start. I recently had some left over chicken and used fresh rosemary with in a simple chicken risotto and it worked really well. I also got the benefit of the lovely aroma of the rosemary as it was cooking. I put the rosemary in at the start while I was gently cooking the onions and as the chicken was already cooked I didn’t put that in until the end. I use white wine as well as stock and I always start with some softened onions. Take your time and add the liquid in small amounts. Season it well and add some grated parmesan at the end for an extra creamy finish. Chicken Risotto

If you are working on a budget, as many of us are these days, a great way to bulk out a meal or stretch some mince is to add some lentils. Lentils come dried or tinned. The tins are really handy because you just have to drain them and add them to a dish. Lentils taste like other dried legumes. They are high in protein and commonly found these days in recipes promoting weight loss. I like the idea that they add a new flavour dimension to a dish. Lentils are used commonly in India as a stand alone side dish. However if you do mix them with mince or add them to a meat soup it’s a great way of getting them into kids without them even knowing. A meaty, creamy, saucy Italian lasagne has always been popular in my house so having tired slightly of it I was looking for an alternative. Moussaka is the Greek version traditionally using lamb mince and layers of aubergine and thinly sliced potatoes rather than beef mince and sheet pasta. While the finished dish may look similar it is a totally different taste and well worth introducing as another family meal. With the lentils, aubergines and tomatoes it is another virtuous dish and the topping is usually a Greek yogurt rather than a high calorie béchamel sauce with cheese topping.

From warming ‘one pots’ to the other extreme; simply cooked meat cuts with fresh sides are also a nice introduction to spring. How about some juicy lamb chops with a tender cooked broccoli mixed with fried onion and garlic? I love this vegetable mix and it works well with any cut, pork chops, steak or even chicken. Boil some young broccoli for about 3 to 5 minutes, drain and set aside. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a high heat and fry a finely sliced onion for about 3 minutes until it is starting to caramelise. Add in two crushed (or finely sliced) garlic cloves and fry for one minute more. Then throw in the broccoli and cook for about 90 seconds or until it has all combined and warmed through and serve as a great warm nutritious side. Chinese food

While I know the weather has been cold and hardly conducive to cold food, the trick is to think cold and substantial rather than cold and light! Duck is hugely popular at the moment and while we are doing some lovely pre prepared duck dishes in the shop that take all the hassle out of thinking, I’m also very fond of a duck salad with an oriental twist that is easy to make at home. The Asian influence is hardly surprising as many of us believe that the Chinese have cornered the market on cooking duck well. I totally agree and love the way they do it, but I still think it is something we can also enjoy at home. This duck salad is really easy and is quite filling as it uses noodles and vegetables. First of all rub the duck all over with some Chinese Five Spice Powder (readily available in the spice aisle of any supermarket) and bake on a tray in a hot oven for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile cook the rice noodles according to the pack instructions. (I told you this was easy!) Cut some celery, carrot, cucumber and spring onions into slim matchsticks or batons. Toss all the vegetables with the drained noodles and plate up. When the duck is cooked and cooled enough to handle, remove the crispy skin and finely shred and spread on top of the noodles and veg. Make a pouring dressing by mixing 2:1 tablespoons of hoisin sauce and soy sauce and serve it on the side. Wholesome, fresh and filling with a lovely aromatic kick this duck salad has spring written all over it.

If you’re looking for some more inspiration then drop by the website or come into the shop and see our collection for spring 2013, there’s always something new to tempt to you with.

This post was written by me, Pat Whelan, owner of James Whelan Butchers and a passionate advocate of local artisan food. My family have been producing quality Irish Angus beef for generations using a traditional dry aging process. This tradition is one that I continue to practice at our abattoir on our family farm in Garrentemple, Clonmel. These posts aim to impart some of the wisdom to readers and help them get the best out of the meat they eat! Our meat is available online here! I welcome your feedback to Pat@jwb.ie

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment