James Whelan Butchers: Opposites Attract

The world of snacks and treats was thrown into a state of frenzy this week as Tayto, the iconic Irish crisp, teamed up with Butlers Chocolate to produce a limited edition Tayto Cheese and Onion Milk Chocolate Bar.  Of course it initially causes a small wrinkle in the brain as you try to imagine the two together and for many the first response will cause us to wrinkle up our noses as well.  The thing is that this combination of salty savoury and richly sweet together isn’t so unusual.  Neither is mixing crisps and chocolate revolutionary; just google chocolate covered crisps and there are hundreds of recipes all over the internet.  Several years ago I discovered the chocolate covered crisp in the States.  A department store called Neiman Marcus was (and still is) doing this with a thin-ish chocolate covered crisp presented in a tall Pringle like tin.  They were given to me as a gift and I remember biting into the first one with a little trepidation.  They were fine, the classic combination of salty and sweet with a creamy chocolate and a little crunch provided by the crisp. If I’m honest I wouldn’t go out of my way to get them again but I wouldn’t refuse one if it crossed my path.

It got me thinking about the whole idea of opposites and how it really works very well for food combinations and creating different taste sensations.  Sweet and savoury, sweet and sour or even hot and cold can be exciting.  I always enjoy a hot fruit crumble with a decent dollop of cold vanilla ice cream on the top.  Equally when we are talking hot and cold, there is nothing nicer than a spicy samosa or an onion bhaji balanced out with by a cooling yoghurt dip.

We always tend to think of sweet and sour as strictly Chinese.  We believe it does originate in China, but more and more European and American dishes are working with the idea. Salads are a great easy area to experiment with sweet and sour.  Try an exotic mix of chopped peppers, cucumbers and baby tomatoes with some moist pineapple or even pear slices.  Then if you serve this with, for example, a perfectly cooked duck breast or even some tender lamb chops you get the sweet and sour plus the hot and cold thing all going on together.  These are easy combinations to get right and a great way of dipping your toe in the water of opposites. Tayto chocolate bar

Our lives are constantly twisting and turning.  We enjoy the familiar but it is always spiced up by a surprise or the unexpected here and there.  We should treat our food in the same way.  We tend to eat the same foods, cooked the same way over and over again.   Of course familiarity makes for ease of cooking but as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt” and that can be particularly applied to cooking.    If we have a small repertoire of dishes cooked regularly even the favourites and the perfectly executed can become dull.  Make an effort to add at least one new dish, meal or menu to your skills each month and by the end of the year you’ll be surprised how far you have pushed those stale boundaries.

Using opposites is a great jumping off point for trying new things.  Heavy and light for example, rich starters followed up by a light fish course.  Oily and dry get you thinking of food textures and how they balance each other. The classic is bread and butter, the dryness of the bread with the oily butter or think sardines on a cracker for another simple combination.  While talking of textures smooth and rough – again a crunchy peanut butter has the smoothness of the butter but the crunch of the peanut.  Add this to a chicken stir fry while cooking and the combination is super.  Indeed try a stick of celery dipped in a smooth peanut butter for a lovely light and heavy, crunchy and soft, sweet and savoury combination.

Soft and hard, hot and cold – the possibilities are enormous.  What you are really looking for is balance.  There is nothing I like more than a heavy chunky steak with a lovely light mix of rocket and fresh coriander.  It is simplicity itself.  Again I’m getting heavy and light along with hot and cold.  Contrasting colours and textures also look good on a plate.  If everything is the same there is a blandness of colour, character and taste and the death of any meal.  No matter how perfectly cooked the individual elements are it will always feel like there was something missing.

A friend of mine is an expert with wine.  He says the law of opposites works well here too.  He suggests that if you enjoy spicy Asian food then that should be paired with a slightly sweeter wine like a chardonnay as the sweet will set off the spiciness of the food.  Dryer wines like cabernet sauvignon work best with high protein foods such as steak or a cheese plate perhaps, while a heavy, creamy pasta dish works well with a Merlot that will cut through the oils within the dish.  Personally I think you will know the wines you like and there are no rules, but it might be a rough guide.  In fact what I have found is that many of the lovely, fruiter and lighter red wines that I have liked have been Italian and they work very well with heavy pasta or meat dishes.

So this week start thinking about the everyday opposites we currently enjoy in food and that should get the creative juices flowing.  If you do come up with some rare gem don’t be afraid to drop me a line.

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

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One Response to “James Whelan Butchers: Opposites Attract”

  1. Mag kirwan says:

    I read you blogs sometimes
    You write very well
    You could be a journalist in your next life
    Next time mention the human law of attraction (-:

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