James Whelan Butchers: Chutney Secrets

It’s a sure sign you’re married with young children when the long, wine fuelled gluttonous dinner parties of youth turn into sober Sunday daytime affairs where the excitement reaches its crescendo at the thought of trying a new flavour from the Nespresso machine with a homemade shortbread after you’ve eaten.   I suppose as we mature we have to be so much more Daniel O’Donnell than Keith Richards during these responsible years.  This thought occurred to me recently when we had some people around for a relatively restrained daytime get together and the obligatory bottle of wine had, in this instance, morphed into a selection of artisan chutneys.  I also noted that I was much more excited about receiving these dark jars of treasure than had it been alcohol, which I couldn’t have shared then as I needed to drive later in the day to pick up one of the kids from a birthday party.

Chutney is one of those things that I am never without.  I always have at least a few different varieties to hand and I’m in the fortunate position that I’m often given it as gifts.  Sometimes it will be a home made affair and other times, like recently, it will be a present of shop bought varieties. I just couldn’t imagine a hot or cold sandwich without it or the lift it instantly gives to cold meat and leftovers let alone the hot meats that benefit greatly from a dollop on the top.

I always tended to associate chutneys and pickles with England and in particular the Ploughman’s Lunch, which is traditionally bread, cheese and chutney.  However the name ‘chutney’ comes from the Hindi word ‘chatni’, which simply means ‘sauce’, and it was brought to England by traders coming back from India in the 17th century.  Chutney, in its many and wondrous variations, can be found all over India and is often used with curry.  As it was popularised in Britain it then became equally fashionable in the colonies and so today chutney is found all over the world and considered part of the indigenous cuisine.  Chutney is also the perfect way of preserving summer fruits and vegetables and while preserving is by no means necessary for our survival through the winter months in this day and age, I think there is great satisfaction in the idea of preserving food to eat later.   It’s also really important to note that home made chutney takes at least three months to mature and settle and so anything made in August and September will probably be just right for those cold December days.  rhubarb_chutney

Having just romanticised the idea of going all Barbara and Tom from the Good Life and making your own, there are really great chutneys available to buy.  There are some excellent artisan brands widely available and then there are the cottage industry types at Farmers Markets and Country Markets up and down the country.  It is among the more maverick home made group where you will find the most variation and the odd one that you may not like at all.   If you find it too ‘vinegary’ that’s a sure sign it hasn’t had enough time maturing.  While there are quick and ready to eat chutney recipes in abundance on the web, I tend to be a little bit of a traditionalist in believing that you just can’t buy or make time; there is no substitute.

So what exactly is chutney?  Well very simply it is just a fruit or vegetable chopped up into chunks such as apples, plums, onions, mangoes, pears or a combination of fruit and vegetable of choice.  It’s then cooked with vinegar, sugar and spices until reduced down into a dark, thick and chunky sauce that can be put in jars and kept for quite some time.  Unopened chutney can last anything up to a year and once opened for a good three to four weeks kept in a fridge.  (This will be determined by the type of chutney and where it was made.  Always check the labels.

Along with all the usual chutney uses I have tried it more and more on hot food.  It started with some pork when I realised I didn’t have any apple sauce but I did have a jar of spiced apple chutney.  I served it with the chutney and it was great.   I was then given a very simple recipe that I believe came from James Martin.  It was a breast of chicken – butterflied, seasoned and then pan fried until cooked (about 4 to 5 minutes a side, depending on the thickness of the breast.) Once cooked I laid out some fresh sage leaves along the centre, two tablespoons of apple and plum chutney on top of that, then half ball of mozzarella diced and topped it all with a slice of Parma ham.  I then placed my little chicken based mound under a very hot grill to crisp up the ham and melt the cheese a little.  It was great and really made a restaurant quality dish out of a simple breast of chicken.

Knowing how good chutney is with cheese I have also used it to make a very quick starter.  Just take some filo or puff pastry and you can make a tart or a parcel.  I did parcels as they don’t have to look as pretty.  I basically used a little filling of goats’ cheese and chutney mix and baked them in the oven until the parcels were cooked.  I have also added some chopped black pudding into the mix from time to time and this works well too. These little parcels are great starters or lunchtime treats.  Chutney can be mixed with other ingredients such as sour cream or mayonnaise and can be used as sandwich condiments or dips (Go with mayonnaise for the sandwich and sour cream for the dip) and to a barbecue sauce as a marinade or coating. It can also elevate stuffing for pork, chicken or turkey.  And you don’t need me to tell you that mango chutney is lovely with a curry.  Speaking of Indian food you will also find plenty of chutney and fish recipes from that part of the world also.

I can’t urge you enough to try some chutney even if you start by simply spreading it on a warm toasted cheese and ham sandwich.  I have no doubt that for many cooks chutney could become the all important secret ingredient.

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: Chutney Secrets”

  1. eamonn says:

    Excellent blog. I have just finished my second batch of chutney. This one was apple date and ginger don’t know if I can wait three months though.I finishedvthe first tomato and ginger in a week so I am not too hopeful.

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