Grease is Good

Blue-skying offal mind-shares going forward – an Irish offal blog

January 8th, 2010

I told ye so

Now, allow me to gloat a little. For years, during the most egregious excesses of the Celtic Tiger years, I prothlesysed about the delights of the humble casserole like a medieval crusading knight. My armour of choice, designed to shield against the coming conflagration and to attain maximum flavour, was the cast iron casserole pot. Two, in fact, a wide shallow casserole by Le Cruset and a deep casserole from Ikea. Since at least 2006 I was prophesying the coming of the casserole. This article in today’s Irish Times proves that, yes, we have entered the Age of Casserole.

In the days of excess, people looked at me like I had bubonic plague. ‘You eat that?’ ‘That takes too long to cook.’ ‘That looks gross!’ These were the things I heard regularly. Most of the time people accused me of wanton self-proletarianisation. That I was rebelling against the bombasticness of the Celtic Tiger and my own social status by cooking simple, slow food. We Irish hadn’t crawled out of the mud to return to eating habits associated with peasants, people thought. It didn’t matter where the peasants were, whether it was a mother in Connemara boiling the bejaysis out of a cabbage, or a skilled Spanish mama creating full-flavoured home dishes. No, we just couldn’t do that.

Feeling embattled and justified in my beliefs, I began to compete with a friend on finding and cooking the most outlandish, most peasant-like food. I’d source the cheapest cuts (from the best butchers): trotters, hearts, kidneys, beef shin, lamb shank, lamb breast. Casseroles would become a staple.

I feel lucky that my mother was a good cook. Instead of Irish dinners that smelled like old leather and gym socks, I ate curry, shepherd’s pie, stroganoff, all kinds of things. Very 1970s. But for the most part, I blame the parents for our aversion to casseroles. What we don’t understand, which the French, Spanish and Eastern Europeans do (and even people in southern Africa, I’ve been discovering) is that it’s not hard to create very subtle and complex casseroles (or braised meat dishes) with the right ingredients. I stayed with a French family last year while on a language course. My maman d’aceuil served up the most deliciously complex rabbit stew replete with juniper and black pepper. How simple and soul-nourishing.

I’m glad casseroles are coming back into fashion but, to be fair, casseroles are not the only way to cook offal and cheap cuts. Seems to me the article is still in anti-casserole mode, longing for the good ol’ days. We simply cannot afford to expect pricey cuts all of the time – it’s expensive, wasteful and damaging to the environment.

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March 23rd, 2009

Planning an offal-y delicious dinner menu

Who says people can’t throw lavish dinner parties in post-crisis Ireland? Not me, anyway.

While many of us can no longer serve up lobster thermidore or huge hunks of Chateaubriand to our friends (and most never did anyway, but you get the point), it doesn’t mean we have to return to the bygone days of boil-blasted cabbage and ossified pork chops. If the boom didn’t teach us gastronomic humility, the crash can teach us gastronomic utility. During the boom, we did learn some things about food, and perhaps the crash is bound to ground us in in the gifts of time and flavour.

Certainly, since I’ve lost my job, I’ve used it as an opportunity to re-discover offal, folk-knowledge lost in one of Quinnsworth’s aisles twenty years ago. On top of that, time spent in the municipal markets of France and Spain helped me realise not just what we’re missing, but the close and respectful relationship many in those countries have with the animals they cook and eat. Just as we lost sight of our origins, we lost sight of what went into us, too.

Very soon, I’m going to have to put my meat where my mouth is and come up with a winning dinner menu that’ll blow the gaskets off offal’s bad image. So I’ve given myself the task of putting together a dinner menu for some friends. I’ve already become competitive about it. And so be it. I feel like I’m rediscovering something lost to us, but I feel it’s a way to spread the good word. As more people have realised that food is life, and not something to be boiled for two hours in a pot and thrown on a plate, I think it could be soul-enriching to help people realise that, even if they are cash-strapped, that they can still enjoy great food. Not only that, but greater passion for all that animals can offer in food is less wasteful and better for the environment.

The Menu

Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

Pre-starter: Oxtail velouté
Starter: Roast bone marrow and head-cheese terrine with toast
Main: Roast stuffed lamb’s heart served on fontant celeriac and red-wine and sage reduction
Dessert: Tarte Tatin

I have no idea how to cook these, so stay posted.

Edit: I didn’t manage to cook three-quarters of this. I couldn’t get the ingredients in time. Instead, the menu looked like this:

Pre-starter: Mint pea and ham soup
Starter: Chicken, pork and pistachio terrine
Main: Mackerel eschabeche with patatas bravas
Dessert: Tarte Tatin

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