Brussels ‘A Taste of Celtic’ dinner was opportunity to showcase local delights

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Last Monday night I was in Brussels cooking dinner in the British Ambassador’s residence. It was part of a “A Taste of Celtic” dinner cooked by me and chefs from Scotland and Wales.

The Northern Ireland side of the event was organised by Invest NI to showcase food from here to buyers and influencers in the Benelux region.

With Brexit looming, there has never been a more vital time to show the rest of the world what we’re made of.

I was honoured to be asked to take on the role of cooking our wonderful produce.

My suitcase was fit to burst with carefully packed Pollan from Lough Neagh, leeks from Roy and Sheila Lyttle from the Ards peninsula, breadcrumbs made with Kerr’s Pink potatoes from Comber, shortcake made with Abernethy butter, wafers made from White’s oats, Smoked dulse from North Coast smokehouse in Ballycastle, Mourne heather honey, knives, oyster knives, silicon moulds, chef whites and my toothbrush! A palette had already been delivered with Peter Hannan’s Glenarm shorthorn, Millbay Oysters from Kilkeel, Broighter Gold rapeseed oil, Abernethy butter, Burren Balsamics beetroot vinegar, Clandeboye yoghurt, Cavanagh eggs, cheese from Dart Mountain and Ballylisk, Armagh apples, beer, cider, whiskey, gin and Tayto crisps (a party wouldn’t be the same without them).

Pollan is in season now, for a short time, and it was fortuitous to be able to cook it at this time. People in the Benelux region adore herring and Pollan is a fresh water variety of the fish trapped in Lough Neagh during the last ice age. The pollan, for the starter course, was rubbed with an elderberry cure, marinated for a few hours and the skin scorched to serve. I’d picked the elderberries in Portstewart in the early autumn and dehydrated them with salt. It was served with an oat and buttermilk wafer, Burren Balsamics Beetroot and cacao nib vinegar and a smoked dulse and Broighter Gold mayonnaise made with Cavanagh eggs and some of Pat O’Doherty’s bacon from Enniskillen. Lough Neagh takes in five counties and Fermanagh made up an all encompassing Northern Irish dish with the bacon and eggs.

For main course I served Peter Hannan’s salt aged Glenarm Shorthorn sirloin with a crispy Millbay oyster, Roy Lyttle’s buttered leeks and an oyster mayonnaise. 500g of leeks, from the Ard’s Peninsula, were finely chopped, blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds and blended with 200g melted Abernethy butter and 3g of Xanthan gum.

The gum, available in the gluten free flour section of most supermarkets and delis, stabilises the leeks and makes them fluffy and creamy.

Oyster mayonnaise is made in the same way as a regular one but some of the egg yolk is substituted with shucked oysters.

Oysters and beef are a traditional combination but we all enjoyed a kitchen snack of good old fashioned Belgian fries dipped in the oyster mayonnaise.

I’ve included the recipe for dessert of a Clandeboye yoghurt mousse, elderflower cider candied Armagh apple, Abernethy smoked butter shortcake and Mourne heather honeycomb.

The honeycomb reacts in your mouth with the apple to fizz and the yoghurt cream cuts through the whole thing.

We have the best produce in the world here in Northern Ireland and it’s always good to get the opportunity to shout about it to a wider audience.