Forget the futurologists and stick with pretension free ingredients

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This week the press was full of predictions for food trends for 2018.

This has now been added to my growing list of pet peeves. Apparently regionality of ingredients, non alcoholic drinks, fermentation, consumption of seaweed, plant based eating and lotus roots are the things to watch this year. You don’t say. We’ve been feasting on these culinary treasures here for thousands of years – native local food, drinking water, dulse, preserving food in bogs and didn’t the cavemen rely on berries and seeds? Lotus roots by the way taste of nothing so save your money and ignore that prediction.

One of the most annoying predicted trends is that “competitive dining” will be a big thing in 2018 apparently thanks to shows like Masterchef and Big Family Showdown. Having seen more people than ever get into a tail spin over cooking Christmas dinner this year, this is the one that particularly grated with me. This is yet another consequence of all the constructed competitiveness on television – everything from cooking to ballroom dancing, singing to just being an annoying human being (ie Big Brother) has to be a contest. Isn’t it enough to invite someone into your house and give them a good, honest meal, instead of a tasting menu with matching wines, foams, gels and food assembled with tweezers?

One of the great blessings of my life is having a family and a group of friends who are devoid of any pretension and thankfully conviviality takes precedence over fancy food and drink. That’s not to say we shouldn’t make an effort – I handroll pasta regularly and go to town on locally sourced meat and vegetables, but keep it within the constraints of your own capability.

A beautifully made beef casserole with champ will make a delicious centre piece meal. We tend to save ham for Christmas but a braised, glazed gammon is perfect all year round not just for that one festive lunch.

One of my stand out meals of 2018 was a spiced, smoked mutton dish served in an Indian restaurant in Birmingham. Mutton has had a bad press in recent times but it’s slightly gamey flavour is a real revelation. Four ounces of this natural meat will give you a depth and range of tastes that a pound of farmed chicken never will in a million years. Buchanan’s Farm in Upperlands will have this hidden gem available at the end of the month but in the meantime I’m including a recipe for spiced shoulder of lamb. Use Northern Irish lamb, not just to support the local farmers but because it is infinitely better in every way. The lamb is slowly cooked on the bone which adds more flavour, rested, the meat shredded and tossed into the cooking juices – succulent, warm and tender as it should be.

It would be impressive if restaurants adopted a resolution to cook more local vegetables. Often the only nod to anything grown in soil is chips and tobacco onions.

We grow and harvest vegetables so brilliantly in Northern Ireland and should cherish them more.

To go along with the lamb I’ve included a recipe for a carrot and chickpea salad – go to a market or good greengrocers and buy muck caked carrots as they’ll have a natural sweetness and the crunchy texture works well with the soft lamb.

To cap it off, local potatoes are roasted in oil and finished with a spiced butter. Plonk it all in the middle of the table, invite your friends and family, have a laugh and forget about all the futurologists.