This week I want to celebrate the Irish, partly because of St Patricks Day but mostly because they are my heroes. The Irish have a certain reputation internationally and at last years World Cup they lived up to it in every way, they were without doubt the most fun fans to be around, to be passionate and proud in victory as well as defeat, while never losing the joy in life is a lesson we can all learn.
Being good at throwing a party is one thing but what makes Ireland the land of heroes for me is their food, or more to the point what they are doing with it now. You see, like Greece and Portugal, Irelands economy is down the toilet and yet we don’t read a lot of poor me stories in the papers. Like most of Europe, Ireland fell for the false economic bubble of financial services and property in a big way, losing the farming skills in the process. Now they have the double whammy of being a failing agriculture based economy that believed in the false dawn.
Doesn’t sound good does it? Well there is a silver lining to this cloud as the Irish have decided to go back to what they know best and this is where the similarities to New Zealand become apparent. What we have is an island that is incredibly fertile with a long history of food production, but only a little over 4 million people on it.
The Irish government believe that the way out of their problems is with food exports, but with a depleted skilled workforce and a finite limit on the farming land it isn’t possible to increase production. Their answer is so simple, if we can’t produce more to make more then we must make more from what we produce. The emerald isle is playing the green card and staking its future on the niche market of high quality and its working, their exports are up and their image is greener than ever.
Now you see why the Irish are my heroes, to ignore industrial farming and stake your reputation and financial future on quality and tradition is a brave move, and one we can learn from before we lose yet more farming skills. Ireland is fast gaining the reputation of being the clean and green food choice for Europe; perhaps we should keep an eye on them.
The best Oysters in Europe are coming from the clean waters of Ireland and so I thought I’d share this recipe with you as part of the celebration.
Warm Oysters with Champ and Caviar
Oysters are bi-valves and unusual in not being symmetrical; one shell is flat, while the other is deep and bowl-like. It is useful both for storage and display. The oysters in this dish are raw, but they are lightly warmed by the heat from the sterilised shell and the sauce. The champ acts not only as a ‘berth’ for the oyster shells, but also provides a starchy contrast to the oysters and butter.
8 fresh Bluff oysters in their shells
2 tablespoons caviar
200g floury potatoes, e.g. Agria, peeled and chopped into large chunks
3 whole spring onions
1 tablespoon cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
25ml white wine
1 finely chopped shallot
50g unsalted butter
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp lemon juice
- Shuck the oysters, keeping the flesh in a bowl for later. Scrub the shells and boil them to clean thoroughly, reserving for later.
- Boil the potatoes in a pan until tender. Drain and mash, then beat in the cream, butter, spring onion and season with plenty of salt and pepper.
- For the sauce, reduce the wine with the chopped shallots by half. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter in small pieces until light and frothy. Add chopped chives, lemon juice and seasoning.
- To serve, place a spoonful of champ in the centre of the plate, push four of the hot, deep shells into the champ. Pop a raw oyster into each shell and pour over sauce. Spoon on caviar to garnish.
I know I usually bang on about local produce, but in this case lets go the whole hog and have a Guinness for St Paddy’s Day