Weekend food with Darina Allen

A TABLE at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen is one of the hottest, most sought after meal slots in the whole world.

Curious chefs and food lovers from all over the world fly into Copenhagen to eat at this simple restaurant which has defined the gastronomy of a whole nation and established a flow of food tourism that benefits not only Noma but a growing number of other restaurants in Copenhagen and the hinterland.

So why is Noma causing such a sensation?

Well, chef Réne Redzepi and his team cook and serve Nordic ingredients proudly.

The food is fresh, seasonal and much is foraged from the wild.

The food is incredibly delicious. But Noma is not just about the food; the whole experience challenged many of our concepts of how food should taste and be served.

On arrival at Noma, a converted herring warehouse, you walk down three or four steps to find the kitchen directly ahead.

You are greeted by several of the chefs, then shown to your table.

The room is simple yet incredibly sophisticated and then the feast begins. Lots of little snacks in quick succession, then the pace slows down, the dishes are slightly larger, virtually all are vegetarian.

In an exquisite meal of virtually 20 courses, we had meat just twice, tiny medallions of bone marrow in one and paper thin slices of duck breast in another.

I hadn’t even noticed the absence of meat until someone mentioned it in passing.

It was a beautiful celebration of vegetables and wild foods. At Noma the chefs not only plate the food in the kitchen but also help to serve the food to the guests. It’s such a simple brilliant concept; the chefs normally hidden behind closed doors get to experience the guests’ reactions to their food and Noma has simply one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had.

There are three Irish chefs in the kitchen, one of whom is a past student of the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Louise Bannon, who did a 12-Week Certificate Course in 2002, bakes bread and does many of the delicious desserts.

The bread was delicious, served warm in a little felt nest with the most incredibly delicious butter I have ever tasted in my entire life, and that’s high praise coming from someone who makes butter virtually every day from our own Jersey cream.

When I enquired, another one of the young chefs came to the table to tell me all about it.

It’s made by a Swedish couple who have just five goats. They stop the butter just when the cream is starting to split, drain and wash it and serve the curdled butter fat at that stage, completely delicious. I want to go and visit them.

Rene Redzepi had recently published his Noma Cookbook in English — a beautiful tome published by Phaidon. The photographs are amazing and give you an idea of the presentation. There are also several interviews with Rene on YouTube to whet your appetite.

Noma is really worth the trip to Copenhagen but there’s tons more.

Don’t miss Hermann in Tivoli, Manfred’s, Aamanns, Meyers Deli and great coffee in Coffee Collective.

The following are recipes from Noma — Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by Rene Redzepi.

Smoked Quail Eggs

10 quail eggs

20g hay

50g birchwood chips

200g water

100g rosehip vinegar

Hay to serve

Eggs

Blanch the eggs for one minute 30 seconds and cool them in ice water.

Blanch them again for 50 seconds, cool and peel them.

Take care not to break them — eggs cooked for such a short time are very soft and fragile.

Finally smoke the eggs for around 20 minutes on a slotted gastro tray in a smoker by heating it slowly with hay and chips.

Pickle

Mix the water and vinegar, and pickle the eggs in a vacuum-bag for 10 minutes.

Keep warm until you are ready to serve.

Serving

Cut the hay into short lengths and use it to fill the base of an oval serving dish.

Make a small incision in the bottom of each egg and lay them on the hay.

With a hand-held food smoker burn hay into the serving dish and cover quickly, trapping the smoke in the dish.

Grilled Lamb Shank and Ramsons Leaves, Yellow Beetroot and Elderflowers

4 small lamb shanks

50g lamb glace (reduced lamb stock)

25g large ramsons (wild garlic) leaves

30 small yellow beetroots (beets)

350g large yellow beetroot (beet)

Salt

Apple balsamic vinegar

1 bunch elderflower blossom (optional)

60g elderflower cordial (syrup) available at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop

A little butter

Lamb glace, to serve

Lamb Shank

Vacuum-pack the shanks with the lamb glace and ramsons (wild garlic leaves) and cook them at 63C (145F) for 24 hours.

Beetroot

Divide the beetroot into two groups by size. Cook the smaller group in water until tender and then peel. Peel the bigger group and slice finely on a mandolin. Keep in ice water for 10 minutes to crisp them, and then dry.

Sauce

Peel the beetroot, juice in a juicer and then reduce the juice to one third. Pour all the juices from the bags containing the cooked lamb shanks into a bowl and add a few tablespoons of the reduced beetroot juice. Season with salt and vinegar.

Garnish

Cut the flowers into smaller sprigs and keep refrigerated until serving.

Serving

Char-grill (charbroil) the lamb shanks and glaze in a few tablespoons of warm lamb glace. Place a portion of meat in the centre of each plate. Heat the cooked beetroot in a little butter and a few drops of cordial. Drop the raw beetroot into the rest of the cordial for a few seconds to sweeten. Add the raw and cooked beetroot to the plate; add the elderflowers and finally the sauce.

Potato Crisps with Anise and Chocolate

2 Bintje potatoes (Golden Wonders or any floury potato)

800ml grapeseed oil

400g couverture chocolate

20g powdered cocoa butter

4g green anise seeds

4g fennel seeds

Potatoes

Peel the potatoes and slice them finely into cold water. Leave the slices in the cold water until the starch has rinsed out and then pat dry. Heat the oil carefully in a deep fryer to approximately 170C (340F) and fry the potatoes until crisp. Cool on grease absorbent paper.

Covering and Serving

Melt the chocolate and the cocoa butter and bring to 50C (120F). Temper it to 27C (80F) and then increase the temperature back up to 30C (85F). Pull the potatoes through the tempered chocolate to cover them completely, and then cool on a tray. Sprinkle the anise and fennel seeds over the potatoes before they have cooked completely.

Hot tips

The Herring Gull Restaurant at Inn by The Harbour in Ballycotton is open again after a short winter break for weekends only until April.

Book a table with a view of the island and lighthouse and enjoy fresh fish straight from the boats.

Try the hot buttered oysters with asparagus on toast and the roast cod with Ballycotton shrimp risotto. Phone 021-4646768 to book..

Garden Workshop at Ballymaloe Cookery School — Creating a Soft Fruit Garden with Susan Turner on Monday, Mar 5 from 9am to 2pm — lunch included.

Susan will guide you on the choice of fruit varieties, designing the fruit garden layout, looking at aspect spacing and plant training structures, as well as protection from birds and understanding the general principles behind pruning. She will also explain how to create fans, cordons and bushes with gooseberries, red currants, white currants and jostaberries. Phone 021-4646785.

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