The hen party

SOMETIMES a broody hen hatches a clutch of chickens secretly in the ditch and arrives in proudly with them clustered around her.

So far, there have been none this year, so we decided to take matters into our own hands. This week we’ve just had some little chicks hatch out in the incubator in the shed.

After 24 hours they are transferred to the palais des poulets, where they keep warm under a lamp until they are hardy enough to be able to scratch and forage for themselves outside. After about five months, they’ll be starting to lay a variety of different coloured eggs — the marrans produce deep brown speckledy eggs, the light Sussex lay white and the araucana lay true blue eggs.

No eggs will ever taste better or be fresher than the eggs from your own hens and there’s also the feelgood factor — food miles are non-existent and food scraps from the house can be fed to the hens, who return the compliment by rewarding you with eggs.

For anyone with even a scrap of lawn, space shouldn’t be a problem. Hens come in two sizes — large fowl and bantams which are quarter of the size and they can be decorative as well as functional. Provide as much space as is feasible — a mobile ark is a good idea. There are a variety of houses available from the tiny eglu hen houses and movable arks to larger portable hen houses.

If you move the ark and let them run around every few days, three or four hens will be happy on a small patch of grass. Don’t worry about annoying the neighbours — the hens will be quite happy without a cockerel. They will also lay eggs but they won’t produce chicks.

It takes less than 10 minutes a day to look after your poultry and can provide hours of pleasure watching their antics. Give your neighbours a few eggs from time to time so they will be happy to look after your flock when you are on holiday.

From a cook’s point of view, the quality of the eggs makes a difference. Sponges and scones are lighter and more delicious, homemade mayonnaise emulsifies in seconds and even boiled eggs are different.

Two or three boiled or poached for supper, with some good soda bread, will leave you feeling full and satisfied and cost a fraction of some of the other proteins.

This week I’m suggesting a few of my favourite egg recipes, many of which are dinner party fare.

For eglu hen houses: www.omlet.co.uk.

Rory O’Connell’s Mimosa Salad

THIS lovely salad has egg yolk on top and gives the effect of a Mimosa flower.

We vary the lettuces in this recipe according to the season and availability.

Use one, or a mixture of chicory, watercress, mibuna, misuna, edible chrysanthemums, pea shoots or rocket. We also use a selection of organic baby leaves when available.

Serves 6 (as a starter)

A mixture of salad leaves in season

1 head of chicory (in winter)

24 kalamata olives

4 hard-boiled free-range eggs

55-85g/2-3oz Parmigano Reggiano dressing

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 large clove of garlic, crushed

salt and freshly ground pepper

Stone and finely chop olives. Sieve the egg yolks through a nylon sieve. Separately, finely chop the egg white, keeping this and the olives approximately the same size.

Finely grate the Parmesan cheese, or make shavings with a swivel-top peeler.

Whisk up dressing ingredients together.

Toss the leaves in a little of the dressing and drizzle a little dressing on the plates. Arrange lettuce leaves on top. Sprinkle egg white and olives around the leaves with some dressing and finish with sieved egg yolk and the Parmesan.

Serve immediately.

Canice Sharkey’s Rocket, Chorizo and Hard-Boiled Egg Salad

A delicious combination, this is good as a starter or main course for a summer lunch.

Serves 6

6 freshly laid organic eggs

6 tiny or 3 medium beetroots, cooked, peeled and quartered

6-8oz (175-225g) chorizo, sliced

Extra-virgin olive oil

A piece of aged Coolea, Desmond or Gabriel cheese

A mixture of salad leaves, cos, little gem, purslane, rocket leaves

Homemade mayonnaise

Vinaigrette:

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

A little Dijon mustard

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Boil the eggs in well-salted water for 6-7 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water to stop the cooking.

To prepare the beetroot, leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet.

Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so you don’t damage the skin — otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar.

Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size.

Beetroot are usually cooked when the skins rub off easily and when they dent when pressed with a finger. If in doubt, test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.

Meanwhile, whisk the ingredients for the vinaigrette together in a bowl.

Just before serving, heat a little olive oil in a pan. Over a medium heat, cook the slices of chorizo for a minute or two until they warm through and the oil begins to run.

Meanwhile, toss the salad leaves in a little dressing and arrange on the base of the serving plate.

Peel the eggs and cut lengthways, the centres should be still soft (they will be best if still warm). Arrange haphazardly on top of the leaves.

Tuck beetroot quarters in between the leaves and sprinkle the slices of chorizo over the salad. Grate some hard cheese over the top.

Drizzle the salad with the chorizo oil from the pan.

Serve immediately with lots of crusty sourdough bread and some homemade mayonnaise.

Hot Tips

THIS weekend, the west of Ireland’s favourite family festival is back: Féile na Tuaithe at Turlough Park takes place at the National Museum of Ireland — Country Life today and tomorrow. This free festival attracts up to 12,000 visitors. This year there is a dedicated artisan food marquee. Email: bbyron@museum.ie or see www.museum.ie.

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group meet on Thursday, May 29, at 7.30pm at Crawford Gallery Café, Cork. €6 including tea, coffee, etc. Speakers will address allotments and community gardens.

Darina Allen will be at Castlefarm, near Athy, Co Kildare, for the shop’s first birthday barbecue on Sunday, June 1. This local food celebration feast will include an organic pig on a spit and a smorgasbord of Castlefarm and locally produced food. Tickets: €20. Tel 059-8636948 or email jenny@castlefarmshop.ie or see www.castlefarmshop.ie.


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