Whisky Connoisseur

Arthur J A Bell

Take a Dash of Malt

Some Bottles of Islay Malts

Over the centuries. Scotch has been used to wet countless throats - and cheered up an equal number of faces. Something that is rarely written about (the exception is authoress Rosalie Cow *) is the use of whisky in cooking. From soups to stews, from starters to deserts, you can use Scotch to enhance your cooking. As you don't need to splash on huge amounts to add special flavour, it needn't cost your arms or legs. By experimenting with different malts you can achieve different results in flavour with all the other ingredients staying the same.

For too long the French have had their way with flambeeing..."just add a glass of cognac" (and help our economy). ... it is time for the producers of the world's finest spirit to fight back! Try griddling a good beefsteak then flaming it with a glass of Scotch. What a magnificent sauce you get to top the meat...and treat your guests too, without complicated cooking skills being needed.

Over the last 20 years I have been experimenting with whisky in my cooking, usually to great advantage. You'll find Scotch acts as a natural preservative, it can tenderise meats, enhance flavours, and add subtle differences to your cooking of many dishes. As with wine you use a rough old plonk you won't get as good a result as you would with a decent bottle of Burgundy, so with Scotch. Mind you that doesn't mean you should raid your drinks cupboard for that rare 20 year old Clynelish and pour it into a pot of mince! Death would be preferable to my reaction to anyone who did that without written and signed permission in my kitchen.

Now here's a few of my favourite tips.

Add a dash of "The Auld Kirk" to some of your soups, Game and Fish are particularly enlivened. Try, making that classic from North East Scotland Cullenn Skink, with smoked haddock and potatoes than mix a couple of tablespoons cream with equal amount of a Speyside malt and stir in just before serving. If you have never tried this soup, it 's quite simple to make and the flavours are splendid. Take off the flakes of fish and reserve, in the milky stock, whilst jettisoning the skin and bone. Slice a couple of large potatoes and cook in water with a finely chopped onion. When soft puree, and mix with flaked fish and milk. Gently re-heat together, season, and add in the cream and whisky mix. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and enjoy. Rich, rewarding and filling, it will start any whisky based meal with a bang.

Casseroles are a particular beneficiary of the addition of malt. A simple beef or lamb casserole, with plenty of fresh root vegetables, simmered for a couple of hours in stock and red wine, lifts off the a measure of Islay malt 10 minutes before you serve. Try it with something smoky like Lagavulin, then watch your guests faces light up.

I enjoy a splash with chicken too. You don't need to go as far as one friend did to my wife and I...he'd had a few already. "We're going to show the French how to do it", he intoned. "Hen au Barleycorn!" Taking the unsuspecting fowl, he rammed a French loaf up its fundamentals, cutting it off at the 'Parson's nose.' The baguette was then liberally soaked in 12 year old MacAllan, seasoned. put in a chicken brick in the oven and cooked for 75 minutes. Perhaps it was the ritual finishing of the bottle of malt before dinner that has wipped most memories of that evening from my ageing brain cells... but nothing will ever surpass that chicken!

Game and whisky seem to go particularly. well. Venison steaks with a whisk and juniper berry sauce are excellent, and no self-respecting grouse would be prepared to head oven way without an oatmeal and onion "skirlie" stuffing, well soused whisky. I would recommend, and I'm pretty sure the grouse concur that you try this with a smoky Islay- malt like Lagavulin.

Then of course there's the world famous haggis. Place the steaming plate of the sheep's stomach full of hot spicy richness on the table in front of yourself, then intone the words of Robert Burns.. ."Great chieftan o' the puddin' race.. !" Slice it open and watch its "gushing entrails flow", and then pour a large measure of Scotch over it. Serve with mashit tatties and bashit neeps - (pureed potato and turnips to the uninitiated) - and enjoy yourself. Don't forget to offer the piper and chef who brought the haggis to table a double, to be downed in one. Who says we Scots are a dour race?

Now to puddings. There's lots to do here with whisky, and one of the finest I ever tasted was in North America. I was dining in The Commanders Palace in New Orleans. which had just been voted the continent's finest restaurant by readers of 'Gourmet' magazine. They served me a unique bread and butter pudding souffle with a bourbon whisked sauce. I think it goes just as well with a strong malt... perhaps you have some left over from the haggis drowning ceremony? Make up the sauce from l cup of caster sugar and one of cream adding a little ground cinarnon, and 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter. Combine these in a sauce pan and bring to the boil, whilst mixing a tablespoon of cornflower with water. Add to the saucepan and stir till the mixture is clear. Take off the heat and add a measure of whisky. Definitely a recipe to avoid if you're trying to lose weigth!

There's so much you can do with puds and malt. Try poaching pears in whisky and sugar syrup, or prepaing fruit tarts with raspberries that have been soaked in a whisky liqueur such as Drambuie. The classic recipe, which has innumerable variation is Cranachan (pictured here). Here you whip cream and add to it toasted oatmeal, then some heather honey. Next you fold in fresh fruit like strawberries, and pretend that the word diet doesn't exist. Oh! I almost forgot. You've one more ingredient to fold into your cranachan but I think you'll have guessed it by now....malt whisky! Aye it's a hard world being interested in fine food and a peck o'malt. Good Luck.

ArthurJ A Bell CBE

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