“How bloody difficult can it be to cut pork??!”
Last Saturday night was exciting and terrifying. I teamed up with Joe from Salamander Coffee House for the first “Salamander Supper Club.” Joe approached me with the idea a month previously and after some thinking and chatting we decided that our first night should be Italian with a change of cuisine each month. Doing Italian first was the obvious choice for me, it is the cuisine I’m most familiar and comfortable with and as I was cooking for more than 10 people for the first time, it was important for it to be as comfortable as possible.
From the start I knew what I wanted the main dish to be. Porchetta is a wonderful dish from the Lazio region. Originally it was made with a whole suckling pig (gutted and stuffed) but in recent years this has been replaced with pork belly. Stuffed with liver, almonds and oregano and slow roasted, it is the perfect mix of succulent flesh with crispy crackling. This was to be sitting on a bed a peperonata, a Piedmontese pepper, tomato and onion stew, and joined by potatoes with olive oil, onion and tomato. After our trial night we decided to switch the potatoes to a garlic gratin as the dishes were too tomato heavy, it may veer more towards a French style but it suited the dish perfectly, creative license and all that jazz. The dish was finished with a simple salsa verde to bring extra freshness to proceedings.
For starter we decided on a tasting plate of Italian dishes. Again I was keen to go with options that aren’t seen too often in Ireland. Stuffed mussels (with capers, anchovies and chilli) were joined by a roasted tomato and basil bruschetta and an arancino with lamb ragu sauce. Arancini are a magnificent Sicilian snack food made from leftover risotto. The rice ball is sometimes stuffed with ragu but I prefer to have it with a good flavoured tomato sauce for dipping. The stuffed mussels were my favourite part of the menu. The capers, anchovies and chilli give them a tangy, salty and spicy hit and are the perfect way to elevate the humble shell fish.
For dessert there was only ever one choice. Tiramisu has always been my favourite dessert and Joe did a great job on it. I always find it interesting how different people judge the amount of booze in the biscuit and I think he got just enough in to keep the carousers happy while not so much to anger the nephalists.
The night itself was a serious learning curve for me. Having Ali, my brother Shane and Joe’s brother Jeff in the kitchen was life saving. Surprisingly the cooking wasn’t really the issue, it was the cutting! The Porchetta was the bane of my life. The crackling was nigh on impossible to cut and when I eventually got through it I had applied so much pressure that the flesh and stuffing fell apart. Luckily the diners were more interested in the taste than the look and everybody seemed happy with their meal. Although the pressure was on we managed to get 28 starters and 28 mains out of the kitchen in an hour. A success by any standards. The night was finished off with one of Salamander’s delicious coffees or teas. Joe takes his coffee seriously and to my surprise, freshly grinds just enough coffee for each cup just before making, it shows.
When discussing the supper club, we were keen to involve as many local suppliers as possible. Pigs on the Green supplied the free range pork belly and liver, Nick’s Fish supplied the mussels, Nolan’s of Kilcullen supplied the lamb for the Arancini sauce while Winelab supplied the magnificent wine on tap.
Typically I forgot my camera on the night so the pictures are from the trial night.
We will be announcing details of our next Supper Club night very soon so keep an eye on the facebook page.