What a fantastic trip! I have just spent ten days in the Basque country and what an inspirational and brilliant visit it was. I was over filming for a new series for RTE, in association with Flogas, that is being aired in September and I must say I am so excited by the project.
We travelled all around the basque country, including San Sebastian, Bilbao and La Rioja. We visited fishing villages and learned about how local chefs cook the fantastic fish caught right on their doorstep and we also visited wineries to learn how they make their world renowned wines.
I always think the Basque people are very similar to Irish people in their outlook on life and also how much they enjoy their food and how they use local ingredients. There is one difference however and that is the ‘slightly’ warmer summers that they enjoy!
We also learned all about Pinchos, which are the Basque regions equivalent to tapas. These small snacks are simply delicious. They can be hot or cold or sweet and the one thing they always are is absolutely beautiful!
Anybody who loves their food and would like to combine this passion with a holiday should look at a trip to San Sebastian. You can do do special pincho tours and also sample the delights of some fabulous restaurants. I love to visit with Amelda and the twins. It is a great place for families and a region of Spain that I think doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
We visited and filmed in one of the best restaurants in the world when we were there. Arzak is owned by Juan Mari Arzak and he and his daunter Elena cook the most wonderful food. I worked there when I was younger and it remains one of the best experiences of my life and I plan to go back and work in the kitchen again. I find that you learn so much there. It is such a generous and beautiful restaurant. When we were there we filmed one of the chefs who made their Chocolate Truffle dessert and I can tell you that it was just fantastic.
It really was an exhilarating ten days and I have to thank David Hare of RTE and Billy, Ray and all the team for the work that they do. We will have recorded 115 shows when this Basque series is taken into the mix and I have to say I have loved each and every show. It is one of my great pleasures to share my passion for cooking with you through my TV shows and I am humbled as always by the support you show me. I know you will love the this latest show!
Now, one of my blogs would not be complete without sharing a recipe so here is a little dish with a mediterranean twist that I really think you will love it.
Braised shoulder of lamb with Mediterranean Couscous
Make sure you ask your local butcher to trim, bone and roll the shoulder for you so that you end up with a nice shape for presentation.
3 tbsps rapeseed oil
675g/1½lb boned lamb shoulder, rolled and tied at intervals with string
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 leek, diced
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1.2 litres/2 pints beef stock
600ml/1 pint red wine
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 tbsp tomato puree
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsps Madeira
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp light brown sugar
Knob of butter
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the lamb shoulder and brown all over for six to eight minutes, turning regularly with tongs.
Add the carrots, celery, leek, onion and garlic and cook for another 10 minutes, until the vegetables are golden brown.
Place the lamb and vegetables in a large, deep roasting tin. Cover with the stock, red wine, herbs and tomato puree. Season to taste, then cover with foil and cook in the oven for three hours, until the lamb is really tender. Leave to cool completely and rest in the juices.
Once it has cooled, remove the lamb from the pan. Strain the juices into a clean bowl and discard the vegetables. Cover the juices and keep in the fridge until needed.
Cut off the string, then tightly roll the lamb in a double layer of tinfoil to create a firm sausage shape. When cold, place in the fridge overnight to firm up.
Place the reserved braising juices in a pan and add in the Madeira, vinegar and sugar. Bring to the boil and cook for 25-30 minutes, until reduced by half to a sauce consistency. Season to taste and keep warm.
When ready to serve, remove the tinfoil from the lamb cylinder and trim off the ends, then carve into 4cm x 5cm (2in) slices.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the remaining two tablespoons of the oil and the knob of butter. Once the butter stops sizzling, add the lamb pieces and cook for two to three minutes on each side, until crisp, golden brown and nicely warmed through. To serve, spoon the Mediterranean couscous (see below) on to each warmed plate using a 9cm (3¾in) cooking ring. Place the crispy braised lamb on top and spoon over the sauce made from the braising juices.
This whole dish can be prepared up to two days in advance. The shoulder is best cooked at least the day before so that it can be rolled really tight to give the joint a good shape.
For the Mediterranean Couscous
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 small courgette, trimmed and finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 red pepper, roasted, cored and finely diced
150ml/¼ pint tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato puree
Dash of balsamic vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
400ml/14fl oz vegetable stock
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsps lemon oil
4 tbsps toasted pine nuts
4 tbsps chopped fresh mixed herbs, such as mint, coriander and flat-leaf parsley
Heat the rapeseed oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the red onion, courgette and garlic and cook for two minutes, stirring. Add in the red pepper and cook for one minute more, stirring.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in the tomato juice, puree, vinegar and sugar, and cook for five to six minutes, then add the basil and season to taste. Keep warm.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil and add in the lemon juice, then season to taste. Keep warm.
Toast the couscous on a dry pan for two to three minutes, until golden brown, tossing constantly and being careful not to let it burn. Transfer to a large bowl and add in the lemon oil and rind and mix well to combine.
Pour in the hot stock, then cover with clingfilm and leave to sit until all the liquid is absorbed.
Just before serving, stir in the warm vegetable mixture along with the pine nuts and herbs. Mix well to combine and season to taste — you should have about 900g (2lb) in total. Use as required.