FOR those of us lucky enough to have reserved a place at Flavour.ie’s Pitmaster Masterclass at the Celtic Ross Hotel recently, the thoughts of eating incredible barbequed food on a wet, windy, cold August afternoon may have seemed a bridge too far.
But we needn’t have worried.
‘There’ll be no cremated sausages, boot leather burgers or charred rubbery chicken here,’ I heard one of my fellow attendees say as I took my seat.
Kate Ryan of Clonakilty-based Flavour.ie gave us a tantalising overview of the delicious food that was on the way and introduced us all to the pitmasters Declan (‘Decky’) Walsh and John Relihan of much-praised Holy Smoke restaurant in Cork city.
John is also a former head chef of Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa restaurant in London.
‘We are delighted with the interest and the number of people who are here today,’ Kate told me. ‘While people have travelled from across the country, this is very much a local event as we are using some of the best local produce and know-how that’s available in West Cork.’
And before the serious eating got underway, I was delighted to see West Cork’s own Fingal Ferguson on hand with his very own slow-and-low meat smoker.
‘The smoker, grill and rotisserie were extraordinarily kindly donated for the event by Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen Farm and all the meat was supplied by M J O’Neill’s butchers in Clonakilty, Staunton’s in Timoleague and Shannonvale in Clonakilty,’ Kate said. However, the local ingredients didn’t end there. All the fish and mussels were landed in Union Hall and sourced by Peter Shanahan of Fresh Fish Seafood Deli, Rosscarbery & Clonakilty. As for the dessert, there was the promise of treats made by Caroline Elliott of Clonakilty Home Made Ice Cream.
We began with a demonstration of brines and rubs, by John. Then, we were shown the smokers, the cavity block pit, the rotisserie and the grill. All smoking away nicely.
The top was removed from the pit and there within waited smoked moist chickens that had been brined overnight and had spent hours cooking in the pit.
These were duly served to us with a grilled sweet corn salsa. Next, pork shoulder, brined, rubbed and cooked slow and low in Fingal’s smoker, before the falling-apart tender meat was offered to us in a sourdough bun from The Baking Emporium in Dunmanway, along with the best slaw I have ever tasted.
Next up, a helping of pork belly. Soft, tender and full of flavour, the meat just melted in your mouth. As we all stood around the grill, partly in an attempt to stay warm it has to be said, the wind howled, and the rain poured out of the clouds. The Pitmasters’ next offering was a taco of slow-cooked marinated lamb shank, Harissa, pickled radishes, mint and yoghurt. One word: sublime. The weather got worse, but we didn’t care because next on the menu was fresh mackerel quickly grilled over the white hot charcoals, scallops cooked in their shells with buttery herbs, and mussels and prawns steamed in the pit.
As we all helped ourselves to the delicious seafood, John and Decky stoked up the fire in preparation for the main event: grilled ribeye steaks.
Cooked rare, as they should be, the meat was tender, succulent and just bursting with flavour. ‘You can’t get better than this,’ one of my fellow diners said, mopping his brow. But he was wrong, so wrong; we had all forgotten about dessert. Grilled peaches and plums, drizzled with a concoction of butter, egg yolk, sugar and bourbon and served with Clonakilty ice cream.
‘Check out our website for more fun foodie events,’ Kate said, when I thanked her for the afternoon of gorging.
‘As soon as I sleep off all this, Kate, I certainly will,’ I thought as I waddled to the car.