Saturday, 22 November 2014

Buttermilk Custard Tart with Blackberries and a meal in the Pig's Ear restaurant

I recently had a fabulous meal in a restaurant that I am just itching to visit again soon because I enjoyed the food tremendously and also because there are so many things on the menu that I really want to try when I return.

The Pig's Ear, located on Nassau Street, Dublin was bustling on the Tuesday evening that I recently visited and given that this is generally one of the quietest nights on Dublin’s social scene, I took this as a positive sign and evidence that the food must be as good as it is reputed to be.

I love eating out… I love trying different foods and eating things that even as an enthusiastic amateur, you would never think of cooking for yourself at home. Certainly, in the aftermath of my MasterChef Ireland trials and tribulations, I am now a more confident cook with a renewed enthusiasm for the food I cook and eat. I learnt a lot during my time on the programme and find that I now seek inspiration not only from books and magazines but also increasingly from eating out – and surely this is what food is all about, the actual eating and the enjoyment of the dining experience? I’m not advocating greed or gluttony, but rather an appreciation of good food and quality produce cooked with love and a desire to please.

Good food and fine dining is not only about using the most expensive cuts of meat and luxurious ingredients; it’s also about making humble, inexpensive ingredients really shine. In the right hands this can look as if it has been achieved so effortlessly, despite the fact that so much time, care and attention has doubtlessly gone into sourcing, preparing and cooking the food! Certainly, dining in the Pig’s Ear, you really get the sense that a great deal of thought has gone into developing the menu and that a whole lotta love has gone into the finished dishes.

The menu in the Pig’s Ear has something for everyone. There is a distinct focus on using seasonal Irish ingredients and the dishes contain quite a few quirky elements, designed to delight diners and push boundaries without being alarming or too avant garde. This is a restaurant that provides delicious, well-cooked food that looks beautiful on the plate and at a reasonable price. There is nothing pretentious about the food on offer here – it just tastes darn good!

For our meal we had...
  • Gold River Farm Beets, St. Tola Goats Cheese, Pickled Onions, Apple Molasses, Fried Sourdough
  • Tartare of Kettyle Irish Veal, Tarragon, Beef Dripping Fried Bread & Leek Ash
Both the starters were lovely and looked beautiful on the plate. Whilst the beetroot and goats cheese combo seems a little clichéd these days, it tasted great and I loved the little blobs of apple molasses. The pickled onions added a piquant note and really brought the dish to life.
Some people may be a little squeamish about eating raw meat, but if you visit the Pig’s Ear, I urge to put any prejudices aside and order the veal tartare. This is a dish which succeeds or fails on the quality of the meat used and it did not disappoint. It takes a certain amount of confidence and belief in what you are doing to serve a dish like this. I loved it. The veal was hand-chopped and beautifully seasoned. Tiny nuggets of gherkin brought everything alive and made the meat taste even sweeter. Small crumbs of bread fried in dripping intermingled with the meat and added textural contrast but I would have preferred thin slices of toasted bread served on the side. I am a little suspicious of dusts of any description and I’m not sure the leek dust added anything to the dish. But that’s a personal opinion and overall the dish was a triumph.
  • John Stone’s Irish Beef Cheek cooked in Stout, Marrow Bone, Smoked Garlic Mash, Roast Onion
  • Wild Irish Game’s Venison, Organic Beetroot, Cavolo Nero, Butter Roast Potato, Pickled Blackberries
The beef cheek cooked in stout was a melt-in-the-mouth dish and had a real comfort-food factor to it; but don’t think that this was something rustic looking, just heaped on the plate. As with all the food we ate, it was beautifully presented. The long slow cooking had worked wonders with what is a humble cut of meat and elevated this dish into something that was so much more than the sum of its parts. The background smokiness provided by the garlic mash worked perfectly with richness of the unctuous stout sauce – I licked my plate clean.
I also loved the venison. Here loin had been used which had been beautifully cooked. This was such a well-balanced dish with sweet beetroot, iron-rich cavolo nero and fruity but tart pickled blackberries. I would have added or taken away nothing.
We ate the mains with a side order of Duck Fat Roast Potatoes and really what more can be said. Everything tastes good when cooked in duck fat!!!
  • Cuinneog Farm Buttermilk Custard, Cherry Sorbet, Winter Berries
  • Home Made Brown Bread Ice-Cream, Spiced Prunes, Yellowman
Now… anyone who knows me knows that I am a dessert kinda gal and I wasn’t disappointed with what we ordered here. I have always had a penchant for brown bread ice-cream as it reminds me of grandmother who loved it. In many ways this was a simple dessert; ice-cream, fruit with textural contrast provided by the yellowman, which is honeycomb by another name. This was a perfectly lovely dessert which anyone would be happy with… but with the other dessert – the buttermilk custard – I was ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaahhhing’ with absolute pleasure.
I love buttermilk and often use it in my baking when making bread and cakes. I also make a panna cotta using it, but this custard was richer than any panna cotta and coupled with the intensely flavoured cherry sorbet, it was heavenly! I also loved the slightly bitter caramel edge of the honeycomb crumbs sprinkled on top of the sorbet. Buttermilk has a slightly tangy flavour, which tastes lighter in the mouth than a full cream custard would and made this dessert the perfect end to what was a very enjoyable meal.
Inspired by my visit to the Pig’s Ear and the lingering pleasurable memories of the buttermilk custard, I decided to do some experimenting. I love eating out in different restaurants and picking up ideas that I can bring back to my home cooking. This is my Buttermilk Custard Tart inspired by my visit to the Pig’s Ear. I am really pleased with how it turned out and am rather proud of the results.


200g plain flour
50g icing sugar
85g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2tblsp cold water
175g caster sugar
15g plain flour
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
400ml buttermilk (I used Cuinneog Farm)
50g melted and cooled a little
Blackberry compote:
75g caster sugar
25ml water
150g blackberries


1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and water. Using a fork, mix everything until it comes together and forms a dough. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly and shape into a ball. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
4. Roll out the pastry until it is about 3mm thick and use to line a 22-23cm round tart tin, about 4cms deep with a removable base. Line this with non-stick baking parchment  and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 10 minutes and then take out of the oven and remove the baking beans and parchment. Return the pastry to the oven and bake for a further 5-7 minutes until it is a light golden brown colour. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
5. Place the caster sugar, flour, eggs and yolks in a large mixing bowl and using a hand held electric mixer, on a low speed, beat together until well mixed. Slowly add the buttermilk and melted making sure that they are well incorporated.
6. Pour the custard into the cooled tart case and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the custard has puffed up slightly, is cooked through, but still has a slight wobble in the centre. Check the tart after 30 minutes cooking and if it appears to be browning too quickly, reduce the heat slightly. Remove from the oven when cooked and set aside to cool to room temperature before serving.
Blackberry compote:
7. Place the sugar, water and half the blackberries in a small saucepan and bring up to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes until the blackberries have softened and the released juices have become syrupy. Add the remaining blackberries and cook for a further minute.
To serve:
8. Serve the tart, in thin wedges, at room temperature and spoon over some of the blackberry compote.
Serves 10-12.