Sunday, 23 November 2014

Pork Fillet with Butternut Squash Purée, Brussels Sprouts, Chestnuts & Quince and another #AAFoodies event at the Maryborough Hotel & Spa

I recently had a wonderful evening and overnight stay in the Maryborough Hotel & Spa located in Douglas, County Cork. The Maryborough was awarded Hotel of the Year for 2014 in the AA Hospitality Awards which were held last October.

In addition to the annual Hospitality Awards, the AA through their team of Secret Inspectors assess and award those hotels judged to be providing the finest food in Ireland with a system of Rosettes, ranging on a scale of 1-5 Rosettes. Hotels who wish to take part can renew/sign-up to the scheme and, when they do so, are automatically assessed, with Rosettes being awarded to those that reach the required standards.

This scheme is a well-respected and popular way for the public, AA members and its guidebook readers to get information on the best places to eat in Ireland. Unlike other assessment systems, the AA focuses solely on the quality and excellence of the food served and not on the overall dining experience. Inspections happen throughout the year with any Rosettes that are bestowed being awarded in the period soon after the actual assessments have taken place.
Following on from their success in the Awards, the Maryborough teamed up with the AA to host an #AAFoodies event. I was lucky enough to be invited along and can tell you that I had the most fabulous time; meeting with other bloggers, food producers  and enthusiasts, chatting about the food and wine we were sampling and just… well… having a fun-filled evening! If you want to be in with a chance to attend future events (and believe me, if you love food, you WILL want to) all you have to do is sign up here to become an #AAFoodie.
On arrival, we were welcomed by the hotel’s owners Dan and Jo O’Sullivan, General Manager Justin McCarthy and Head Chef Brendan Brosnan who presented us with samples of the Hotel’s new menu ideas for the winter months. Our opinions were welcomed and we were encouraged to give feedback about the dishes we were eating. It was fascinating talking to Brendan about the food he had prepared and about where he got his inspiration from. We got to sample 12 dishes in total – 4 starters, 4 mains and 4 desserts and YES; I did manage to eat them all! It was hard not to as they were presented beautifully and looked so inviting. Brendan’s desire to be innovative is never at the expense of the quality of the ingredients he uses and his commitment to using locally sourced, Irish produce is commendable.

I found the whole evening very inspirational, and came away from it brimming full of new flavour combinations and recipe ideas that I wanted to try out. I honestly believe that whilst you can get inspiration from television cookery programmes, from articles in magazines and from recipes in cookery books, the very best way to get new ideas is by actually eating out, trying different foods and experiencing what some of the talented and hard-working chefs here in Ireland have to offer. I am an enthusiastic amateur cook and love all things to do with food, cooking and eating and I really admire and respect all those who work so hard in the food and hospitality industry in Ireland.
I would like to thank the owners and staff in the Maryborough Hotel & Spa for treating me to such a great evening and I can recommend it, without a hint of bias, as a great place to visit and dine in. The Maryborough’s recent success in the AA Hospitality Awards is very well deserved and I can’t wait to revisit… I may even bring my hubby and three children next time!
I would also like to thank the AA’s Vicky Sargeant and the Secret Inspector we met - whom I won’t name in the interests of preserving their anonymity - for inviting me along. I was completely captivated chatting to the Secret Inspector and hearing about how inspections are carried out and the things that they look for when carrying out their assessments. It sounds like hard work but great fun and as far as I’m concerned, THE dream job!
This was our menu:

  • Pan-Fried Scallop, Cumin Roasted Pork Belly, Cauliflower Purée
  • Seared Pigeon, Golden Beetroot, Orange Velouté
  • Salmon Mi-Cuit, Whiskey & Soya Lacquer, Herb Crème Fraîche 
  • Potato Espuma, Crispy Potato Skins & House Pancetta
  • Seared Venison Loin, Braised Haunch, Swede Purée, Cassis Jus
  • Pork Fillet, Apricot & Chestnut Stuffing, Butternut Squash, Sage Crisp
  • Roasted Monkfish, Parma Ham, Mussel Infusion
  • Chargrilled Vegetables, Cumin Yoghurt, Halloumi
  • Earl Grey Tea Crème Brulee, Cinnamon Crisps & Floral Tea
  • Mulled Wine & Pear Trifle
  • Gingerbread & Lemon Curd Cup, Hazelnut Meringue Cap
  • Chocolate Taster Plate
Whilst all the dishes were very tasty, I particularly enjoyed the Potato Espuma starter, the Pork Fillet main and - although quite sweet - the Pear Trifle dessert. The latter just screamed ‘Christmas’ at me!!!

In many ways the dish that surprised me the most was the Chargrilled Vegetables and Halloumi. Rather than searing the Halloumi, It was coated in a light tempura batter and briefly deep-fried. I had never eaten halloumi cooked this way and really enjoyed it. Although tempura batter is most often associated with Japanese cooking, here it was included in a dish which drew its flavours primarily from the Middle East… and, in its simplicity, it worked! I especially liked the cumin spiced yoghurt and can see a variation of this being included in my cooking in the not-too-distant future.
Anyway, the recipe that I give here was inspired by the food that I ate at the #AAFoodies event. All too often pork fillet (AKA pork tenderloin) can be very disappointing to eat as it tends to dry out quickly and become tough and tasteless. In the right hands, it is succulent and flavoursome. This is a very simple dish, where all the accompaniments can be prepared in advance and kept warm whilst you pan-fry the fillet. The brussels sprouts coupled with the chestnuts with their nutty sweetness, complement the pork wonderfully whilst the slight acidity of the quince cuts through the overall richness of the dish. I had forgotten how wonderful pork fillet could be as all you seem to see on menus these days are dishes such as pulled pork or slow-roasted pork belly made using cuts of meat that require long slow cooking.


Quince purée:
75g caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
200ml water
2 quince, peeled, cores removed and quartered
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Butternut squash purée:
1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
100g butter
50ml water
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Brussels sprouts:
25g butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
150g brussels sprouts, peeled and finely shredded
50g cooked chestnuts, chopped
1tsp of finely chopped fresh sage
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Pork fillet:
25g butter
A splash of vegetable oil
1 pork fillet, cut into 4 even portions
50ml madeira
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


Quince purée:
1. Place the sugar, lemon juice and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to simmering point over a moderate heat and wait until the sugar dissolves. Add the quartered quince pieces and allow to simmer, uncovered for approximately 20 minutes until the quince is tender.
2. Place the poached quince along with a little of the poaching liquid (about 25-50ml) in a liquidiser and blend to a smooth purée. Pour into a small saucepan and keep warm until ready to plate the finished dish. Taste and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Butternut squash purée:
3. Place the butternut squash, butter and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring up to simmering point over a moderate heat. Cover the saucepan and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender.
4. Place the contents of the saucepan (the squash and any liquid) into a liquidiser and blend to a smooth purée. Pour into a small saucepan, taste and season well. Keep warm until ready to plate up.
Brussels sprouts:
5. Melt the butter in a small frying pan over a moderate heat and add the chopped shallots. Allow to cook until the shallots have softened, but not coloured. Add the shredded brussels sprouts and chestnuts and season generously. Sauté until the brussels sprouts are just beginning to wilt a little. Add the chopped sage and set aside in a warm place until ready to plate up.
Pork fillet:
6. Preheat oven to 200C/Fan oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
7. Heat the butter and oil in an oven-proof frying pan over a high heat and sear the pieces of pork on all sides until nicely brown (about 2 minutes each side). Add the madeira and cook over a high heat for 1 minute, basting the pork as the madeira reduces a little.
8. Place the frying pan containing the pork in the preheated oven and allow the meat to roast for 8-10 minutes until just cooked through. (Squeeze it with your fingers - it should still have a little give).
9. Remove from oven. Leave to rest in a warm place for 5 minutes.
To serve:
10.Place some butternut squash purée on each plate and top with a generous spoonful of the sautéed brussels sprouts. Slice each portion of pork into 4 or 5 pieces and arrange on top of the brussels sprouts. Using a disposable piping bag, pipe little blobs of the quince purée onto each plate. (If liked, you can serve a few quickly blanched brussels sprouts leaves on each plate – just half the sprouts and using your fingers peel away individual leaves. Plunge into boiling water for 20-30 seconds and immediately drain before the leaves wilt. Season well and arrange on the plates).

Serves 4.