Ballymaloe Day 57: Members of the Lost Knives Club

A crack of bone, a shimmy of the knife.

Sometimes I often muse about the number of knives here at the cookery school. Since the start of the course, many students have become “members of the lost knives club” (as Rachel calls it), but bizarrely they end up finding their way back home – be in two kitchens away or hiding in a sneaky drawer!

Today my knives were earning their keep as I got to work on a rather elaborate Ballymaloe Apple Tart.

This was my first week in Kitchen 1, and with a new partner, new teacher and new surroundings to get used to, I knew that I had to get in early to kickstart the week.

The apple tart required two different pastries – flaky and shortcrust, as well as a lot of chilling, rolling and cooking time – so as I got to work bashing out my flaky, my fingers were crossed hoping that it would turn out well.

After what seemed like years preparing the many layers, I popped my baby into the oven and kept an eye on it with stern looks.

As a beautiful treat, we got to cook with wild salmon today and I was determined to do it justice.

(My poached salmon with Hollandaise on a bed on minted peas and topped with chervil)

A gorgeous pink colour, I poached the salmon in water seasoned with Maldron Seasalt (a tablespoon to two pints), and let it sit happily in the pot. The secret, Ballymaloe believes, is to have a pot that barely fits the salmon, and to have water barely covering it – a casserole/Le Creuset dish does this well or those fancy fish kettles.

Delighted with the end results and with approval from my teacher Debbie, I was happy to get to tuck into the fish at lunchtime.


The rain lashed down and hit the demo windows, and glancing down the list I was glad what I saw what Rachel was going to be demonstrating. From a hearty Italian stew, a beef and kidney pie and an oxtail casserole – it was hot dish heaven.

Rachel with the oxtail like something out of “Alien”

A late evening wine lecture saw our favourite sommelier Colm McCan come in to talk to us about Champagne, orange wine, sweet wines and port and as always he had a fountain of knowledge to share with us.

“Into the bath, into the fridge – chill them!” Colm mused of serving well-chilled bottles of Champagne, and how right he is.

By the way, did you know that Winston Churchill was a massive fan of Pol Roger champagne and supposedly drank a pint of it every day during World War II?! More recently, Beyoncé requested it for her wedding to Jay-Z

“Not often you get Winston Churchill and Beyoncé in the same sentence,” says Colm.

Along with learning about the facts behind the wines, we also got to taste. It was my first time tasting an orange wine and it was definitely a curious experience.

With umami running through both the smell and taste, as well as a smokey aftertaste and tanins resting on my cheeks, it’s certainly something I’m willing to try again but with food.

On the other hand, I definitely don’t think I’ll ever warm to sweet wines, and as much as I’m ready to appreciate the work that goes into them when two taste like Turkish Delight and Marmalade, I think my tastebuds don’t exactly enjoy it – I am however willing to splash out on an excellent port someday.

Tomorrow I’m doing a random mix of dishes including Asian pakoras with mango relish, curly kale and dessert yoghurt with cardamom cream.

Some random things I learned today:

  • For flavouring vinegar, it’s best to add a few sprigs into a bottle and allow to stand for a week before using.
  • Vinegar comes from the French “vin-aigre”, meaning “sour wine”.
  • Champagne can be: Non-Vintage, Vintage, Prestige Cuvées
  • Three wine varieties in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
  • The colour in wine only comes from the grape skin – so any grape can make white wine.
  • Most Champagnes are a blend of two or three grape varieties.
  • A Champagne made from only the black/red grapes is called a Blanc de Noirs.
  • A well-chilled bottle of Champagne helps to subdue the pressure in the bottle, as some pressure in the bottle is the same as the pressure in double-decker bus tyres.
  • Orange wines are amber coloured wines that are white wines produced like red wines – prolonged contact with grape skin gives colour.
  • Sweet wines or dessert wines are made when the grapes are attacked by what’s known as a “noble rot” – this shrivels the grapes and concentrates the flavour.
  • Port, like Sherry, is a fortified wine. It has a protected status and has to be made in Portugal to be called a “Port” – like Champagne has to be made in Champagne.

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