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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

A wheen of things

“When a man has a wheen o’ pints in him, he’d eat the flowers aff a hearse.”

A friend said this to me last week, in the context of a story, and so amused was I at its farcical honesty and parochial lyricism, I filed the phrase away in my head under ‘F’ (for future reference). I also have a soft spot for the word ‘wheen,’ come to think of it.

Wan time, a wile long time ago, I had a wheen of pints in me after a night out in Omagh. I mind we were at the Woodlander (later dubbed the Bloodlander due to the number of rows which usually took place) and as usually happens in the absence of hearse flowers, we later gathered at a take-away near-hand, elbowing wan-another at the counter to be the first served.

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I would have been a lump of a lad at the time, with hardly a skite more sense than something eating grass and I remember sitting on a window sill outside the takeaway eating my cheese burger and thinking it the deadliest thing that I’d ever put in my mouth. The hunger was upon me and if hunger is the best sauce, steaming hunger is the best sauce and then some.

To this day, I mind the salty, meaty, saucy keek from that mother-of-all burgers, as I waited on me lift home, most likely rubbing it all round me face.

“Theth ith da betht boorga eva…” the young lump might have said, trying not to slide off the window ledge and onto the ground. Actually, that might very well have happened too.

According to a statistic I read recently (the Sunday papers can be a font of useless information), Americans – on average – eat three burgers a week. For someone like myself, who might not consume three burgers a month, I have to say, that’s pretty good going. However, I am also convinced that only eating boorgas (burgers) once in a blue moon helps with a person’s appreciation of that salty, meaty, saucy keek (kick). And if they’re flame-grilled (as in the picture included from a recent garden party I attended), then so much the better. But it’s all about the balance though, too.

Just as Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone,” so would he be foolish to subsist on burgers alone – or even thrice weekly, I’m thinking. That’s where extra fruit and veg comes into the equation.

Let’s face it: If you’re trying to eat healthy and you’re pumping broccoli or green beans or mange tout or cabbages or cucumber or radishes into you 25/8, it’s not going to be much culinary craic.. Vegetables need a certain amount of encouragement in order to sing – and I’m not talking about encouragement via a wheen of pints. They need a bit of a coaxing through seasoning and spices and sauces and perhaps even starchy receptacles.

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Take a basic tin of tomatoes. Pour it over hot pasta and you’ll have a bland, hot mess. But the contents of that tin simmered with a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of oregano, a drip or two of honey, chilli flakes and a garlic clove or three and you’ll have a divine, devilish sauce for your Italian carbs.

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The same is the case with the broccolis of this world. Served up plain as a side with your Sunday dinner, broccoli is fine. Coaxed with seasoning and butter and it’s even better. But elevated with a punchy, umami, spicy, vibrant sauce, humble broccoli is another animal altogether.

This anchovy, garlic and chilli sauce I’ve been making variations of for the past 20 years, or thereabouts, after I was gifted Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook one Christmas. As with many things my own take on the sauce has changed over the years as ingredients appear or disappear but if I was making it again tomorrow, this is the version I’d use.

And it’s not just good with tenderstem broccoli as in the other picture included. On crusty bread, stirred through pasta, devoured out of a bowl with a spoon, I have even used this as a condiment for chips.

“Theth ith da betht condiment eva…”

INGREDIENTS

1 tin of anchovies in olive oil (50g) – undrained

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

good pinch of chilli flakes or half a fresh chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp of Dijon mustard

1 or 2 tsps of apple cider vinegar

130ml of extra virgin olive oil (good rapeseed oil also works well)

6 or 7 fresh basil leaves

grinding of black pepper

heaped tsp of butter

THE PLAN

Dump all ingredients excepting the butter, into a blender and blitz until smooth. If it’s too thick add another dash of the olive oil.

Add the butter to a small sauce pan and put over a low heat. Dump in the anchovy mix and cook gently for about a minute or two, to heat through and take the edge off the garlic.

And that’s it.

As you can see from the pic, I drizzled this sauce over some tenderstem broccoli but it’s just as good as a dip. A good hunk of crusty sourdough bread will come in handy too, if you’re too highfalutin for licking the plate.

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