Sunday, December 5, 2010

Connemara Scallops with homegrown Oca

Oca is a firm small waxy crinkled tuber with an unusual tangy, acidic nutty, fruity flavour.
The oca is one of the important staple crops of the Andean highlands.
Its not that hard to grow in Ireland, although I should I think have earthed them up more and they certainly should have been in the ground earlier.

Next season - if I'm still in the country - they will be grown using stacked car tyres to make them easier to earth up and to increase the heat to the tubers.

Coming from the same place and growing in the same conditions as potato, it is quite frankly very surprising why they are not better known in Europe and Ireland.
The potato after all has become the staple carbohydrate for northern and eastern Europe.

With their blight resistance, it is particularly poignant being Irish as to how things might have been different had this crop been established on the Island from 1840 to 1880.

The skins range from red to white, sometimes a waxy green and its inner flesh is white.
They can be baked, boiled, roasted, mashed, or used in any dish calling for potatoes.
Its great to dig them at this time of year, to see new food come out of the ground after the frost, like new potato's in the winter.

Mr Robin at the top of the title picture was also anxious that I harvest them, and very happy with the newly turned earth for a snack or ten after the cold snap.

I got the original seed from Cristophe and Ciara on Clare Island in Mayo - he runs and Macalla farm. As far as I know is the only person in Ireland who supplies Oca as seed.

If you do buy seed from him, please be sure to mention that you heard about the farm on this blog, that way I can try to blag a few free ones from him this year.
The farms website is also on the links for this blog.

If you are interested in growing Oca then there is a really good blog run by a dude called Ian Pearson - In fact, its such an impressive resource, I have added it to my bloglist on the right - check it out for all Oca questions.

Delicious roasted, Oca is frequently eaten with roasted lamb in New Zealand where I first encountered it.
It is said the oca brings a “lost cuisine” back to life. Oca is native to the ancient cuisines of the Andes in South America and was grown throughout the Inca and Mayan civilizations.

The New Zealander's are very clever, resourceful, inventive people. They are also really good at marketing.
Kiwi fruit are a Chinese Gooseberry - but were re branded as Kiwi fruit, so people associate the food with New Zealand. Oca is now sold sometimes as New Zealand yam, even though it was introduced there sometime in the 1860's - but like other imported crops it thrives as a crop in NZ.
I'd say that it will become re branded as Kiwi Yam in the future, or maybe even Kahu Yam after the stunning hawks they have there.

I'm using Oca in this recipe, but diced potato would work - and to be a little more exotic maybe sweet potato which I think in Irish cities would be easier to find than Oca.
Having moved back from Holland I find the lack of variety and availability of foods and spices etc. a bit frustrating, hence the growing of things like Oca, Japanese mustard greens, acocha, root parsley etc.

I hand picked the Scallops from the strand at the bottom of the farm at low tide, so they are un-dredged, about as eco friendly as you can get - but a fair bit of work, cold toes and fingers.
Despite the cold, I still think of the foreshore as a living larder, wading out for mussels, clams and razorfish - all reasonably easy to find if you know the tides and the area. I just take what I need.
Lidl have a good offer on Scallop at 12 for €5 at the moment along with other luxury foods like venison, game birds and lobster - well worth checking out for Christmas.

Scallop is one of my favorite seafood's, it requires very little in the way of dressing up - its perfect as it is.

This recipe is kind of inspired by one of the Hairy Bikers Cook Off programs on BBC, one of their 7 minute supper challenges was made using scallops.
I had a similar idea in mind for scallops, In terms of presentation, I'd normally serve scallop in its shell with a bacon and cheese type sauce - but they put it together a little differently than I would have - with potato, so I decided to use the Oca in this dish.

I really like the programs that Si and Dave do, unpretentious, well explained and entertaining.
Along with Master Chief, I think they are my favorite TV cooks.
Coming from the North of England, I think they have a lot of the same cuisine culture and influences that I have with the Connemara climate - as would the Scots.
Leeks, herring, mackerel, kidney, liver, mutton, cabbage, kale, beetroot and turnip being just a few things they have used that other TV chiefs don't use that often or frequently.

Certainly the bikers were doing Kale before it became suddenly fashionable on other shows.
The other real advantage they have over me in terms of a cuisine background is the fantastic, rich heritage of Indian food people in the North of England are exposed to.
Mind you, I did learn how to do a cardamom martini from one of their programs, so they have a lot to answer for in that department.
This year I planted the Oca a little too late, and did not give it enough attention. I will do a separate posting on growing Oca as learn more about it. I am trying to save some of the larger Oca tubers for seed. I picked the smallest to cook with the idea of presentation.

Featured on Masterchief was Noma in Copenhagen, regarded as the best restaurant in the world.
Their cooking is based on a philosophy of local, seasonal, fresh and foraged food.
The food writers say that cuisine in Noma can be considered more an interpretation of Nordic food than classical Nordic food itself.
Its Northern European seasonal homegrown and foraged food - I think that is not too far removed from what I am trying to do, but there is no way I would, or could, have the interest, ability or desire to replicate what they do.
I certainly do not aspire to cooking and presentation of that level but with the Oca, beetroot, potato, side salad and scallop all coming from within 1km of the house, the presentation colours, and the adaption of Irish staples I don't think I was too far off the mark in terms of food philosophy. From what I saw I certainly liked the innovation and thought process - and I am thinking about getting the Noma cookbook.

My main interest in Noma concepts was sparked from the use of lightly pickled local root veg and seafood with wild coastal herbs, there is a lot there I could learn from.
Also, food cooked in ashes, I've seen that done on open fires in Connemara and the use of old nordic seasoning - like hay ash with leeks - the only time I have seen anything like this was fennel ash being used on whelks in Spain.
I also think it is worth pointing out that in what I considered to be a very close competition with little to separate the contenders, Nomas head chief René Redzepi spotted Claire Lara, just saying she was about 5% better than the others - and she did go on to win, despite being the most unassuming of the contenders - fair play and congratulations to her.

Anyway - enough commentary - on with the food -
A word of advice on this one, read the recipe through first - timing is important, and use the oven to warm the plates you intend to serve on.

The Oca.
Very simple to cook, its a tuber that acts like a new potato and best roasted.
Having picked out the smaller Oca tubers they simply went in to the oven at 180 deg. with some olive oil.
After 20 minutes in the oven I tasted one, and as it was quite tart I sprinkled about a third of a teaspoon of sugar over the tubers and returned to the oven for another 10 minutes. 

The Beetroot Fondant.
In the meantime I quickly melted some butter in a pot and prepared some small fresh beetroot for a root vegetable fondant
As usual with a fondant, the beets were sauteed in the butter until they started getting crisp and tender - to that I added some home made stock from cubes in the freezer.
About 20 minutes in, when the liquids had reduced a lot, I had some sliced potato left over from the Spanish omelet. These went in with 10 minutes to go, cooked well and picked up a lovely colour from the beetroot fondant.

The Scallop and Bacon

I had some bacon in the fridge - you could also use streaky bacon. I cut of the piece with the most fat.
I sliced the bacon thinly. Use one piece of bacon for each scallop.

20 minutes after the Oca and beetroot were started, I fried the bacon in cuinneog butter and olive oil at a high temperature until crispy, rendering out the fat.
After about 6 minutes of cooking, the bacon was taken out of the pan, put in an oven proof dish and chucked in the oven to stay warm.

I reduced the heat under the pan to medium. Then the Scallop was added to the pan, using the rendered bacon lard to cook it.
This takes about 5 minutes - so the top and bottom of the scallop is dark brown, caramelised - but be very careful not to burn them. I always cook them with the tongue, not only does it add to the flavour - it also helps to colour the jus.
After they are cooked, put them in the oven with the bacon to keep warm.
Drain the pan over the scallop and bacon.

NB: At this point put the serving plates in the oven.

When the greens (spinach in this case) are done, return the scallop, bacon and liquid to the pan for about a minute, then remove the bacon and scallop reserving any fats or liquid on the pan
- move the scallop and bacon to the warm serving plate.

The Greens

I used spinach. My one regret was I did not use Beetroot leaves or Swiss chard from the garden for this, when I harvested the beets I did not think to reserve some greens for this meal, so next time I will know better. I was very tempted to use cavalo nero kale from the garden, but the delicacy of the scallop put me off - perhaps next time - as using chard, beetroot leaves or kale would have made this a truly winter dish.

Anyway, the spinach is easy, shred, chuck in the pan and saute until reduced slightly - put directly on the warmed serving plates.

The Jus and presentation
At this point the greens, bacon and scallop have been plated up.
Pour some white wine - about a third of a glass - into the pan to de-glaze,
then add three tablespoons of cream, mix through and allow to reduce.

While that is reducing, get the fondant beets and potato's onto the plate.

Remove the oca from the oven, and plate up.

The sauce should be reduced slightly, spoon it over the scallops and bacon - be generous.

If I had parmesan cheese, I would have added a few shavings on top of the scallop for taste and presentation, but as I said, scallop does not need much in the way of flavouring.

Side Salad
I used a small winter gem lettuce - a cos type.
The dressing was made to compliment the Oca.
1/4 tsp mustard
1 clove garlic crushed and chopped
120 ml walnut oil
40 ml lemon juice
tsp maple syrup or honey
Pinch Cayenne pepper

As a wine, I used a Kiwi Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc, available at Super Value. Although the name suggests it comes from New Zealand, its actually made in France.
I think as this is a European dish, influenced by my time in New Zealand it is an apt choice, and it does go very well with the meal.

I must say that as a meal, this is one of the best I have produced - although because scallop has such a fantastic taste and texture its hard to go wrong.
I am delighted at the way the oca came out, the colours make for great presentation, and the flavours all work so well.
You have the sweet, rich scallop, the dry, salty bacon, the slightly earthy beetroot, slightly bitter spinach and the soft lemony/nutty flavour of the oca with the jus ties it all together.
The side salad also gives a refreshing zing with the lemon juice through it.

So, there it is, Oca grows well in Ireland and you can use it to compliment some of our own great foods with something a little exotic and very simple. And dont forget, you can source the Oca from Macalla farm. 

As always, thanks for reading and please take the time to comment - I really do appreciate the time and effort taken for feedback

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  1. Mouthwatering! It's an interesting idea to try growing oca in car tyres. I'll look forward to hearing how it goes. It might work well to add a companion cordon tomato to each tyre too ; they respond well to earthing up, producing extra roots from the lower stem, while providing mid-summer shade for the oca, and benefiting from probable fusarium wilt protection from the oca.
    I find that small seed tubers make perfectly adequate plants, so I tend to eat the largest ones :-)

  2. Thanks for the feedback Ian, your blog is such a useful resouce I have added it to my blog list - many thanks for providing so much of your time and advice to the gardening community


Thanks for commenting - its cool that you took the time