Cookery Feature - And For Mains…

The first thing to say about And For Mains… is that it’s hugely entertaining. It’s not often that I sit down and read a cookbook right through from cover to cover, but that’s what I did with this terrific first cookbook from Gareth (Gaz) Smith, chef and owner of Dublin restaurants Michael's and Little Mike's, and his friend and business partner, fourth-generation butcher Rick Higgins of Higgins Family Butchers in Sutton.

There’s serious intent and no shortage of things to learn, but it comes with stories, banter and fun – including a couple of spoof recipes (it will give you a chuckle when you find them) among the sixty or so wide ranging dishes that, as Gaz puts it, make it a book ‘filled with the kind of things that I love to make’. And, unless you are vegetarian or vegan, you will love to make them too. In fact there’s even something for non-meat eaters, as the terrific áßsalads and side dishes (and maybe the pints that are a recurring feature…) would delight anyone.

Almost everyone in Ireland loves nothing better than a good steak and if you follow Rick’s instructions on How to cook a steak (including the mysteries of the famous Reverse-seared rib of beef) that’s problem solved – sales of digital meat probe thermometers will soar and home cooks will understand better why a good butcher is key to success to this, and so many other cookery conundrums. Rick also gives a butchery masterclass – four tutorials for budding home butchers, and maybe apprentices in the making too. Similarly, Gaz’s love of his restaurants and the enthusiasm of his staff could well inspire many a young person to work in an industry that’s taking a lot of knocks at the moment. The image of the Michael’s crew on page 262 is the face of modern Ireland – and it’s a happy one, comfortable in its diversity.

Journalist Nicola Brady worked on the book with Gaz and Rick and for the most part she keeps a low profile and lets them have their own (unique) voices, but she contributed a couple of excellent chapters under her own byline including a fascinating (and reassuring) account of a visit to the family-run abattoir, O’Gorman Meats of Co Kildare, that supplies Higgins – and an equally illuminating crab fishing trip out of Howth to Lambay.

Photography, by food and lifestyle photographer Katie Quinn and portrait photographer John Murray, plays a key role in making the book come to life - and so does recent Chairperson of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild Kristin Jensen who, incredible as it may seem, joined the team as publisher, editor and proofreader just weeks before it went to print, unexpectedly making this the first project for her new boutique Irish publishing house Nine Bean Rows

Completing And For Mains… as a pandemic project was an extraordinary achievement and far from the only one undertaken by Gaz and Rick during this challenging time. Among other well-earned accolades, they were 2021 ‘Best Collaborations’ Award Winners in our own recent Irish Food & Hospitality Awards.

And For Mains is available at Michaels Mount Merrion, Little Mikes and Higgins Family Butcher, Sutton; price €40. For online and corporate orders, see


Gaz says
If I see chowder on a menu, I almost always go for it. And almost single every time, I’m disappointed. A chowder is one of those things that should be so good, but so many people f**k it up. It’s either grey, thick and clumpy or bland and grainy.
The thing is, it’s really easy to get it right. Ours is based on a good fish stock – the only thickener comes from the starch in the potatoes. A really good fish stock is amazing, but don’t worry if you only have a premade one. I’d rather you make this with a stock cube than not at all. Either way, the key is to chuck the fish in for only the last few minutes. That’s how long it takes to cook – if you leave it all sitting in the pot for hours, you’ve ruined the fish.
Our little curveball comes from coriander seeds and star anise, which works so well. It gives a little bit of a different note and makes the whole dish a smidge more fragrant.

Chef’s tip
You can use whatever fish you like, but make sure you use the naturally smoked fish, not that stinky, slimy, orange-dyed gack.
Serves 4 as a starter

Olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
100g carrots, peeled and finely diced
100g celery, finely diced
200g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5cm cubes
4 garlic cloves, sliced
4 star anise
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1.2 litres good-quality fish stock (or from a cube is fine)
2 big pinches of fine sea salt
100g leeks, finely diced
150g smoked fish, cubed
100g cockles
100g mussels
100g fresh prawns
80g meaty white fish, diced
200ml pouring cream
Zest and juice of 1 lemon, plus extra juice to finish if you like
A good pinch of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
A good pinch of finely chopped fresh dill
A good pinch of finely chopped fresh coriander
To serve: Crusty bread

• Get a nice big pot and heat a good glug of oil in it over a low heat. Add your onion, carrots, celery, spuds, garlic, star anise and coriander seeds and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often.
• Add your fish stock along with two big pinches of salt and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, until the veg are slightly softened and the stock is starting to thicken (you can thank the starch in the potatoes for that). Add your leeks and let the whole lot simmer gently for 15 minutes more.
• Raise the temperature to a high heat. Once your base is bubbling, throw in all your seafood and cook for 3 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium, then pour in the cream and cook for a further 2 minutes.
• Take your chowder off the heat, add the lemon zest and juice along with all the chopped herbs and stir to combine. You can also finish off each portion with an extra squeeze of lemon if you like.
• Serve hot with crusty bread.

Gaz says
Lamb shanks have fallen out of fashion a little over the last few years, but I don’t know why. They’re super forgiving, lovely and tasty and they’re foolproof to cook too. It’s also a handy way to cook lamb for just one or two people without the faff of roasting a whole shoulder or leg. Just adjust the marinade accordingly.

Chef’s tip
When you’re getting the lamb shanks, ask for the hind legs. These have a much better fat and flavour content. Serves 2

2 hind lamb shanks (see the chef’s tip)
300ml beef stock
For the marinade
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium-heat fresh long red chillies, thinly sliced (reserve some for garnish)
1 x 5cm cube of ginger, peeled and finely grated
80ml vegetable oil
2 tablespoons ground turmeric
2 heaped tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
4 good pinches of fine sea salt
2 good cracks of freshly ground black pepper
To garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
A handful of pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped

• Preheat the oven to 200°C.
• Put all the marinade ingredients into a mixing bowl and combine together well. You can also put this in a blender if you prefer.
• Lightly score the skin of the lamb shanks using a small sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern, spaced 2.5cm apart. Rub the marinade all over the lamb, muttering, ‘It puts the turmeric on its skin or else it gets the hose again’ as you do.
• Place the lamb shanks in a baking dish, casserole or a dish that you can cover tightly with tin foil. You need them to be well covered as they cook. Add the beef stock to the bottom of the dish or casserole and cover securely with the foil and/or a lid.
• Roast the shanks in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature to 160°C and cook for a further 2 hours. If you want to nip off to the pub for a while, turn the oven down to 110°C and cook for 3 hours.
• When you’re ready to serve, give the lamb a final dressing with the lemon juice and scatter the dill, mint, pistachios and reserved chilli on top.


Gaz says
When I sit down in a restaurant I always pretend to the waiter that I’m not going to have a dessert, which is why I can order two starters instead. Then, when it’s time for dessert, I just hope that he’s graceful enough to pretend that our earlier conversation didn’t happen. Because I’m damn well getting a dessert. And then a cheese course. Maybe another main too.
This is my idea of a perfect dessert. It’s basically a sticky toffee pudding with some macadamia nuts thrown in the mix. There’s no cheffy wankery to – we’re not trying to break the mould here. It’s just about using ingredients that work really f***ing well together.

This is amazing served warm with ice cream or even cold as a cake with an afternoon coffee. If it survives that long, that is. Serves 8

100g macadamia nuts
1 vanilla pod, cut in half lengthways
225g whole Medjool dates, pitted
175ml boiling water
175g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
85g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
140g demerara sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
2 eggs, beaten
100ml milk
120ml maple syrup
1 teaspoon caster sugar
To serve
Whipped cream or ice cream

• Toast the macadamia nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they’re lightly golden. Scatter them on a clean tea towel with the sides bunched over or decant into a large ziplock bag and bash them all up with a rolling pin.
• Scrape the seeds from inside the vanilla pod and set aside.
• Put the dates, boiling water and scraped-out vanilla pod into a medium saucepan. Wrap the top of the saucepan with cling film and cover with a lid to create a very tight seal, being careful that the cling film won’t melt over a direct heat. It’s key not to let the water evaporate – the tighter the seal, the nicer your cake will be. If too much water escapes, your cake will end up dry and crappy. Gently simmer for 15–20 minutes, then set aside for 20 minutes to cool.
• Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin with non-stick baking paper.
• Sift the flour and baking powder into a big mixing bowl.
• Cream the butter and demerara sugar together in a stand mixer on a medium speed for 4–5 minutes, until it’s light and fluffy.
• Remove the vanilla pod from the dates and discard. Add the treacle to the dates and blitz with a stick blender for 30 seconds, until you’re left with a thick paste.
• Add one-third of the beaten eggs and all the vanilla seeds into the butter and sugar mixture, followed by one-third of the milk and one-third of the flour. Beat well, then repeat the egg–milk–flour process twice more, using a third of the ingredients each time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the dates and combine until you’re left with a coarse, somewhat lumpy batter.
• Scatter the toasted macadamia nuts over the base of your lined tin, drizzle with half the maple syrup and sprinkle with the teaspoon of sugar. Spoon the batter over the nuts and spread it out evenly.
• Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on top and a little jiggly to touch in the middle. You want it to be ever so slightly gooey inside. Poke a few holes in the cake and drizzle with the remaining maple syrup.
• Allow the cake to cool slightly before removing from the tin and cutting into slices. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.


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