…what does the word artisan mean to you…? A lot like the word ‘experiential’ it seems to have become a trendy buzz-word for the hipster community, that once put in front of any other word renders it somehow authentically ‘hand-made’, ‘bespoke’ or ‘heritage’ or that said item has been crafted by someone with a passion for their work. I find this kind of baloney slightly frustrating as it all just becomes noise after a while and I find that i’m no longer influenced by these kind of cues in advertising. For me it all comes down to trust and to gain that trust I need to try something or have someone I trust recommend that product to me. Oh don’t get me wrong, I fall for shiny new things all the time and I adore a bit of retro styling – my whole kitchen is based on a hand-made look that most definitely bends the truth ever so slightly… It’s the recommendation from people who I respect that guides my decision-making and this is particularly prevalent with food and drink. The makers of my favourite casserole dish may have been around for 150 years but this doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be good quality and fit my needs… it’s the observation of my mum using the same product for 40 years that has made its way into my kitchen… and maybe it’s the trial and error of us as a group of friends and family that can be considered an artisan choice… and hand-crafted choice taken with great care and consideration…
… of course being a home cook is being artisan. I make bespoke items every day using local, generally seasonal ingredients. For me there is nothing better than putting that little bit of extra effort into a dish or a bake… you may be the only person to notice those hand-picked berries or that twice-churned butter but you know it’s in there making the food taste the way it does and I guess this blog is a visual representation of a craftsman at work… in his own small way. I’m also very lucky that here in the country, i’m surrounded by similar craftsmen, from the local Belleau Smokery to the Claythorpe Watermill and Alford Pottery, these are people who take great pride and passion in their work…
Over the next three months, The Balvenie Whisky will be launching a series of short films featuring just such people, from knife makers to organic farmers, potters and salmon smokers. Balvenie is the only single malt whisky still handcrafted the traditional way – and the campaign wants to highlight the quality, passion and individuality that comes from artisan products and crafts. The Craftsmen’s Dinner film series sees two-Michelin starred chef Michel Roux Jr travel the length and breadth of the British Isles to discover the true meaning of exceptional craftsmanship. The films are really beautiful and the whole series culminates in a mouth-watering three-course ‘Craftsmen’s Dinner’, in which Michel uses produce from each of the craftsmen he meets.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been sent some glorious beef from Grierson Organic, who are featured in this latest film, are Perthshire based organic food producers. They rear and butcher their own livestock, ultimately producing famously tender, mouth-watering meat – which is sold nationwide. You can see the love and passion they put into their farming and you can see the lush pastures that the Aberdeen Angus herd graze upon too.
balvenie whiskey and honey slow-cooked brisket
the very lovely Sophie Grierson called me personally to ask what cut of meat i’d like… now as you know, i’m not a huge meat eater and when I do eat meat it needs to be special but also I didn’t want something like a steak which didn’t need much doing to it, I wanted to be able to work with some interesting flavours so I asked for a more robust cut such as this lovely piece of brisket. The whisky and honey work tremendously well together and of course the slow-cooking leaves you with a gloriously tender piece of beef that falls apart and melts in your mouth. I had to find some equally beautiful bread to eat with it so I visited our local baker who’d just hand-made these adorable sun-dried tomato rolls but of course something like a brioche bun or even a very basic baguette would work just as well… a little dash of thick balsamic vinegar was the perfect final addition…
i’m using my slow-cooker for this dish but the whole thing can be easily done in a casserole dish covered tightly with some foil and then with a tight-fitting lid in a low oven – roughly 100C for the same time
1 500g cut of brisket
1 onion – peeled and sliced end to end into wedges
2 sticks of celery
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 litre good quality vegetable stock
place the veg and fennel seeds into the bottom of your slow-cooker, lay the beef going on top and then pour the whisky, honey and stock over the beef… the liquid should come just over the top of the beef and slow-cook on low for 6 hours
pre-heat the oven to 180C and then once cooked, remove the beef and set aside. Spoon out the onions with a slotted spoon and lay them into an oven-proof dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast in the oven for 15 minutes whilst you prepare your sandwiches
cut the bread rolls in half and fill with mixed salad leaves, pull the beef apart with a fork and lay into the bread rolls, then add the caramelised onions and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar