By Jo Cooksey
We all have a go-to summer drink, something that just embodies the season for us. For some it’s Pimm’s, or a nice cool bottle of rosé and in my case, it is cider. As soon as the weather begins to improve and the sun starts peeping out from behind the grey clouds my thoughts turn to cold, appley, thirst quenching cider and it has to be British. None of this mega mass produced continental cidre nonsense.
Recently I have attended a couple of food pairing events, where wines or beers were matched with a particular dish, so that the two complement and enhance each other. This got me thinking. What about cider? If you can pair vine and grain drinks, why not apple ones too? I spoke to the lovely people at Thatchers and told them what I had in mind. We had a meeting and discussed dishes and also which of the ciders in their range to pair them with. Armed with a clinking box of bottles, I headed back to my kitchen.
Thatchers are based in the UK cider capital, Somerset and have been perfecting their craft since 1904. They are still family owned and still making their cider on Myrtle Farm, where the business began. Once the apples are pressed and the yeast is added the juice is fermented in one of the eleven, 30-foot-high oak vats, the largest of which holds 135,500 pints of cider. Wow! That would keep me going for a while.
The wanted the dishes I made to reflect everything that is seasonal and great about a British summer but with flavour twists. Also, I didn’t want to go down the obvious routes like pork with cider or an apple-based dessert. Cider is quite acidic so cuts through creamy, rich food such as cheese. With this in mind I decided that my first dish would be a verdant summer risotto, light and creamy with a selection of British veg including asparagus, broad beans and peas. Normally when cooking risotto, I start the rice off with a glass of wine, before adding the stock but for this exercise I used Thatchers Gold (4.8% ABV), instead. The Gold cider has a very authentic flavour and colour. It is medium dry with lots of clean, appley flavours, plus floral and honey notes. All together it works really well, enhancing the flavour of the vegetables and cutting through the cheese. The recipe is at the end of this article. This cider would be fabulous with a cheese board or a traditional Ploughman’s Lunch.
I adore fish and thought the lightness of white fish would pair exceptionally well with cider. Plus, I wanted to try out some Asian flavours to see how they stand up to a quintessentially English drink. I stuffed a sea bass with breadcrumbs mixed with rapeseed oil, fresh ginger, chilli, coriander and lime. I cooked it en papillote, using a sprinkling of Thatchers Katy cider to create the steam within the parcel. The Katy (7.4% ABV), is named after the single variety of apple that is used in this brew. Katy apples produce a super-premium, medium dry draught. It is a very light and delicate drink, which is a divine alternative to prosecco and works really well with dishes that contain a little chilli and citrus, as with the fish. On the side I served a vibrant Asian salad, which complimented both the fish and the cider. We also tried the Katy with our homemade elderflower cordial and it was superb.
Now you know me, there always has to be a pud and to be honest this one was a bit of an experiment but it turned out wonderfully well. Besides cider is there anything more English than summer berries and cream? But hey, let’s serve them with a cider jelly. I have had champagne jelly a few times but how about using cider instead? I wanted a sweet cider, so I went with Thatchers Haze (4.5% ABV). This naturally cloudy cider is made using eating apples, famed for their sweetness, like Gala and Jonagold. I wasn’t sure if it would set, although apples contain lots of pectin, which helps jam to set. It was perfect. Within the jelly I also put strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in the jelly and once it had set I piled on some Chantilly cream. Marvellous. I am also reliably informed that Thatchers Haze with a shot of gin in makes for a lovely summer cocktail. Of course, I shall have to test this forthwith. Cider is a very adaptable drink, that works in so many ways, other than just for quenching your thirst on a hot day.
In the meantime, the recipe for the risotto is below. Give it a go and let us know what you think. Send us a photo too, we’d love to see.
SUMMER VEG RISOTTO
1tbsp olive oil
1 knob of butter
1 clove of garlic, crushed
320g Arborio rice
150ml Thatchers Katy cider
600ml hot vegetable stock
100g peas, fresh or frozen
100g asparagus spears
100g broad beans, fresh or frozen, podded
2/3 tbsp of Grand Padano or Parmesan (extra to serve)
1. Whether fresh or frozen blanch the broad beans and pod them. Also blanch the asparagus and peas.
2. Gently heat the olive oil and butter and add in the garlic. Stir for a minute. Be careful not to have the heat too high or the garlic will burn.
3. Add in the rice and raise the temperature slightly. Stir the rice around gently until you hear a soft popping sound. This means the heat has caused the outer casing of the rice to crack and the starchy insides that thicken the risotto are ready to go. It will only take a minute or so.
4. Add the cider, stir and gently simmer until most has been absorbed.
5. Add in a ladle full of your stock, stir and allow to lightly simmer until most has been absorbed. Stir regularly to avoid it sticking to the bottom. Keep on in this way until either all the stock has been used or until the rice is al dente.
6. Take off the heat and stir in the blanched veg, (keeping a little back to garnish) and the 2/3 tablespoons of grated cheese. Allow to sit with the lid on for another 2 minutes. Stir again and portion into bowls. Garnish with the extra veg and cheese and serve.
We approached Thatchers and were gifted the cider but as always, the recipe and opinions are our own and unbiased. Please drink responsibly.