Honey

Honey

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844006212
Photographer
Jason Lowe

Over the past couple of years I have become increasingly drawn to using honey in cooking. Sugar is one-dimensional in flavour, unless of course you play with it, taking it to a deep rich caramel. By contrast, honey is complex and lends subtle flavour notes to dishes. Not only is it great to cook with, honey is also wonderful drizzled over cheeses, ice creams and perfectly ripe, seasonal fruit.

Honey is a natural product that very often sings of the terrain in which it was created. So, it is hardly surprising that there are almost as many varieties of honey as there are wines – each and every one with its very own distinctive flavour notes and character. Among my favourites are acacia, wildflower and our locally produced honeys, but the one I love best of all is chestnut honey. The colour of burnt caramel – with a flavour to match – it is sublime drizzled over slivers of aged pecorino or Parmesan.

Honey is produced all over the world – from Siberia to the tropics. In warmer climates this can happen throughout the year, but in the very coldest countries the season can be as short as 2 or 3 weeks.

The type of flower from which the bee has collected the nectar determines a honey variety’s distinct aroma, flavour and colour. And the resulting characteristics of the honey closely resemble the flavours of the flowers, trees and herbs that the bees have visited.

Most honeys are what are known as polyfloral honeys, which means that the bees have taken nectar from many different floral sources. However, the most prized of all honeys are those from bees that have predominantly fed from the nectar of one plant species. These are known as monofloral. Of these, as I have said, chestnut honey is my favourite. Its flavour is so very particular that it can be quite shocking the first time you taste it. Not really sweet at all, the taste resonates to me of molasses, with a mildly bitter finish.

Like vinegar, I usually have several different varieties of honey in my storecupboard, which I love to dip in and out of. There is light acacia honey that I have on sticky rye toast in the morning with cold unsalted butter. Sitting alongside is a jar of my favourite chestnut honey. And I always have some of our local honey – from nearby Richmond Park where it is produced in small quantites. Another fairly local honey I have to hand is from Brockwell Park in Brixton, produced by one man – Orlando Clarke. Urban honeys are not to be sniffed at, for they can be quite delicious.

I find I use honey in all manner of dishes in the kitchen. Another of my breakfast favourites is toasted sourdough topped with young creamy goat’s cheese or ricotta and drizzled with honey.

A spoonful of honey stirred into warm porridge is delicious in the winter. During the warmer months, try soaking whole oats in freshly squeezed apple juice. Grate the flesh of an apple – skin and all – into the soaking oats and finish with a spoonful of honey. Cover and keep in the fridge overnight, then in the morning you will have a sweet, creamy breakfast cereal, known as Bircher muesli.

I also use honey in various dressings for salads and vegetables. At home, my daughter, Evie is the queen of salad dressings. She often makes one my mother taught her, consisting of a teaspoonful of honey, a little squeeze of orange juice and a drop or two of soy sauce. This sweet, slightly salty dressing clings to the leaves irresistibly. I recommend that you try it.

Occasionally I use honey to sweeten a creamy dressing. A little honey, a squeeze of lime and perhaps a little finely chopped red chilli stirred into crème fraîche or yoghurt is delicious spooned over warm, roasted summer squash or pumpkin, for example.

In the autumn, I’ll often reach for a jar of honey when I’m making a salad dressing, as salads in the cooler months usually benefit from a slightly more robust dressing. A little honey mixed with Dijon mustard, sherry vinegar and seasoning, and whisked with walnut oil makes for an interesting dressing, with all the right seasonal notes. Spoon it over a salad of tender roasted onion squash, young creamy walnuts and autumn salad leaves.

As for desserts, honey offers endless possibilities. Try adding a tablespoonful or so to a chocolate sorbet or a chocolate truffle cake to lend a warm, sweet flavour, for instance.

When roasting fruit, I often substitute honey for sugar. It is delicious drizzled over sliced quince with some pared lemon zest and fresh bay, as indeed it is over pears, plums, medlars or apricots.

And of course, if you are rounding off the meal with cheese and fruit, a drizzle of honey is often a perfect complement. There is no doubt that honey’s complexity of flavour gives food a greater depth and often makes a dish taste more interesting.

Equally passionate about honey, my friend and mentor Wendy Fogarty summed it up perfectly when she said, ‘Honey tells us so much about the place it comes from. I love the fact that the complexity and majesty of nature can be so simply translated into this one single product.’

Recipes in this Chapter

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