Ardkeen Quality Food Store: A Very Modern Convenience
In this week’s Guardian, two news pieces made this food writer very happy. Happy and hopeful. One was word that Kindle sales were so “pitiful” that Waterstones had decided to remove ebooks from stores altogether and replace them with…..books! The other concerned new finds about consumer habits and desires when shopping for food.
In the face of continuing profit slumps, the large multiples would have to find ways of adapting to changing consumer behavior by including more items from specialist food producers, providing a more dynamic shopping experience and perhaps even hosting in-store farmers markets, it was suggested.
“Superstores want footfall and better local credentials, while specialists want the space. So big stores will be revitalised and instead of supermarkets versus specialists, it will be a question of: what’s the winning alliance or alliances?”
This pleased me because I knew a place in Ireland already doing all this, and has been for quite a while: Ardkeen Quality Food Store.
What fascinates me about the Jephsons’ family unique food store is not only the amazing collection of Irish artisan produce under one roof, but also the fact that you can pick up your Hellmans mayo, your Heinz Baked Beans, your baking parchment and washing up liquid at the same time as some of Sheridans’ cheeses, Pat Whelan’s beef dripping and Arun Kapil’s Green Saffron aged basmati rice. Ardkeen is surrounded by the multiples on all sides, yet not only it holds its own, it thrives. A true community shop selling the local, the best and the most needed. There is a little information here about the history of Ardkeen for those of you who don’t know it. And as Colin and Kevin are too modest to describe the broader impact of their work, here’s what renowned food writers and campaigners John and Sally McKenna have written about them.
All this to say I’m very excited that we will be teaming up for a while on Ardkeen’s new website and online store as I spend time in Ireland after many years living in France. I’ll be writing about the food I’m cooking with the store’s wonderful produce and the artisan producers who grow and make it. I won’t yet be joining the ranks of those new consumers popping in a few times a week as I’m currently living a few hours away. But frequent trips to Waterford as I meet producers from the area are keeping my Schull kitchen’s shelves, fridge and freezer full of Ardkeen produce to play with.
My first recipes are all about chicken. The store stocks a great selection of organic and free-range birds as well as great packs of good quality, fab value chicken legs and wings. I was constantly put off by how pale, puffy and spongy Irish chicken look next to their lithe French cousins and was very curious to see how Ardkeen’s birds would cook. Well, what a FEAST! It turned out that the plump Rings Farm 2 kilo + bird was much less fatty than its French multi-labelled counterparts yielding so much flesh, and the taste and texture were superb. I stuffed it under the skin and inside with The Sea Gardener’s black olive and seaweed caponata, giving it magnificent colour and boosting the taste. Accompanied by a simple olive oil mash and roast courgettes and scallions with garlic and rosemary, everyone was very happy around my table.
One chicken is easily enough for eight people as a main course after a light starter. The leftovers will feed a pasta or salad next day and of course the carcass makes a great base for precious stock for your soups and risottos.
Without meaning to sound too much like a radio ad, the fantastic quality and quantity on the bone of these great chickens makes good taste into good value also.
I cooked these meaty Carlow Chicken Legs into a simple, forgiving, rich oven casserole with red wine, onions and tomatoes and gave them a final boost from one of Ardkeen’s super choice of relishes and chutneys. You could easily cut the legs into thighs and drumsticks to make this go a little further than one leg per person as they are BIG! It’s also the perfect dish to make ahead, freeze and reheat as it’s even better when the flavours are left to develop. Make it into a hearty, handy one-pot supper by adding tinned chickpeas or beans and heating them through with the dish for 15 minutes before serving.
These Carlow Chicken Wings are juicy and satisfying enough to serve 2 or 3 per person with a good salad and rice or pasta alongside, for a quick and thrifty weekday supper. The speedy little marinade is a great way to use up the ends of marmalade jars and aging grain mustard before you restock with a lovely little pot from Dalkey! Gauge the saltiness depending on how strong the soy sauce is you are using and add chilli or garlic if you want to add even more oomph.
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