Inside Gwen McGrath & Ken Doherty’s Kitchen

21st December 2017

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

The couple behind Assassination Custard pick out veal bacon, a selection of their favourite vermouths, and eight indispensable cookbooks


Broughgammon veal bacon »
We can say with confidence that we never had veal bacon before Ken and Gwen served it to us in their kitchen on homemade soda bread. “Quite smoky isn’t it?” says Gwen. Yes, and damn good too.

Glenstal Irish Creamery salted butter »
“It’s a nice one actually, Glenstal butter,” says Ken. “You see it around in all the shops. I think it won one of those, what do you call it, Taste Awards [it got two stars]. It’s fairly easy to get good butter in Ireland.”

Gwen has labneh hanging in the kitchen when we visit. “It’s just yoghurt hanging in a J-cloth so the liquid drains out of it. Afterwards you can add olive oil, a bit of salt and maybe some spices like fenugreek. This one’s going to be made into a cake, a Middle Eastern cassata with date, plum and rose water,” she says, but we requisition a chunk to have with padron peppers, first of all, and then with bread and Gwen’s homemade plum jam. “I’d use labneh instead of butter sometimes,” says Gwen. “Put it on the kids’ lunches.”

Toons Bridge stracciatella and burrata »
Ken and Gwen have started getting stracciatella from this excellent raw-milk dairy in West Cork. “We put it on a plate with smoked anchovies and sumac and it’s really good,” says Ken. “Their burrata is amazing too.”

Root & Branch coffee »
Gwen makes us cups of coffee using Ethiopian beans (Burtukaana Lot 2) from this excellent Belfast-based roaster.

Morro Fi vermut blanc »
We’re very jealous of the aperitivo and digestivo shelf in Ken and Gwen’s kitchen. On the shelf, we find a bottle from Morro Fi, a vermut bar with several outlets in Barcelona. There’s also a bottle of Bosco Nero’Liquore di Liquirizia, a Calabrian liquorice-flavoured liqueur, and Punt e Mes, an Italian red vermouth.

Flower sprouts
Ken and Gwen get lots of unusual vegetables from McNally’s farm in North County Dublin (see Address Book). In the fridge today are padron peppers, collard greens and flower sprouts, a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale, which Ken fries up for us and serves with black garlic vinaigrette and grated ricotta salata (see Recipe).

TRS mustard oil »
“We’ve been pickling chillies, so this is good to have,” says Ken. “We’re fermenting them in the upstairs bedroom which gets the sun all day. There’s no vinegar in the pickle, just mustard oil, lime juice and mustard seeds.”

Chimeras ricotta salata »
There is a wheel of ricotta salata in the fridge. It’s pretty hard to eat by itself – salty! – but it’s delicious grated onto flower sprouts with black garlic vinaigrette (see Recipe).

Soppressata »
“We got a pig’s head off Aisling at the Fumbally Café, she had six Tamworth pigs and asked if we wanted to take one. We couldn’t manage a full one but we did take a head. We had it here in the garden. The kids were shaving it, taking the skin off the bone.” The soppressata (a salami made with pig’s head, among other things) that they have in the fridge, however, is from Macelleria Pecoraro, a butcher in Maratea, Italy.


Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, Jennifer McLagan »
“This is a book I bought a while ago and it’s probably is up there with my favourites,” says Ken. “The author is Canadian, lives with her husband in Toronto. It’s all about bitter tastes, it’s very good. Bitter flavours are pretty important in our food.” I open the book to discover it’s full of old Assassination Custard menus.

A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets: Recipes from a New York Baking Legend for Strudel, Stollen, Danishes, Puff Pastry, and More, George Greenstein »
“George Greenstein’s family wrote this book after his death. It’s a posthumous tribute to a skilled Jewish baker, and an amazing insight into how recipes are handed down and kept alive.” – Gwen

Bean Eaters & Bread Soup, Lori de Mori, Jason Lowe »
“That’s a lovely book as well, from [the founders of] Towpath Café in London,” says Ken. “It’s about Tuscan producers, the people who farm the land, make the cheese, fish in the sea, make wine. It’s very good. You get real characters in it and you feel like you want to go to Italy when you read it. There’s some lovely simple recipes in it as well. Lots of the stuff that we like. That restaurant on the front cover, we actually went there because of the book. It’s Coco Lezzone in Florence.”

Persepolis: Vegetarian Recipes from Peckham, Persia and Beyond, Sally Butcher »
“I really like this book,” says Ken. “We went [to Sally Butcher’s Persian shop in south London] once, it’s very good. This is her first book, it’s a cookbook with drawings. Iranian-style cookery with ingredients like dried limes. It’s kind of irreverent and fun the way she writes, doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s done a few other books too: Snackistan, Veggistan…”

Duck Soup Cookbook: The Wisdom of Simple Cooking, Clare Lattin, Tom Hill »
“The Duck Soup cookbook is brilliant,” says Ken. “Haven’t been [to their restaurants in London], would love to go. The book’s great.”

Traditional Moroccan Cooking: Recipes from Fez, Madame Guinaudeau »
“This is a recipe book from the city of Fez by a Frenchwoman living there in the 1950s. You know when Joyce said that if Dublin was knocked down, you could rebuild the city from reading Ulysses – it’s similar with this: you could rebuild Fez with this book. It’s a great guide to Fez, it tells you as much about the city as an architecture or history book would. There’s an intro by Claudia Roden.” – Ken

The Painter, the Cook and the Art of Cucina, Anna Del Conte & Val Archer »
“That’s a beautiful book,” Ken adds, unable to stop choosing favourite books despite my attempts to limit him to five. “Anna del Conte was on the Food Programme recently, she’s 90-something and still going. Here she talks about the restaurants she goes to, the producers she meets, all the great foods in different regions, Puglia, Sardinia, La Marche, Liguria, Piedmont. It’s a beautiful book, the way it’s done.”

Bocca: Cookbook, Jacob Kenedy »
Ken can’t resist adding just one more. “The Bocca di Lupo cookbook is great as well.”

Posted 21st December 2017

In Things


Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

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