Fishy story

Now that we live on a peninsula you might think that seafood is set to play a very important part in our diet. You would be right, that is the plan, but it’s not that simple.

After the disaster with the seaweed pudding, (I can still taste it) I have decided to concentrate on fish and shellfish when planning to cook with the ‘fruits of the sea’. However, this plan is proving even more difficult to put in place because of my woeful angling skills.

Fishing, yes; catching, no.

We have a very good fishmongers in Bantry, which is just under thirty kilometres away, but I want to catch my own supper at least once before we head into town and take the easy way out.

Indeed, we don’t even have to go as far as Bantry. We have the best lobster, freshest crab and mouth-watering scallops available and all only a phone call away, freshly caught in Dunmanus Bay and landed on the pier in Ahakista, which is just down the road. It really is that easy to enjoy good fish around here but I have decided that I must catch and cook a fish from the Bay before I pick up the phone and make that call.

Lobster and scallop boats at Ahakista Pier

I did set out on such a mission recently but I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say it was a good job we had eggs at home.

Last week, I decided to redouble my efforts after I got the chance to interview one of my food heros for a feature commissioned by my former newspaper The Avondhu.

Award-winning chef and owner of the fabulous Fishy Fishy restaurant in Kinsale, Martin Shanahan is no ordinary celebrity cook. This chef is on mission. Another blow-in to West Cork, Martin is working hard to take what he calls ‘the fear out of fish.’

Chef Martin Shanahan is 'Mad about Fish'

“When I was growing up in Fermoy [North Cork, about fifty kilometres from the sea], we always had fish on Fridays, just like most of the country did. The fish was always boiled and served with a white sauce, which is grand but it soon became monotonous and I think a lot of people, well most people really, grew to seriously dislike fish,” Martin told me.

Martin has been working hard to promote fish and wants to see more Irish seafood being served in Irish homes. “Ireland is surrounded by the best fish-producing seas on the planet and we export over ninety percent of our catch. It’s mad. What I want to do is to encourage people to eat more fish, try different species and, above all, support the Irish fishing industry,” Martin said.

However, I wanted to know how a boy from a small town surrounded by some of the best land in Ireland found his way to cooking seafood?

“For me there is something very appealing about cooking with fish. Unlike a red piece of meat, fish is beautiful even in its raw state. After I finished training and working at the Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville for a while, then I moved to San Francisco where I learned more and new ways to cook fish. Looking back on it now, I always seem to have worked by the sea. I get a bit jumpy if I go too far inland,” Martin continued.

Asked what species of fish was his favourite to eat, Martin was quick to name fresh haddock as the fish he couldn’t live without. “There is nothing like fresh fish simply cooked and for me haddock is my favourite,” Martin said.

Fresh haddock ready for sale at the Bantry Farmers' Market.

I left Martin eager to get back to Kilcrohane and my rod; I wondered if he had any advice for a hopeless angler?

“It’s great to catch your own fish but if I were you I’d leave it to the professionals, that way you can concentrate on the cooking,” Martin laughed.

Well, I can’t argue with that. I think it’s time to make that call.

In the meantime, here is one of Martin Shanahan’s best-loved recipes for haddock, which can be found in his Fishy Fishy Cook Book.

Thanks Martin for allowing me to use this recipe on my blog.

Spiced Haddock with couscous and courgettes

Serves 4

4 large fillets of haddock, skinned and boned

4 tablespoons taco seasoning

4 tablespoons plain flour

Salt and pepper

250g couscous

4 tablespoons olive oil

500ml vegetable stock

Pinch of saffron

1 small onion

1 courgette

Crème fraiche

Bunch of coriander

Place the couscous in bowl and add a tablespoon of olive oil.

Toss with a fork to coat the grains with the oil.

Heat the stock with a good pinch of saffron.

Turn the heat down and leave to infuse until the stock takes on the yellow colour of the saffron (10-15 minutes).

Finely dice the onion.

Cut the courgette in four, length-ways, and then slice into 5mm-thick wedges.

Put a pan on the heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Add the onion until it is just beginning to soften, and then add the courgette.

Season quite generously with salt and pepper.

Cook until the courgette is just soft.

Add the vegetable mixture to the bowl of couscous.

Bring the stock back to the boil and pour over the couscous mixture.

Leave for 15 minutes for the grains to swell.

Mix the taco seasoning with the flour, and season.

To cook the fish: coat the haddock in the taco mix, pat to shake off the excess.

Heat a pan and coat the base with vegetable oil. Cook the fish on a high heat for 4 minutes, turn and cook for a further 4 minutes on the other side.

Serve with crème fraiche and chopped coriander.




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