“Taste the Island” is an initiative between Tourism Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland to encourage visitors to come here off season, especially between September and November.
Last Sunday I hosted a Slow Fish event as part of this tourism showcase in the iconic surroundings of the Arcadia in Portrush. Slow Food is a global charity that encourages “good, clean and fair” food.
It started in Italy in 1986 as a reaction to a McDonald’s opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Essentially it encourages us to slow everything down – not just the actual cooking but the production of it too. It’s vital to take the time to produce food properly without growth hormones and pesticides.
When referencing fish in relation to Slow Food we should be looking at eating what’s available sustainably from our surrounding seas. Go into most restaurants in Northern Ireland and the fish offering will be invariably fried fish and chips, a salmon dish and a seabass dish. I love a fish supper as much as the next person but I like it straight out of paper and preferably eaten with the sea air blowing in my hair whilst being serenaded by seagulls. Long gone are the days when wild salmon was prolific in our rivers. Nowadays the salmon will have been farmed in Scotland and the seabass will have flown in from a Turkish or Asian farm. There is no commercial seabass fishing allowed off our coast. If you’re lucky enough to catch one it’s illegal to sell it.
Restaurants should be serving sustainable, ethically caught fish. Fresh mackerel is one of the nicest things to eat. Ideally it should be cooked and eaten within hours of being caught and the most feasible way of doing this is to catch it yourself. Causeway Lass is a fishing boat based in Portrush harbour that runs fishing trips for most of the year. They have a Catch and Cook course where you catch the fish and a chef then cooks it for your breakfast. They kindly donated mackerel, pollack and ling for the Slow Fish event (proceeds were going to Slow Food educational projects and the RNLI). The best way to cook fish is to do as little to it as possible. Place it on a grill or hot pan with some oil or butter and then drizzle with a little lemon juice. Some hot buttered Queens on the side would make for the best dish possible.
One of the other fish served at the Slow Fish event was wolf fish which was kindly donated by Donegal Prime Fish in Derry/Londonderry. It’s a firm meaty fish not unlike turbot but a fraction of the price. There are many fantastic fish like it, gurnard, megrim sole, coley and skate that are cheap but incredibly good. My first recipe is for battered wolf fish with smoked dulse tartare sauce. To source the fish check out donegalprimefish.com and you’ll be able to go to the Maiden City and pick it up yourself. Bring a cool bag and make a day of it! The dulse is produced by North Coast Smokehouse in Ballycastle and is stocked in all good delis.
My other recipe is for mackerel with a beetroot salad and horseradish dressing. Oily fish, beetroot and mackerel is a fantastic flavour combination.
We should be eating more sustainable fish – it’s healthy, tasty and relatively cheap. One of the things that puts people off fish is the supposed smell. Fresh fish has no odour. It only smells if it has deteriorated. You wouldn’t dream of buying whiffy meat so why would you buy fish that reeks? If you support one of our declining fish mongers or fish vans you’ll be able to source fresh fish for yourself. Forget about supermarkets and support local businesses before it’s too late. And next time you’re in a restaurant with “locally caught seabass” on the menu, point it out to them. There’s no excuse for not using what’s in the seas around us. If we don’t it’ll be gone before you can say two fish suppers.