Paula Mcintrye: Unique festival savours tastes of ‘River to Lough’

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The second “River to Lough” festival is happening in Toome today.

This unique event allows visitors to tour the eel processing factory, that’s at the locks at the bottom of the town, and get an insight into how they’re prepared for a global market.

Lough Neagh eels have PGI (protected geographic interest) status, alongside other iconic brands like Parma ham and Stilton cheese and are respected by chefs across the world.

Most of the eels are exported to Holland and London where they’re a prized delicacy.

Over fishing in other parts of the world have made these sleek silver fish unsustainable, but they thrive in the lough meaning they’ve cornered the market.

When you go to a traditional pie and mash shop, in London, where they serve the eel liquor as a gravy, the eels will have come from Northern Ireland.

It’s a shame we don’t see them on menus that often here.

At the festival last year, a bus load of Japanese tourists couldn’t get enough of it.

They are what the largest stretch of fresh water in the UK is famous for but perch, pollan and dolaghan are delicious fish that thrive here and need a wider audience.

Perch were known as “grunts” because there used to be so many they fed them to the pigs.

Pollan and Dolgahan are fish that were trapped in the lough during the last Ice Age.

Pollan is a lustrous scaled, fresh water herring and dolaghan is coral mottled fish like a fresh water sea trout.

These treasures of the lough have a fresh, earthy flavour.

I’ll be cooking pollen and fresh eels at the festival and I’ve included my recipes this week.

The first recipe was inspired by a dish I had in Ibiza last month where sardines were sandwiched between very thin bread and fried.

A simple recipe that gives the oily, soft pollen a crisp crunch.

My second recipe is a take on London eel and mash but using local cider, bacon and fennel for added flavour and served with champ spiked with smoked Abernethy butter.

The White River Hotel in Toome’s chef/patron Michael Lennon will be doing a pop up restaurant at the festival where you can taste the eels and there’ll be other chef demonstrations and activities too.

Check out for details.