Seafood Week runs until next Friday, 16th October and is the perfect platform to encourage us to eat more fish.
Ironically, one of the biggest problems here, despite being surrounded by sea, is sourcing good fresh seafood. Fresh fish, for the record, should not smell fishy! If the supermarket counter smells of fish, just walk on by – it’s a sure sign it’s past its sell by date.
There are some stand out places in Northern Ireland to buy good fish and one of my favourites is the fish area in St George’s market every Friday and Saturday. Sparklingly fresh salmon sits alongside live local prawns, lobsters and crabs with silver herrings, mottled mackerel and a myriad of beautiful treasures of the sea in between. Not only is the produce lovely to look at, it is irresistibly fresh. The stall holders will be able to tell you when it was caught and give you advice on how to cook it.
Unfortunately fishmongers in Northern Ireland are a rare breed nowadays. Walter Ewing is a third generation fish merchant from the Shankill Road in Belfast. His shop hasn’t changed much since opening in 1911 but his business has. The retail outlet is only a small part of his overall activity, which involves processing and supplying restaurants throughout the country.
When I shop there I love to pick up some potted herrings, made to an old original family recipe. The soft herring, zingy with vinegar and topped with buttery crumbs is so deliciously old fashioned, tasty and evocative of simpler times and lyrics from my music hero Van Morrison. It’s refreshing, if not a bit mind blowing, to see school children buying small polystyrene tubs of whelks for lunch from the shop, instead of frequenting the local fast food outlet. Ewings isn’t just a shop, it’s a symbol of hope in a fast moving world!
Mourne Seafood run an award winning fish restaurant in Belfast and have an impressive wet fish counter at the front. Even better, they have an online fish shop where you order your fish and they will deliver anywhere in Northern Ireland on a Friday (mourneseafood.com for details).
There are fish vans dotted around the country and well worth sussing out. It’s good to know that buying from independent shops, vans or stalls is considerably cheaper than from major supermarkets. Heather’s fish stand at the harbour in Kilkeel is stocked with a magnificent array of locally landed seafood and you can buy freshly dug potatoes from nutrient rich County Down fields.
My first recipe this week involves mussels and potatoes in a classic chowder. You could do worse than take a day trip to Kilkeel to pick up the ingredients at Heathers! I’ve included a recipe for warm savoury bacon scones to go with them. The other recipe is for salmon topped with muhammara, a warm middle eastern spiced pepper paste with walnuts and pomegranates, that really cuts through the oiliness of the fish.