The ‘seatrout of Lough Neagh’ are one of our natural treasures

Delgatie fishery
Delgatie fishery

Dollaghan is a variety of trout, native to Lough Neagh and its tributaries.

They’re often referred to as the “seatrout of Lough Neagh” and are actually thought to have evolved from this fish when it was land locked there during the last ice age. It has a deep orange flesh and tastes like a good natural trout should – slightly earthy, sweet and buttery.

When I go out to a restaurant and see seabass and salmon as the fish options, my heart sinks a little. They will invariably have been farmed abroad and brought here at the expense of our carbon footprint. Why would you go to that trouble when you have a wealth of fresh water fish that comes from a vast body of water plonked right in the middle of Northern Ireland? Farmed seabass has all the flavour of a tenderised loofah when you compare it to a rich dollaghan or that other native fish, pollan. Pollan are available at the moment and, like dollaghan, are a fish that was trapped during the last ice age. They look like a herring but have less of the distinct saltiness than the sea variety.

These oily fish are great cooked simply on a barbecue – take the fillets and skim with the slightest hint of oil. Place skin side down on the grill and cook for a minute on each side. Squeeze some lemon and dust with some salt at the last minute. Herring and mackerel are delicious treated the same way.

Most of the fish from the Lough are exported to London and Europe but I think it’s time we appreciated the natural treasure on our own doorstep. Eel from the lough is celebrated in other countries but rather than balking at the thought of eating it, give it a go! When people actually eat eel they invariably love it – I haven’t had a bad reaction yet thank goodness and I’m proud to say it converted a couple of vegetarians at a dinner I cooked in Bristol recently!

I used to work in a restaurant in Aghadowey called MacDuffs. It was way ahead of it’s time and in the early 80’s mackerel pate and melba toast was the height of sophistication. I made some pate with smoked eel recently and it brought me back to those heady days! If you want to you could substitute mackerel but the eel is subtler and less oily.

Beetroot and eels compliment each other beautifully and this week’s recipe is for a sweet and sour version of this robust vegetable.

My other recipe this week calls for raffia – not to eat but to use to parcel trout fillets together. A trout fillet is topped with crispy bacon, mushrooms, scallion and parsley, topped with a another fillet and held together with the raffia. It works practically and it looks nice too.

The Comber Earlies are in the shops now – a piece of grilled local fish, and these beauties, covered in butter – what more do you need?