My first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland was in Sligo, in 1995, a very different island then now I get to think about it. The Peace Process had been engaged by all parties the previous August and even if the fires of “The Troubles” had been finally put out, the cinders of a violent conflict were still red hot. I remember that day well, got up that morning to walk around the town, said hello to “The Hero” in the Silver Swan Hotel now known as The Glass House, my first gig in a professional kitchen too! It was hanging over the Garavogue River that crosses the town, all the way to Lough Gill to the East, beautiful Yeats County…
My friend had to cover the service for Paddy’s Day’s lunch but he would be available for a few pints afterwards. We agreed to meet across the road on Wine Street in a pub that no longer exists, Walter Carrolls I think its name was. The owner used to serve the pints of stout at the end of a Hurley stick, not an easy task is you must ask where steady hands were required. I enjoyed the parade, the music and all the clichés that comes with, including those two guys in front of me who had decided to go and slap each other in the privacy of Stephen Street.
“The Hero” finally arrived and he ordered two “half and half” pints of Guinness sat down on the chair next to the musicians and the welcoming fire in this cold March afternoon. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket that seemed to be bothering his comfort. It was a copy of the lunchtime menu and as I was looking through the classics of the times, a fish dish caught my eye and I asked my friend:
” – What is Cod Mornay?
– It’s like a béchamel sauce with cheese in it, it’s quite nice!
– Fish with cheese?” I asked amused. A few short months later, I was sitting in a pub restaurant in Barna, co. Galway and it was on the menu and I went for it, served in an all in one baked dish, with potatoes and broccoli. It was quite nice, and it became my favourite when I stopped in Donnelly’s for a lunchtime treat. Funny enough, I have never recreated this dish or at least not with fish ( I have made plenty of cheesy béchamel since though). I often thought about it, from time to time, and my innocent days in Sligo town on a cold March afternoon…
I created this dish with a bit of fun in mind, but I wanted it to also make sense for the taste pods if you know what I mean. I also wanted to say thank you to Vincenzo La Manna who is a sheep farmer and cheese maker in Cork. He kindly sent me some of his Pecorino the other week, and I really wanted to make something cool with it. Chef Ray Mc Ardle from the Forge Restaurant next door provided me with a nice piece of hake, the fun was about to begin.
- Piece of Hake, boned and with skin on
- 1 celeriac
- 1 handful of baby spinach
- 2 cloves of Garlic
- 1 whole carrot
- 1 lemon
- 1 blood orange
- 1 tsp of Rayu (White Masu)
- salt, pepper and olive oil at the ready
For The Mornay sauce:
- 50 g of butter
- 50 g of flour
- milk until thick ( 15 cl)
- 100-150 g of Pecorino
First, start with the celeriac and spinach mash… I peeled and chopped the root vegetable, cut it into cubes and brought it to the boil with a clove of garlic until soft. It is quite a quick operation so don’t go too far!
Let it cool down and then blend it with the handful of baby spinach. I wanted the delicate flavours to come through so I didn’t interfered with it too much. For the carrot and rayu pesto, I grated one large organic carrot ( I use organic in all my food, as much as I possibly can), added two tsp of Rayu, which is a condiment made of peanuts, sesame, oil and chillies. Used in cooking from Korea, china and Japan. Everyone is going nuts about it here ( haha, I know!) and I didn’t know what it was until three days ago. Since we are now stocking it at work, I decided to use it in my pesto and it worked really well. Blend the lot with olive oil and the juice of half a blood orange and half a lemon…
Time to get the sauce on its way; melt the butter then add the flour on a very low heat and keep stirring… Keep adding some milk little by little until thick but not too thick. Add the grated Pecorino and keep stirring. If you feel that it is too lumpy, you can always give it a blitz in the blender…
For fun and presentation, you can make little cheese crisps by simply putting some of the grated cheese on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Let them dry and gently lift with the tip of a knife onto some kitchen paper…
For the fish, get a non stick pan with olive oil and start frying on the skin side until the fish is fully but not over cooked. You can put the lid of a pan on top to accelerate the process…
Poor the sauce on the plate, scoop the celeriac and spinach mash, the hake on top skin up, and a small tbsp of carrot and rayu pesto for zing and contrast. Et voilá, enjoy with a nice glass of Malvasia or a Gavi di Gavi!
Keep Well and Eat Happy