I have that calling for the sea, I can’t help it, and it haunts me from time to time. Not that I dislike where I live, not at all, but when you spend over 30 years in full view of the Atlantic, it is like an old friend you enjoy sharing a moment with, paying that friend a visit sometimes, that is what friends do I guess, communion with a wordless and reassuring company. So when my Italian pal Marty rang last month, expressing the wish to visit Ireland again for a very short weekend in June, I knew I had to do something special. As a former gastronomy student from Turin, she enjoys real local food, and there were a couple of home cooked Irish dinners on the cards. But for our escapade, I wanted something a bit special, not only for the food, I wanted it to be a feast for the eyes and the senses… Unlike most of Europe, Ireland was under clear blue skies,flirting with mid-twenties temperatures… The perfect plan was unfolding itself nicely…
This is my take on Fish ‘n’ Chips, less messy, fast, easy, tasty, healthy. Monkfish, oven roasted wedges, crispy pancetta and cream of garden peas… Let’s go:
- 1 tail of Monkfish, skinned by your fishmonger, they won’t mind and their knives are sharp
- A good handful of Buckwheat flour, white flour will do too!
- Dried dill, or even mixed herbs.
- Salt and Black pepper
- Fully cured and sliced pancetta (100g – 150g)
- A good hanful of garden peas
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 lemon
- 1 large potato sliced in wedges per person (or more!)
First, cut the Monkfish into bite size nuggets, not too big, not to small, put them into a plastic food bag, with the flour, the dried herbs and the black pepper. Shake the lot until well coated. Pre-heat the oven at 200c and on a tray, lay the thin pancetta strips side by side. Bake for 5 minutes until crisp then lift with a spatula onto kithen towel.
For the pea purée, bring the peas to a boil in salted water, just for 5 minutes with a clove of garlic; sieve and cool straight away, blend them with olive oil and lemon juice (2/3 for 1/3). Put them through a sieve and keep pushing them through with a spatula.
For the potatoes, cut them into wedges, rub them with olive oil and sea salt and bake for 20 minutes (until golden).
For the fish, give the bag another shake, take an olive oiled pan and when hot, place the nuggets and cook for a few minutes on each side. Pinch of salt all over, crumble the pancetta over the fish, with a wee drizzle of lemon juice to your liking… Enjoy!
September 1991 After two months spent on the side of a mountain in Glenveagh National Park, I decided to enjoy a couple of weeks off, around Donegal town before heading back to Brittany; many long walks around Lough Eske , its abandoned castle, native oaks and mountain ashes. We didn’t drive. One of my friends suggested to hitchhike to Killybegs, Fishing Harbour few miles west of the town. I like fishing harbours, for some strange reason, the smell of marine gasoil mixed with the smell of rotting fish has a certain appeal. Or is it the screaming swarms of cheeky Herring Gulls? Lorient, St-Guénolé, Galway or Howth, no matter how big or small they might be, the atmosphere surrounding them is always the same; dressed with rich colours, fumes, sadness and excitement, noise… Life, purring Diesel engines… Superstition… What’s not to like really?
Have you ever tried Fish’n’Chips?” , asked my Orleans flat mate, while my native Irish friend rolled her eyes, as if saying: “Jayzus… Not again”. He was, let’s put it mildly, very enthusiastic by nature. We climbed the small hill overlooking the Harbour, sat at a corner table of this local chipper, just like teenagers do (yes we were still – just about – in that age bracket) and gazed at our laminated and slightly greasy menu; ketchup, mayo, salt and vinegar at the ready. Vinegar? On chips? Seriously?
Truth be told, I had tried Fish and Chips; the previous September to be precise. The curator of Cap Sizun’s bird sanctuary and myself, after 6 months spent on the western peninsula cliffs counting kittiwakes, had just closed the reserve for the year. My mentor had to deliver fragile plaster birds of his creation to the yet to open maritime museum of Brest… Oceaonopolis. I was then treated to lunch in the Commercial Harbour. The decor was set, the name of the restaurant? “People Of The Sea”. Overwhelming with truth. We both went for the “Poisson-Frites”, fish of the day with chips. That was the day, the first time… My thoughts? The same any other Breton lad of my age would’ve had: “Fish with chips? What a weird combination!” Boy was I wrong! It somehow made our traditional rice and boiled potatoes abruptly redundant.
I visited Donegal again this week, walked on the foot prints of cherished memories, one recalling the other, every time. This time I wanted to push a bit further west, what hitchhiking v time never allowed me to do before; I wanted to see the sun setting on Sliabh Liag’s mountain cliffs and its wild Atlantic coast. On the way back to Donegal Town, I stopped for a few minutes in Killybegs, I took it all in, the bells, the smells, the colours and the diesel engines purrs. They say the sea makes people hungry… Well it is true and I already knew what I would pick from the menu.
Keep Well and Eat Happy