An Irish Anglers World

Seafood and Eat It.

I love eating seafood, it’s tasty, light, versatile, easy to prepare, very diverse (you could have a different meal every day of the week), and of course it’s healthy. The beauty of being a sea angler for the best part of forty years is the benefit of having a ready supply of fresh fish into the house. In recent years however due to commercial overfishing the size and variety of hitherto common species has diminished, which means paying in some cases extortionate prices at the fish mongers for what used to be readily available. That said if one forms a relationship with a good local fish supplier quality fresh seafood at a fair price can still be bought.

Bringing home fish to eat was my primary motive in taking up sea fishing as a hobby. In latter years sport fishing came into the mix mainly due to the reduction in fish species and biodiversity off the local county Wicklow coastline. The idea of catching a tope or a conger eel appeals, but the satisfaction of bringing home a hank of mackerel or a brace of codling for me enhances the experience of actually catching fish. In essence it is the only true reason for going fishing, and taking time out to prepare and serve a fine meal with the fruits of a days angling in my opinion pays homage to the whole exercise.

Fresh topped and tailed mackerel.

Seasonality is the key to eating quality fish. Industrial commercial fishing and large multiple retailers take no account of this, if they did our fish stocks would be in better shape.  Flatfish such as plaice, lemon sole, and flounder spawn in late winter and early spring. In February, March, and April their flesh is thin and watery not a patch on the plump bright specimens of summer and autumn. On the other hand cod and whiting come into their own over the winter months preferring colder water. Mackerel make a spawning migration in winter and are bloated with oil which softens the meat, better to consume mackerel in the summer when the oil content is less. Bass being fractional spawners do not lose condition to the same degree as other species and are an exception when it comes to seasonality. Mussels as the saying goes should only be consumed when there is an “R” in the month, hinting at autumn through to early spring as the optimum time to enjoy this wonderful shellfish.

All good meals should be simple in their construction, seafood lends itself to this maxim. Mussels and chips, grilled plaice on the bone, cod in beer batter, roast bass and Mediterranean vegetables, chowder, dressed crab, smoked mackerel salad,  just writing the words makes me hungry. All the above are easy and quick to prepare and some of a multitude of fishy delights that can benefit a healthy diet and be tasty to boot. Books highlighting seafood recipes are not ten a penny but two which sit on my sideboard are “Rick Stein’s Seafood“, published by BBC Worldwide Ltd in 2001, and “The River Cottage Fish Book“, first published in  2007 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Both books are hardback, lavishly illustrated, and provide detailed information on seafood, fish and shellfish species, identification, preparation, and most importantly recipes. If I had a favourite it would be “River Cottage” because it is written by anglers, takes into account marine conservation, includes less common species, and extols the virtues of home fish smoking amongst a host of other DIY tips aimed at producing lip smacking results in the kitchen.

Two seafood cookery books which will grace any kitchen.

The key to good fish cooking is having quality raw material to hand and the necessary equipment and ingredients. When keeping fish for the pot make sure that it stays in the best condition possible. When boat fishing throwing codling, pollack, or mackerel in a black plastic bin liner to sit in the sun all day is not going to leave them in the best condition on reaching port that evening. Far better to bring a suitable container or fish box, place it in the shade and cover the catch with an old wet towel. Periodically gut and wash the catch clearing as much blood out from along the backbone as possible. On return separate, fillet if required, pack and refrigerate or freeze as the case maybe immediately. Stored fish should be dried of excess moisture, covered, and airtight to avoid drying out during refrigeration or being freezer burned.  In the case of scaly fish such as bass scrape the scales off at the beach or slipway using the back of a knife, much less messy then doing the same job in the kitchen sink.

Regarding equipment having sharp knives is imperative especially a chopping and a filleting knife. Equally important is a heavy based frying pan and I like a wok for deep frying. As for ingredients to hand include sea salt, black pepper, plain flour, saffron, fennel, dill, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, garlic, ginger, pickled ginger, capers, cloves, chillies, paprika, olive oil, soy sauce,  fresh cream,creme fraiche, white wine or cider vinegar, Noilly Pratt vermouth, and white wine as key essentials. Tinned anchovies, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, coconut milk, arborio rice for risotto, pin head oatmeal, a lemon and lime (if only for the gin and tonic), sweet chilli sauce, curry paste, honey, prepared frozen bread crumbs, English mustard, smoked rashers, chorizo, Parmesan and a good cheddar cheese should equally be close by. With all that in the cupboard along with potato’s, celery, carrots, leeks, peppers, spring onions or chives, frozen peas, long grain or basmati rice, eggs and milk as standards, any self respecting angler/chef should be able to give Marco Pierre White or Clodagh McKenna a run for their money.

Smoked mackerel salad.

Fish is easy and quick to prepare and serve. A meal in ten minutes is not beyond the bounds. Steamed mussels, grilled lemon sole, the smoked mackerel salad above all fall into that category. Most other dishes once cooking gets under way could be on the table within twenty minutes to half an hour. The fish itself will cook very quickly, heat passes through even dense muscular fish such as bass or tuna very fast, so in a lot of cases it is the accompaniments like veg, rice and potato’s that push out the cooking time. The important piece of the jigsaw is getting the preparation and timing right.

This piece was prompted by a successful beach session which delivered a fine codling and bass, both of which became the centre piece of two slap up but easily prepared family meals on consecutive evenings. Roasted whole bass and Mediterranean vegetables was followed on day two by traditional battered cod, peas, and chips. Healthy, tasty, seasonal, and simple to prepare, ingredients and instructions for both dishes are set out below.

Roasted Whole Bass and Mediterranean Vegetables.

Roasted Whole Bass and Mediterranean Vegetables.

Serves: Four.

Preparation time: About twenty minutes.

Cooking time: Approximately one hour.

Ingredients: One whole bass of about 2.kgs. Small tin of anchovies, Sea salt, black pepper, olive oil, chilli oil or a red chilli, oregano, mixed whole peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes, courgette, potato’s.

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180° C.
  2. Peel potato’s, chop into large chunks, and par boil in salted water for seven minutes. Drain and arrange down the centre of a large oven proof dish.
  3. Skin (it makes them sweeter) and chop into large pieces the mixed peppers, slice the courgette, have to hand about six cloves of garlic, and chop into pieces three large whole tomatoes.
  4. Place the chopped peppers, tomatoes, sliced courgette, and whole cloves of garlic in the oven dish either side of the potato’s, scatter anchovies over the potato and drizzle chilli oil over the contents of the entire dish. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven for thirty minutes.
  5. Meanwhile prepare the bass by descaling, cutting off the fins, tail, and head (optional). Score both sides of the fish in a criss cross fashion and season with sea salt and black pepper to include the gut cavity. Sprinkle a small amount of oregano in the gut cavity as well. Drizzle inside and out with olive oil.
  6. After thirty minutes take the par roasted vegetables out of the oven and rest the prepared bass on the potato’s. Return the entire dish back to the oven and cook for a further thirty minutes until the fish is done.
  7. Place as a centre piece on the dinner table. Portion the fish onto warm plates and serve with the roasted veg and potato’s.

Cod in Batter, Saute Potato’s and Peas.

Battered cod, served with chips and peas.

Preparation time: about twenty minutes.

Cooking time: Twenty minutes.

Ingredients: Cod fillets, two eggs, quarter pint of milk, sea salt and  black pepper, about four ounces plain flour, potatoes ( roosters or maris pipers), sunflower oil, one whole lemon.

  1. Fillet (Your fishmonger will do this) the cod removing any remaining bones and pin bones.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 180° C.
  3. Prepare batter by first separating the egg yolks from the white. Whisk together the egg yolk, flour and a splash of milk to make a thick paste. In a seperate bowl whisk the egg white until it forms peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter mixture.
  4. Prepare saute potato’s by peeling and par boiling potato’s for seven minutes in salted water. Remove and slice.
  5. Pour sunflower oil into a wok and heat.
  6. Place some flour in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Take a cod fillet and dip into the flour. Completely cover the fillet and shake off excess flour. Immerse the floured fillet in the batter mix, take out and let excess drip off before popping it into the hot oil.
  7. When lightly golden remove and place on tray in oven for five minutes.
  8. Fry sliced potato’s in hot oil until golden brown, drain and place on kitchen paper to remove remaining oil.
  9. Plate battered cod and chipped potato’s and serve with a lemon wedge, mayonaise and peas.

For further reading click on: Creamy Fish Pie.