Darina Allen: A Trip to Northern Ireland

On a recent trip to Northern Ireland, I was blown away by the explosion of artisan food and drink producers.

Darina Allen: A Trip to Northern Ireland

On a recent trip to Northern Ireland, I was blown away by the explosion of artisan food and drink producers. After three action packed days, I struggled home on the train resembling a ‘bag lady’ with large totes overflowing with produce — so many delicious new finds.

My adventure began in the Strangford Lough region. I was collected from lovely Clandeboye after a particularly good breakfast of freshly boiled eggs and unctuous Clandeboye yoghurt made from the milk of Lady Duffrin’s fine herd of Jersey cows – seek out this yoghurt, it’s superb and I don’t use that word loosely.

After a drive around beautiful Strangford Lough, we arrived at the Echlinville Distillery outside Kircubbin. It’s the first newly licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in 125 years.

It is at the forefront of Ireland’s spirits renaissance and home of some of the North’s best known labels, including Jawbox Gin and Dunvilles Irish Whiskey.

We particularly enjoyed a 12 year old Dunville’s single malt, aged in a PX barrel, the return of an icon originally introduced in 1808. Afterwards, it was on to Comber to the independent Indie Füde shop. Owner Johnny McDowell’s little deli/café was packed with small batch artisan products from all over the island but particularly the North.

There was fantastic charcuterie from Broughgammon Farm and Ispini, Boerwors from Hellbent, Buffalo Salami from Ballyriff, and Buchanan’s Irish peat smoked back bacon with a delicious layer of fine back fat. I also found some smoked anchovies from East Coast Seafoods and a loaf of French Village Bakery sourdough.

Johnny is passionate about local foods and loves to do things differently — from eco-friendly packaging, bold designs to bespoke gift ideas — always trying to surprise and innovate, follow indiefude.com to find out about their cookery demos and pop up supper clubs,

Next day we explored the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Op in Toomebridge, Co Antrim.

I’d particularly asked to visit this fishery — we’ve been enjoying the tender Lough Neagh smoked eel at Ballymaloe for many years, both silver and brown eels thrive in the lough.

They love dark and stormy nights before a new moon, the eels become restless and move down the river to start their epic 5,000 mile journey back to the Sargasso Sea, carried along on the gulf stream.

The fishermen wait in their boats, with their traditional cogull nets and hooks to harvest the fat charged eel.

Over 400 tons of Lough Neagh eel are caught and processed every year in line with careful conservation guidelines.

A large part of the catch are shipped to Holland for smoking and to Billingsgate in London for the production of jellied eel.

Fresh eel are also available but what I didn’t know was that Lough Neagh is also home to many other species including Dollaghan, a wild brown trout, Perch, Roach, Bream, Pike and Pollan, an ancient fish species which dates back to the Ice Age.

I tasted it both fresh and smoked by North Coast Smokehouse and loved it. By the way fresh eel is my favourite fresh water fish, and that’s also available from the Lough Neagh Co-op.

There’s so much more to share with you but enough for this article, to be continued…..

Bhapa Doi — Steamed Sweetened Yoghurt

So maybe this isn’t exactly a traditional recipe, but steamed puddings are certainly a forgotten skill and I ate the most sublime steamed yoghurt at Kempies restaurant in Calcutta.

This isn’t exactly the same, but it is delicious also. I found it in The Calcutta Kitchen by Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel.

The sweetness of the condensed milk works wonderfully with the acidity of the plain yoghurt. This creamy, sliceable textured pudding is similar to a crème caramel — one of my favourites.

Serves 8

  • 800g (1lb 12 oz) natural yoghurt
  • 300g (10½oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • Seeds of 6 green cardamom pods powdered in a mortar and pestle
  • 8-10 saffron strands


  • Sliced pistachio nuts

Heat some water in a steamer. You could use a bamboo over a wok, but any multi-tiered steamer will work.

If you do not have a steamer, upturn a small, metal, flat-bottomed bowl inside a larger pot with a fitting lid. Pour water into this and bring to a simmer. Put the item to be steamed into a suitable dish, cover with clingfilm, and place on the upturned bowl to steam.

Mix the natural yoghurt and other ingredients in a bowl and whisk to incorporate some air but don’t overdo it or the whey will separate. Pour it into 8 small serving bowls.

Cover with clingfilm and put in the steamer or on to the upturned bowl. Cover with the lid and steam on a steady simmer for 35-40 minutes.

Carefully remove the bowls and leave to cool. Remove the clingfilm and chill.

Serve chilled, sprinkle with the sliced pistachio nuts.

Rory O’Connell’s Roast Red Onion Leaves with Smoked Eel and Horseradish Mayonnaise

Makes approximately 20 pieces or bites

Choose small red onions for roasting as you really want the finished leaves to be bite-sized. The smoked eel can be replaced with smoked salmon or mackerel but do try to source smoked eel if you can.

  • 4 small red onions
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 250g (9oz) smoked eel cut into dice or thin slices
  • 5 tbsp horseradish mayonnaise (see recipe)
  • sprigs of chervil or watercress for garnish

For the Horseradish Mayonnaise

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp of wine vinegar
  • 150ml sunflower oil or light olive oil or a mixture of both oils
  • 1 heaped tbsp of finely, grated fresh horseradish
  • 1 tsp of chopped tarragon

Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut the unpeeled onions in half straight down through the middle and through the root. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil and place cut side down on a roasting tray.

Cook for 20-40 minutes or until the onions feel completely tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When the onions are cool, separate the layers of onion to achieve little cup shaped leaves.

These can be prepared in advance and stored at room temperature.

To assemble, place the onion leaves on a serving dish. Spoon a little of the horseradish mayonnaise into the base of each leaf and follow with a piece of eel and a spring if chervil or watercress.

Horseradish Mayonnaise

Put the egg yolks, mustard, sugar and vinegar in a bowl. Whisk well and add the oil gradually in a slow and steady stream while whisking all the time. The sauce will emulsify and thicken quite easily.

Add the horseradish and chopped herbs. Taste and correct seasoning. It is unlikely to need salt because of the large quantity of mustard.

Chill until needed.

Carrot, Apple and Raisin Salad with Yoghurt and Mayonnaise Dressing

Serves 6

This delicious salad can be made in minutes from ingredients you would probably have in your kitchen, but shouldn’t be prepared more than half an hour ahead, as the apple will discolour.

It can be served either as a starter or as an accompanied salad for ham or pork.

  • 8 ozs (225g) grated carrot
  • 10 ozs (285g) grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available
  • 2½ oz (60 g) raisins
  • salt and freshly ground pepper


  • 2-3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 2-3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise
  • honey (optional)


  • a few leaves of lettuce
  • sprigs of watercress or parsley
  • chive flowers if you have them

Wash the carrots and peel if necessary. Grate the carrots and apples on the coarsest part of the grater.

Mix the yoghurt with the mayonnaise. Mix the coarsely grated carrot and apple together, add the raisins and season with salt and freshly ground pepper and toss in the dressing. Toss with a fork to mix.

Taste and add a bit of honey if needed, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Take six large side plates, white are best for this. Arrange a few small lettuce leaves on each plate and divide the salad between the plates.

Garnish with sprigs of watercress or flat parsley and sprinkle with chive flowers if you have some. Season to taste.

A Salad of Figs, Sperrin Blue Cheese, Cured Coppa, Smoked Almonds and Nasturtium Leaves

Serves 4

I used some Ispini Coppa, Broughgammon Salami.

  • 4 ripe juicy figs
  • A drizzle honey
  • A drizzle lemon juice
  • 8 thin slices of artisan salami or coppa
  • 50g (2ozs) crumbled Sperrin Blue cheese
  • 8 smoked or well toasted unskinned almonds coarsely sliced
  • A few small salad leaves or small nasturtium leaves if available
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Flakey sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Trim each fig and cut into thirds and place into a wide serving bowl. Drizzle with a little runny honey and a few drops of lemon juice. Toss gently.

To assemble:

Put three pieces of honeyed fig on each plate, top with a few crumbs of Sperrin Blue cheese, a couple of folds of wafer thin coppa or salami. Scatter a few small organic salad leaves and a nasturtium leaf or two on top.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, a few flakes of sea salt and a scattering of coarsely sliced, roasted or smoked almonds. Enjoy immediately.

Hot Tips

Forgotten Skills with Darina Allen and Hugh Maguire

Myself and Master Butcher Hugh Maguire are part of the line up at the Boyne Valley Flavours Festival.

We will be discussing forgotten skills in Irish cooking and demonstrating how to make fresh black pudding. The event is on Sunday, November 3; www.boynevalleyflavours.ie

Upcoming Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Homeopathy for Pets and People: We are delighted to have Tom Farrington, a qualified veterinary surgeon and homeopath, returning to the Cookery School for this day-long course.

Tom will bring your through the world of homeopathy and introduce you to classic remedies and their uses for both people and pets alike.

Saturday, November 2, 10.30am – 3pm, lunch included. Contact 021-4646785 to make a booking; www.cookingisfun.ie

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