Darina Allen: Buttered Shrimps and Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

Surely people know by now that pure natural butter is good for us and that other edible ‘food like substances’ predominately made in laboratories are most definitely not, writes Darina Allen

I RARELY shop in a supermarket, I know this sounds quite extraordinary but I live in the country, in the middle of a farm and we grow a lot of our own food. I’m also a big advocate of Farmers Markets and small independent local shops so my reality is kind of different.

It can be months between one visit to a supermarket and the next — having said that I love a wander around Fields in Skibbereen when I’m in west Cork, a large supermarket which still manages to keep the local shop feel and one of the few (Scally’s in Clonakilty is another) that goes out of its way to source and support local farmers, food producers and fishermen.

I hadn’t been for a while and was in search of a pound of butter to make some hollandaise sauce to embellish a fine fresh hake that I had just bought in the Skibbereen Farmers Market. At first I thought there was no butter but eventually I found some Kerrygold and Aughadown from Drinagh Co-Op at the very end of a long run of every conceivable spread. I had passed yards and yards of dairy products, mostly, light, low fat, no fat...

What is going on? Surely people know by now that pure natural butter is good for us and that other edible ‘food like substances’ predominately made in laboratories are most definitely not. The myth that low fat is good for you was the biggest con of the late 20th and 21st century. That theory and false science has been thoroughly discredited.

If you only remember one thing from this article, it ought to be the following fact. We need good fat in our diet to help the body to absorb the nutrients from other foods. Only two Vitamins, B and C are water soluble, all the others are fat soluble – so what does that mean? Unless we have some fat in our diet, we cannot extract maximum nutrition from the what we eat. So that’s just one of the many reasons why low fat is detrimental to our health and why ‘surprise, surprise’, people who were put on a totally low-fat diet were found to be suffering from malnutrition, yes malnutrition, after a few months.

The fat doesn’t have to be butter, it can be extra virgin olive oil, lard or beef dripping but it must be a good fat, pure and preferably organic. If you don’t believe me, do your own research and see how ever since the Keys 1961 report followed by The Dietary Goals for the United States encouraged Americans to eat less high fat red meat, eggs and dairy and replace them with more calories from fruits, vegetables and especially carbohydrates.

Then everyone else seemed to follow suit without ever checking their science. So for four decades, our governments, department of health, dieticians and doctors (who by the way have virtually no training in nutrition) have repeated the same dogma over and over again. It wasn’t until 2014 when the result of the meta analysis of more than 80 scientific papers and research documents that we learned that there wasn’t a shred of evidence to link butter and saturated fats to cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, a multi-billion dollar/euro/pound industry has been developed on the back of this false science. But the most serious element is that by now the general public have been so brainwashed into thinking that fat of any kind is public enemy number one that they actually can’t face it.

Babies and small children need lots of good fat for their brain development. It’s connected to fertility, to our energy level, and concentration.

Least there be any misunderstanding, it’s not the fault of the supermarkets, they will sell what the public want. So don’t be conned, eliminate those low-fat products totally from your diet. Mother Nature did not put fat on meat and fish to annoy us, it’s there so we can absorb the maximum benefit from the lean meat.

See Weston A Price Foundation; log onto: www.westonaprice.org

Buttered Shrimps or Prawns with Bretonne

Sauce Shrimps are in season at the present. This is another gorgeous herby butter sauce, it’s quick and easy to make and is also delicious with other fish, even the humble mackerel.


Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course

2 lbs (900g) shrimps or prawns

4 pints (2.3 litres) water

2 tablespoons salt

Bretonne Sauce

1 eggs yolk, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (We use Maille Verte Aux Herbs)

1 tablespoon fresh herbs - mixture of chervil, chives, tarragon and fennel, chopped or as a last resort just parsley

75g (3ozs) butter, melted


Flat parsley or fresh fennel

1oz (25g) butter

Bring 2.3 litres of water to the boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, toss in the live or very fresh shrimps, they will change colour from grey to pink almost instantly.

Bring the water back to the boil and cook for just 2-3 minutes. The shrimps are cooked when there is no trace of black at the back of the head. Drain immediately, and spread out on a large baking tray to cool.

Next make the Bretonne Sauce

Whisk the egg yolks with the mustard and herbs in a small pyrex bowl. Bring the butter to the boil and pour it in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking continuously until the sauce thickens to a light coating consistency as with a Hollandaise.

Keep warm in a flask or place the bowl (not stainless steel) in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water.

Just before serving, peel the shrimps or prawns.

Toss in foaming butter in a frying pan until heated through. Heap them onto a hot individual warm plates.

Coat with the sauce. Garnish with flat parsley or fresh fennel and serve immediately.

Roast Haddock or Hake with Red Pepper Sauce

This is a super rich sauce with a sublime flavour, it makes any fish into a feast. The technique for roasting fish is one we all need in our repertoire – it’s really quick and easy. Serve naked or with any sauce you fancy.

Serves 4 - 6 as a main course

1½ lbs (675g) haddock, hake or ling, carefully trimmed of skin and membrane

Butter or extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper


1 red pepper

5ozs (150g) butter (preferably unsalted)

8 fl ozs (250ml) cream


Sprigs of flat parsley or chervil

Cut the fish into 4oz or 6oz portions, refrigerate until needed.

Seed the red pepper and dice the flesh into neat 1/8 inch (3mm) cubes. Sweat gently in 1 teaspoonful of butter in a small covered pot on a low heat until soft (it’s really easy to burn this so turn off the heat after a few minutes and it will continue to cook in the pot).

Put the cream into a saucepan and gently reduce to about 3 tablespoons (4 scant American tablespoons) or until it is in danger of burning, then whisk in the butter bit by bit as though you were making a Hollandaise sauce. Finally stir in the diced red pepper. Thin with a very little warm water if necessary and keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 250C/475F/regulo 9.

Arrange the skinless fillets on a baking tray, brush with melted butter or a little extra virgin olive oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for 4 – 6 minutes depending on the thickness.

To serve

Arrange the fish on warm individual plates. Coat each piece with the red pepper sauce. Garnish with sprigs of flat parsley or chervil and serve immediately.

Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a cold winter’s day. Make it with whole milk and you’ll need to use short-grain rice which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School. It’s always the absolute favourite pudding at my evening courses.

Darina Allen: Buttered Shrimps and Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

Serves 6–8

100g (3½oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

40g (1½oz) sugar

small knob of butter

850ml (1½ pints) whole milk


1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint/5 cups) capacity pie dish

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1–1½ hours. The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Calculate the time it so that it’s ready for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

Baked Plaice, Dover Sole with Herb Butter

This is a very simple ‘master recipe’ which can be used not only for plaice and sole but for all very fresh flat fish, e.g. brill, turbot, dabs, flounder and lemon sole. Depending on the size of the fish, it can be a starter or a main course. Because it is cooked on the bone the flavour is superb. It is also delicious with Hollandaise sauce, mousseline or beurre blanc.

Serves 4

4 very fresh plaice orsole on the bone

Herb Butter

2 to4 ozs (50g-110g) butter

4tsp mixed finely-chopped fresh parsley, chives, fennel and thyme leaves salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 190C/regulo 5.

Turn the fish on its side and remove the head. Wash the fish and clean the slit very thoroughly. With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh. Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (half inch) of water in a shallow baking tin. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish. The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked. Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly-chopped herbs. Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut). Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them. Serve immediately.

Hot tips

Jersey milk: In the Cork area, whole raw milk is available from Dan Aherne’s stall at Mahon Point (Thursday from 10am-2.30pm) and Midleton Farmers Markets (Saturday from 9am-1pm). Raw Jersey milk, cream and handmade butter are available from the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop only, open Monday to Saturday from 11am – 5.30pm

Skibbereen International Mince Pie Festival: This is an exciting new Christmas event. Join Tessa Perry and myself on December 2 at the Courtyard, Mardyke Street at 2pm in Skibbereen for the Mince Pie Festival Final – €10 enters up to six mince pies. I’ll be happy to sign copies of my new book Grow, Cook, Nourish for Christmas pressies. Phone Matt on 087-2458627 for details.

10 Great Brunch Recipe Ideas at the Ballymaloe Cookery School: In this half day cookery course, we will teach many simple delicious recipes to entertain and delight, from spicy Sri Lankan chilli eggs to the classic Mexican huevos rancheros. Friday, November 17. www.cookingisfun.ie

Rory O’Connell cooks up a Christmas Feast on Wednesday, November 15, in Cullohill, Co Laois. He’ll share his Christmas recipes and tips to make everyone’s Christmas dinner that extra bit special. Sponsored by Bord Bia. tickets are €20, available from Cullohill Community Council (086) 839 0266.


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