In deep water

GROWING global demand for seafood is depleting fish stocks around the world and threatening the health of the oceans.

With nearly 76% of the world’s fisheries fully fished or over-fished, scientists are worried that our seas cannot keep up with demand. Other environmental impacts are also taking a toll: unintended catch of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and other sea life; seafloor damage from some types of fishing gear; pollution and marine debris; and loss of coastal wetlands to create fish farms.

I’ve just returned from a food conference in California called Cooking for Solutions.

The annual theme is sustainable food production and it gathers together policy makers, fishermen, food manufacturers, retailers, caterers, chefs and scientists, who brainstorm the ever more urgent subject of sustainable food production.

What’s happening at sea is not unrelated to activities on the land, many marine habitats are affected by our polluting actions and there are several examples of fishermen’s lives being destroyed as a result of the pollution in some of our harbours and bays.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, the conference venue, has been leading the way in highlighting these issues and has initiated Seafood Watch.

In the US, 67% of seafood is sold through restaurants, which Seafood Watch supply with In the US, 67% of seafood is sold through the restaurants, which so Seafood Watch species to avoid because of over-fishing. They also suggest best choices and good alternatives. Chefs and restaurants educate their staff, who in turn raise awareness among customers.

For the past three years, here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we have run a sustainable seafood course and it would be wonderful to be able to have similar information available on the state of play in our waters, so we can assist people to make informed choices when they buy fish at the market or in a restaurant.

This is a complicated situation and I can’t even pretend to know the answers, but many fish have become noticeably scarcer in recent years — eg, wild salmon.

In Ireland there has been a complete ban on fishing for wild salmon for the past three years but at least we still have lots of fresh mackerel. Lemon sole, plaice, haddock, hake, John Dory and crab are also in season, and these seem to be abundant. The students have had several very successful fishing expeditions in Ballycotton harbour, and arrived back with buckets of beautiful fresh fish, mostly mackerel. Below are some of the recipes we use.

For more information, see or

Darina Allen was honoured with the Conservation Leadership Award — Chef of the Year at Cooking for Solutions.

Grilled John Dory on the Bone

A divine way to cook a fresh John Dory.

Serves 4

1 very fresh whole John Dory

Salt and freshly ground pepper


Herb butter — see recipe below

Remove the head and the bones around the head from the fish.

Score the skin crossways on both sides, sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground pepper, spread butter on both sides of the fish.

Grill for 10-12 minutes at a medium heat. You will need to turn the fish during the cooking time. Length of cooking time will depend on thickness of the fish.

Serve immediately with a little herb butter.

Herb butter:

3oz (85g) butter

3 tsp mixed finely-chopped fresh parsley, chives, fennel and thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper

To make herb butter, melt the butter and stir in the freshly chopped herbs.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Parsley Butter or Green Gooseberry Sauce

This is a master recipe for pan-grilling fish. The simplest and possibly the most delicious way to cook really fresh mackerel.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 6oz/170g fish for main course, 3oz/85 for a starter)

Seasoned flour

Small knob of butter

Parsley butter:

2ozs (55g) butter

4 tsp finely chopped parsley

A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice


Segment of lemon


First, make the parsley butter. Cream the butter, stir in the parsley and a few drops of lemon juice at a time. Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tin foil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker. Refrigerate to harden.

Heat the grill pan.

Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly.

When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter-side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with some slices of parsley butter and a segment of lemon.

Parsley butter may be served directly on the fish, or a pretty shell at the side of the plate. Garnish with parsley and a segment of lemon. (See the recipe for gooseberry sauce on top right)

Note: Fillets of any small fish are delicious pan-grilled in this way. Fish under 2lb/900g such as mackerel, herring and brown trout can also be grilled whole on the pan. Fish over 2lb/900g can be filleted first and then cut across into portions. Large fish (4-6lb/1.8-2.7kg) can also be grilled whole. Cook them for 10-15 minutes approx on each side and then put in a hot oven for another 15 minutes or so to finish cooking.

Warm Poached Mackerel with Bretonne Sauce

Fresh mackerel gently poached and served warm with this simple sauce is an absolute feast and is without question one of my favourite foods.

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a starter

4 fresh mackerel

1.2 litres (40 fl oz) water

1 tsp salt

Bretonne sauce:

55g (2oz) butter, melted

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

1 tsp Dijon mustard (we use Maille Verte Aux Herbs)

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp parsley, chopped, or a mixture of chervil, chives, tarragon and fennel, chopped

Cut the heads off very fresh mackerel. Gut and clean them but keep whole. Bring the water to the boil, add the salt and the mackerel. Bring back to boiling point, and remove from the heat. After about 5-8 minutes, check to see whether the fish are cooked. The flesh should lift off the bone. It will be tender and melting.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter and allow to boil. Put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the mustard, wine vinegar and the herbs, mix well.

Whisk the hot melted butter into the egg yolk mixture little by little so that the sauce emulsifies. Keep warm, by placing the pyrex bowl in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water.

When the mackerel is cool enough to handle, remove to a plate.

Skin, lift the flesh carefully from the bones and arrange on a serving dish.

Coat with the sauce and serve while still warm with a green salad and new potatoes.

Mackerel with Tomatoes and Tapenade

Serves 4

4 fresh mackerel fillets

4 large ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 tsp thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the tapenade dressing:

30g (1oz) kalamata olives, stones removed

2 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained

1½ tsp capers in brine, drained and rinsed

1 small garlic clove, crushed

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Flat parsley sprigs

Preheat the grill to high.

Arrange the tomato slices in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking tray. Season lightly with some salt and pepper and sprinkle with the thyme leaves.

Slash the skin of each mackerel fillet two or three times and place, skin-side up, on top of the tomatoes.

Meanwhile, make the tapenade dressing. Chop the olives, anchovy and capers, add the crushed garlic — it should have a coarsish texture. Add the oil and vinegar and season to taste.

Grill the mackerel until the skin is crisp and the fish is cooked through and the tomatoes are warm.

Transfer to warm plates and spoon over a little of the tapenade.

Serve immediately with little sprigs of flat parsley.

Foolproof food

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Use the tart, hard green gooseberries on the bushes at the moment — they make a delicious sauce.

10oz (285g) fresh green gooseberries

Stock syrup to cover (see below) — 6 fl oz (175 ml) approx

A knob of butter (optional)

Top and tail the gooseberries, put into stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until fruit bursts. Taste. Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.

Stock syrup:

4 fl oz (120ml) water

4 oz (110g) sugar

Dissolve sugar in water and boil for two minutes. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator until needed. Stock syrup can also be used for sorbets, fruit salads or as a sweetener in homemade lemonades.

Hot tip

Shop for Irish food in Tipperary with the launch of a farmers’ market at Lily Mai’s Cafe at Dove Hill, Carrick on Suir, Co Tipperary, on Sunday at noon. Slow Food Tipperary will also host a walkabout lunch in what promises to be a fun day with loads to see and learn.

Lily Mai’s will be doing demonstrations of how to use fresh local produce. Contact: Frances Fogarty – Lily Mai’s, Golden, Cashel, Co Tipperary, 062-72847; Lily Mai’s Café, Dove Hill, 051-645603.

Nido D’Cigno (swan’s nest) is a new Italian restaurant opened on Main Street, Ballycotton. Scott Andriani, an Italian New Yorker cooks genuine Italian food, including delicious desserts, in-house. Tel 021-4646647. Open 5-10.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday, and 1-5pm Sunday’s (early bird menu). Starter, main course, glass of wine, tea/coffee for €25.

Cork City Slow Food Convivium holds its next event at Jacques Restaurant, Phoenix Street, Cork, on Sunday, June 8, with a tasting of summer wines. Cheese is supplied by Mark Hosford from Mahon market and the wonderful and very knowledgeable Monica Murphy from Febvre Wines hosts the tasting, which kicks off at 4pm.

€10 Slow Food members; €15 non-members. Book with Jacques on 021-4277387. All proceeds going to Waterford Terre Madre.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop will open every day, including Saturday and Sunday, from this weekend, from 11am-5.30pm. There’s fresh seasonal organic produce, jam, cookbooks, kitchenware, gifts, etc. Take the turning opposite the church in Shanagarry. Tel 021-4646785.


It hasn’t been the ideal summer for observing the skies, but as we move into September we live in that almost annual hope of an Indian summer, writes Niall Smith.Skymatters: Enjoy the last of the summer stars and check out 'Vega'

Actually the lights were on when I got dressed this morning, says Luke Rix-Standing.11 things you’ll only know if you have no sense of style

Robert Hume unveils the Irishwoman who became the world’s first car accident fatality.Did you know an Irishwoman was the world’s first car accident fatality ... in 1869

Meet Lisa O’Doherty, the chief sommelier at The K Club.You've Been Served: Lisa O'Doherty of The K Club on life as a chief sommelier

More From The Irish Examiner