Nothing fishy in a fresh catch

I LOVE when another new Irish cookbook lands on my desk and this one is good news for the many Fishy Fishy fans.

Martin Shanahan – chef-proprietor of the legendary Fishy Fishy Café in Kinsale – has teamed up once again with Sally McKenna of Bridgestone Guide fame. This impressive duo have produced a sequel to the Fresh Seafood Cookery Book, published in 2006, with another gem called The Seafood Lover’s Cookbook published by Estragon.

For the past few years we have been frequently in despair at the quality of the ‘fresh fish’ we were offered. The main problem is that as fish stocks dwindle boats are forced to travel further afield and are often at sea for three or five days. Consequently some of the ‘fresh fish’ may be five days old when it’s landed; hence ‘today’s catch’ takes on a whole new meaning.

It will, of course, have been iced down, which helps to preserve the fish. Nonetheless it is a totally different product – nothing can hold a candle to carefully handled day boat fish, landed on the day it is caught, still stiff and glistening.

This kind of fish for many people is now a forgotten flavour; coupled with the fact that most fish is whizzed off to the wholesalers and auctions, so few local people in coastal areas can manage to get fresh fish – unless you are fortunate enough to have access to a fisherman who will sell directly to local people and local restaurants. If you have such a treasure in your area, support them and be prepared to pay a little more for this superior product.

When fish is really fresh the less you do to it the better, simply pan grill or poach and serve with good Irish butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a few fresh herbs or a simple sauce.

When you buy fish, ask lots of questions: is it fresh, where was it caught, is it Irish? Fresh fish is food for the gods; stale fish is a total waste of money and a real challenge for the cook. That’s where all the fancy sauces and twiddles and bows on top come in when you have to mask a stale taint or compensate for the fact that the flavour wasn’t there in the first place.

So how can you tell when fish is fresh? The fish itself will look bright and glistening, the gills will be fresh. Fresh fish or shellfish doesn’t smell at all fishy. If you were blindfolded you would scarcely be able to work out by smelling that it was fish. When the eyes are sunken the fish could be five to six days old – time to be throwing it out; even the cat won’t be tempted. It’s worth being able to judge for yourself so you can choose the best.

With mounting evidence of the imbalance of Omega 3s and the Omega 6s in our diet, the need to eat fresh fish to boost our stocks of Omega 3s has never been more urgent. I think you’ll find Martin and Sally’s contemporary and simple seafood recipes and the shopping guide to fish retailers throughout the country to be an invaluable resource.

I would like to add another less well known name to the list. Local day boat fisherman, Tadhg O’Riordan of Ballycotton, Co Cork, comes from a long line of sustainable fishermen. His wife Brenda (086-1704085) delivers superb fresh fish and only fresh fish to the door, for which we feel truly blessed and grateful.

* The Seafood Lover’s Cookbook can be sourced at

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