ArchiveJune 6, 2021

World Oceans Day

Have you watched Seaspiracy on Netflix?  I watched it recently and am still reeling from it.  I reckon to know a little about the crisis in the world’s oceans but I had no idea just how shockingly serious the picture is nor did I fully realise that the future of mankind depends even more on the state of the seas and fish stocks than on what happens on land. 

I now understand that the ocean absorbs over 90 percent of the heat that enters the atmosphere, it provides over half of the oxygen we breathe, it supplies over 3 billion people with 20 percent of their daily protein needs, it enables global trade and transport, and provides healthy food and a livelihood to millions, if not billions of people. Without the ocean, humans could not exist on Earth.

I’m trying to pick up courage to watch David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series and Seaspiracy again so I can try to glean some hope from the depressing facts.  It’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that we should not be eating any fish or shellfish at all but life is rarely black and white…It’s a very challenging  time for the fishing industry with Brexit, fish quotas and EU policies…fishing is worth over €1 billion  to the Irish economy and employs 16,000.

Local communities around the world rely on fishing for their livelihoods, the skills have been handed down in many families through the generations.  My preferred option is day boat fish but there are few enough day boats still fishing around our coasts for a variety of reasons.

The bigger boats can go further out and stay longer at sea.  They target the fish shoals with sophisticated technology.  The ‘unintended’ consequences often result in copious amounts of by-catch and decimation of the ocean floor and breeding grounds.  Many species have been overfished almost to the point of extinction which impacts on many other species and habitats in the complex web.

As consumers, we really want to source ‘sustainable’ fish.  According to Ali Tabrizi in Seaspiracy, this area also appears to be problematic with many unanswered questions.

n 1987, the then Prime Minister of Norway, Harlem Brundtland defined sustainability as ‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ which could be parsed into ‘balancing the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow’.  Marine ecologist and fisheries biologist Bryce D. Stewart from the University of York, strongly disputed that sustainable fisheries don’t exist.  He maintains that 65.8 percent of fish stocks are harvested sustainably and that 78.7 percent of all landings of marine fisheries come from biologically sustainable stocks. However, this doesn’t mean there are no problems; approximately 34 percent of fish stocks are now overfished and this proportion has increased from only 10 percent in 1990.

So, let’s do our best to seek out non-threatened species and strive to support our local fishing communities.   Be prepared to pay more for day boat fish if you are fortunate enough to source it.

So what species are sustainable in Irish waters?

Look out for hake, rock salmon, sometimes called coley or saithe and mackerel.  There’s also lots of squid which can be either tossed in the pan for seconds or else cooked long and slowly to melting tenderness.  Squid also makes delicious fish cakes.  Prawn stocks are healthy in some areas as is monkfish but for more detail check out the Marine Institute website – it’s a very large file but scroll down to Table 3 on Page 19 for a summary – red, green or white indicates the MSY of the species (Max Sustainable Yield). 

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite fish recipes, eat them slowly and enjoy every morsel.

Hot-Smoked Mackerel Tostadas

These tostadas are delicious combining the smoky flavour of mackerel and chipotle, lightened with a vibrant, citrusy tomato salsa and finished with a slice of creamy avocado and a sprinkling of deep-fried shallots.

Serves 4

8 x 10cm (4 inch) corn tortillas

300g (10oz) hot-smoked mackerel fillet (look out for Frank Hederman’s smoked mackerel at Midleton Farmers Market or online)

1 x fresh Tomato Salsa (see recipe)

1 cos lettuce, shredded

For the deep-fried shallots (optional)

4 shallots, finely sliced

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

To Serve

Chipotle Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 avocado sliced

freshly squeezed lime juice (optional)

Fry or bake the tortillas until crisp and golden.

To make the crispy shallots, pour the olive oil into the frying-pan and heat until it is shimmering.  Add the shallots and shallow fry them until they are crisp and golden, trying not to burn them.  Fish out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper to absorb the oil (you can keep the oil and re-use it for frying). 

Flake the hot-smoked mackerel with a fork and mix into the fresh tomato salsa. 

Spread each tostada generously with chipotle mayonnaise and top with shredded lettuce.  Spoon over the hot-smoked mackerel salsa and top with a slice of avocado.  Squeeze over a little lime juice and if you like and sprinkle with deep-fried shallots.


This is delicious with any type of smoked fish and also with very fresh raw mackerel, cut as for sushi.

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

Bestin Summer and early Autumn when tomatoes are ripe and juicy.

This sauce is ever present on Mexican tables to serve with all manner of dishes. Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have now become a favourite accompaniment to everything from pan-grilled meat to a piece of sizzling fish.

Serves 4-6

4 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon red or white onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2-1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped Jalapeno or Serrano

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

squeeze of fresh lime juice

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 1/2 tablespoons puréed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

pinch of salt

Make the mayonnaise in the usual way (see recipe).

Add the chilli adobe, lime juice and coriander.


I know it is very tempting to reach for the jar of ‘well-known brand’ but most people don’t seem to be aware that Mayonnaise can be made even with a hand whisk, in under five minutes, and if you use a food processor the technique is still the same but it is made in just a couple of minutes. The great secret is to have all your ingredients at room temperature and to drip the oil very slowly into the egg yolks at the beginning. The quality of your Mayonnaise will depend totally on the quality of your egg yolks, oil and vinegar and it’s perfectly possible to make a bland Mayonnaise if you use poor quality ingredients.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

225ml (8fl oz) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with 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.  I love a pat of simple parsley or herb butter melting over the top but I’ve been enjoying them with the first of the green gooseberries – they cut the richness of the mackerel deliciously.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 175g (6oz) fish form main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter)

seasoned flour

small knob of butter



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 a little bowl of green gooseberry sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley or with some gooseberry leaves if available.

Green Gooseberry Sauce

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

275g (9 1/2oz) fresh green gooseberries

approx. 175ml (6fl oz) stock syrup to cover made with 110ml (4fl oz) of water and 75g (3oz) of sugar boiled together for 2 minutes

a knob of butter (optional)

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

Carpaccio of Mackerel with Ginger and Sesame Dressing

Love this recipe kindly shared by Ruairi de Blacam from Inis Meáin Suites.

This dressing makes a lot and keeps well.  It is also delicious with noodles or pan-grilled fish.  It is only worth doing this dish if the mackerel is super fresh, less than 5 hours out of the sea.  Ruairi makes a large batch of the dressing and uses it with many fresh fish and for a seaweed salad.  Store the dressing in a glass jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks or make less.    

Super fresh mackerel filleted – 1 mackerel serves 2 as a starter

Ginger Sesame Dressing

600ml (1 pint) sesame oil

600ml (1 pint) sunflower oil

150ml (5fl oz) soy sauce

75g (3oz) garlic, grated

100g (3 1/2oz) ginger, grated

150g (5oz) sesame seeds toasted


spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

coriander leaves

Fillet the spanking fresh mackerel and remove all the bones.  Slice each fillet into 3mm (1/8 inch) thick slices, arrange in a circle on a chilled plate.  Spoon a little dressing over each portion.  Sprinkle with thinly sliced spring onions and coriander seeds.

Spicy Haddock and Squid Cakes with Thai Dipping Sauce

Curry Paste can vary in intensity, so be careful and add more or less as needed.

Serves 4 as a starter

2cm (3/4 inch) cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 garlic cloves, roughly crushed

1 large bunch of fresh coriander, roots attached, roughly chopped

1-2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste

250g (9oz) fresh haddock fillet, skin and bone free cut in cubes

250g (9oz) squid, cleaned and roughly chopped

freshly squeezed juice of a lime

1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons) fish sauce (Nam pla)

lime wedges to serve

sunflower oil for frying

To Serve

Thai Dipping Sauce (see recipe)

Arjard (Cucumber Salad) (see recipe)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the ginger, garlic, coriander and curry paste into a food-processor.  Whizz until the mixture is very well processed.  Stir and re-blend if necessary.

Next add the fresh haddock, squid, lime and fish sauce.  Pulse – the mixture should not be completely smooth.

Heat oil in a deep fry or about 5cm (2 inches) in a deep frying pan, cook a little piece to check the seasoning.  Divide the mixture into patties roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inches) in diameter. The mixture will make 14-16.

Deep fry the fish cakes in batches of about six for 3-4 minutes until golden.  Drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm while you cook the rest.

Serve with Thai Dipping Sauce, a wedge of lime and maybe a few fresh coriander leaves.

Thai Dipping Sauce

A version of this sauce is ever present on restaurant tables in Thailand and Vietnam. A great dipping sauce to use with grilled or deep-fried meat or fish and of course spring rolls.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons Nam pla, fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

3 tablespoons warm water

2 tablespoons sugar or more to taste

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 red or green chilli (to taste)

Put the fish sauce, freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, sugar and 3 tablespoons of warm water into a jar, add the crushed garlic. Mix well and pour into 4 individual bowls. Cut the chillies crossways into very thin rounds and divide them between the bowls.

For the Arjard (Cucumber Salad)

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced lengthways

1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

4 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons malt vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cucumber, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced

Put all the ingredients except the cucumber in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3–5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cold, pour the marinade over the slices of cucumber and set aside to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Hake or Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs

Piperonata sounds very grand but it’s really just a pepper, tomato, onion and basil stew, gorgeous with fresh fish. 

A crunchy topping in a creamy sauce is always tempting.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg (2 1/4lbs) hake, ling, haddock, grey sea mullet or pollock

salt and freshly ground pepper

15g (1/2oz) butter

Piperonata (see recipe)

Mornay Sauce

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

a sprig of thyme and parsley

50g (2oz) approx. Roux

150-175g (5-6oz) grated Cheddar cheese or 75g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon mustard preferably Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

Buttered Crumbs

25g (1oz) butter

50g (2oz) soft, white breadcrumbs

900g (2lbs) mashed potato (optional)

First make the Piperonata (see recipe), while it’s cooking make the Mornay sauce. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with a few slices of carrot and onion, 3 or 4 peppercorns and a sprig of thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes if you have enough time.

Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Add the mustard and two thirds of the grated cheese, keep the remainder of the cheese for sprinkling over the top. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Add the parsley if using.

Next make the Buttered crumbs. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool.

Skin the fish and cut into portions: 175g (6oz) for a main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Lightly butter an ovenproof dish, coat with the Mornay sauce.  Put a layer of Piperonata on the base of the dish.  Lay the pieces of fish on top. Top with another layer of sauce. Mix the remaining grated cheese with the buttered crumbs and sprinkle over the top. Pipe a ruff of fluffy mashed potato around the edge if you want to have a whole meal in one dish.

Cook in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 25-30 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the top is golden brown and crispy. If necessary flash under the grill for a minute or two before you serve, to brown the edges of the potato.

Note: Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs may be served in individual dishes. Scallop shells are very attractive, are completely ovenproof and may be used over and over again.


This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, sliced

a clove of garlic, crushed

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares.  Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.


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