Sometimes if I wake up early enough in the morning to catch Farming Today on BBC Radio 4. It’s always interesting and keeps me in touch with the farming scene across the water. Recently I heard an interesting interview with Andy Inglis from Dunbar, Scotland, who had decided to sell Hebridean seawater as a commercial venture, Acquamara Seawater – www.acquamara.com
Remember when we first heard that some ‘prime boy’ was actually bottling water and selling it. Maybe, you didn’t think it was a daft idea but I certainly did. No doubt many will be jut as sceptical about this and perhaps they are right but if you are fortunate enough to be close to the sea where water is clean and relatively unpolluted make use of this wonderful resource plus the seaweed on the strand. Years ago coastal communities fought pitch battles over seaweed. They knew the value of algae as a fertiliser. Nowadays, scarcely anyone bothers to collect, so if you are one of the new urban farmers or if you’ve been bitten by the vegetable gardening bug, next time you go for a walk on the beach take along a string bag and fill it with seaweed! Our grandfathers knew well the extra ‘blás’ it gave a crop of potatoes. We did a trial this year and then compared the flavour and they were totally right.
But back to the sea water, you can’t imagine how much more delicious many foods are when cooked in sea water – it’s not just about the salt, it’s also about all those extra mineral flavours, traces of iodine…
Try cooking new potatoes in sea water, you’ll be amazed at the difference in flavour, shrimps, prawns, lobster, crabs are all immeasurably better cooked in seawater, even a few fresh mackerel turn into a feast when poached in a marine bath.
Green vegetables, pasta, broccoli, French or runner beans, even the flavour of carrots is greatly enhanced.
In the same radio piece the interviewer asked a local chef for his opinion. The chef displaying an arrogant ignorance dismissed the suggestion as ridiculous – sea water was in his opinion exactly the same as well salted water – well try and see what you think.
Check out www.myguideireland.com/irelands-blue-flag-beaches to find the location of Blue Flag beaches around our coast.
New Potatoes cooked in Seawater
2 lbs (900g) new potatoes e.g., Home Guard, British Queens
2 pints (1.2 litres) seawater or 2 pints (1.2 litres) tap water plus 1 teaspoon salt
a sprig of seaweed if available
Bring the seawater to the boil. Scrub the potatoes. Add salt if using tap water and a sprig of seaweed to the water, and then add the potatoes. Cover the saucepan, bring back to the boil and cook for 15-25 minutes or until fully cooked depending on size.
Drain and serve immediately in a hot serving dish with good Irish butter.
It’s vitally important for flavour to add salt to the water when cooking potatoes.
Salmon Poached in Seawater with Hollandaise SauceMost cookbooks you look up will tell you to poach salmon in a ‘court-bouillon’. This is a mixture of wine and water with perhaps some sliced carrots, onion, peppercorns and a bouquet garni including a bay-leaf, but I’ve found that a beautiful salmon is at its best poached gently in just boiling seawater.
If seawater is not available use 1 rounded tablespoon of salt to every 40 fl ozs (2 pints) of water. Although the fish or piece of fish should be just covered with water, the aim is to use the minimum amount of water to preserve the maximum flavour, so therefore one should use a saucepan that will fit the fish exactly.
1.4 kg (3-3 1/2 lbs) centre-cut of fresh salmon
Seawater or tap water and salt (see above)
Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)
fennel, chervil or parsley
8 segments of lemon
Choose a saucepan which will barely fit the piece of fish: an oval cast-iron saucepan is usually perfect. Half fill with measured sea water, bring to the boil, put in the piece of fish, cover, bring back to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, allow to sit in the water for 5-6 minutes and serve within 15-20 minutes.
If a small piece of fish is cooked in a large saucepan of water, much of the flavour will escape into the water, so for this reason we use the smallest saucepan possible. Needless to say we never poach a salmon cutlet because in that case one has the maximum surface exposed to the water and therefore maximum loss of flavour. A salmon cutlet is best dipped in a little seasoned flour and cooked slowly in a little butter on a pan, or alternatively pan-grilled with a little butter. Serve with a few pats of Maître d’hôtel and a wedge of lemon.
Serves 4-6, depending on what it is to be served with
Hollandaise is the mother of all the warm emulsion sauces. The version we use here is easy to make and quite delicious with fish. Like Mayonnaise it takes less than 5 minutes to make and transforms any fish into a feast. Once the sauce is made it must be kept warm: the temperature should not go above 70-80C/180F or the sauce will curdle. A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale; otherwise put the Hollandaise Sauce into a delph or plastic bowl in a saucepan of hot but not simmering water. Hollandaise Sauce cannot be reheated absolutely successfully so it’s best to make just the quantity you need. If however you have a little left over, use it to enrich other sauces or mashed potato.
2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic
125 g (5ozs) butter cut into dice
1 dessertspoon cold water
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.
Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water. Add water and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece. The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add the lemon juice to taste. If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency.
It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.
Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.
Keep the sauce warm until service either in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water (do not have gas jet on). A thermos flask is also a good option.
Hollandaise Sauce is best served with poached fish not pan-fried or pan-grilled fish.
Mackerel Poached in Seawater with Bretonne Sauce
Serves 4 as a main course
8 as a starter
Fresh mackerel gently poached and served warm with this simple sauce is an absolute feast without question one of my favourite foods. .
4 fresh mackerel
1.2 litres (40 fl ozs) seawater or 1.2 litres (40fl ozs) water plus 1 teaspoon salt
55g (2ozs) butter, melted
2 eggs yolks, preferably free range
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (We use Maille Verte Aux Herbs)
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon 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 seawater to the boil; add the mackerel. Bring back to boiling point, and remove from the heat, keep covered. 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 good green salad and new potatoes.
How to Cook Crab
Put the crab/s into a saucepan, cover with cold or barely lukewarm seawater, alternatively (use 6 ozs (175g) salt to every 2.3 litres (4 pints). This sounds like an incredible amount of salt but try it: the crab will taste deliciously sweet. Cover, bring to the boil and then simmer from there on, allowing 15 minutes for first 1 lb (450g), 10 minutes for the second and third (I’ve never come across a crab bigger than that!). We usually pour off two-thirds of the water as soon as it comes to the boil, cover and steam the crab for the remainder of the time. As soon as it is cooked remove it from the saucepan and allow to get cold.
To extract the crab meat from the shell and claws:
First remove the large claws. Hold the crab with the underside uppermost and lever out the centre portion – I do this by catching the little lip of the projecting centre shell against the edge of the table and pressing down firmly. The Dead Man’s Fingers (lungs) usually come out with this central piece, but check in case some are left in the body and if so remove them.
Press your thumb down over the light shell just behind the eyes so that the shell cracks slightly, and then the sac which is underneath can be removed easily and discarded. Everything else inside the body of the crab is edible. The soft meat varies in colour from cream to coffee to dark tan, and towards the end of the season it can contain quite a bit of bright orange coral which is stronger in flavour. Scoop it all out and put it into a bowl. There will also be one or two teaspoonfuls of soft meat in the centre portion attached to the small claws – add that to the bowl also. Scrub the shell and keep it aside if you need it for dressed crab.
Crack the large claws with a hammer or weight and extract every bit of white meat from them, poke out the meat from the small claws also, using a lobster pick, skewer or even the handle of a teaspoon.
Mix the brown and white meat together or use separately, depending on the recipe. Delicious served simply with homemade mayonnaise or make into a crab cakes or use as a filling for a juicy crab sandwich.
French Beans Cooked in Seawater
We’ve got a wonderful crop of French beans this summer. I find that they need a lot of salt in the cooking water to bring up the flavour, so seawater works perfectly. They don’t benefit from being kept in a hostess trolley, so if you need to cook them ahead try the method I suggest below. I think it works very well. The proportion of salt to water is vitally important for the flavour of the beans.
900g (2 lb) French beans
1.1 litres (2 pint) seawater or tap water plus 3 teaspoons sea salt
30-50g (1-2 oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Top and tail the beans. If they are small and thin leave them whole, if they are larger cut them into 2.5-4cm (1-1
1/2 inch) pieces at an angle.