Inis Meáin

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I’ve just eaten a delicious mouthful of dill pickled herring with cream cheese on a slice of freshly baked soda bread for breakfast – sublime…  I’m back on Inis Meáin for the second time this Summer, how fortunate are we to have benefited from the misfortune of some other guests who couldn’t take up their booking at Inis Meáin Suites.  There are just five rooms so one feels super fortunate.

Our bedroom overlooks the extraordinary Inis Meáin landscape, little fields surrounded by high dry stone walls, a few cattle here and there, Coilumin’s rectangular garden along the road is bursting with cabbages, ripe onions, beets, rhubarb, potatoes…He has harvested the rye since the last time we were here, tied it in sheaves, threashed it against a standing stone on the limestone pavement below his field.  He’ll save the precious seed for next year’s crop and the long straw can be used for thatching, I wondered if he made rye bread but apparently it’s not part of the island tradition.

On a fine day, one can see across Galway Bay to the 12 Pins, and the Clare coast to the south but this morning, a thick mist is swirling in from the sea, enveloping the white washed buildings of the Inis Meáin Knitwear factory.  It’s a hive of activity around the clock, lovingly turning out the most beautiful knitwear from the finest wool, cashmere, linen and cotton yarns for export to a few carefully chosen shops around the world.

The fluffy grey mist ebbs and flows and I can’t help being secretly pleased that it’s likely that our flight to the mainland in the tiny Aer Arann plane will be somewhat delayed…so I can relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

So let me tell you about this delicious repast – Breakfast at Inis Meáin Suites is no ordinary breakfast.  It’s delivered into the bedroom porch in a handmade iroko timber box tray around 8.30am ish.  Lift off the lid, inside you’ll find a feast… 10-12 little jars and Bec containers are tucked into thick polystyrene moulds…freshly squeezed orange or apple juice, homemade granola, seasonal fresh fruit, thick unctuous yoghurt…  There are several slices of both brown and white soda bread tucked into a little box beside two slices of poppy seed banana bread.  Two fresh hardboiled eggs from their little flock of happy hens are covered in little hand knit Aran egg cosies – how cute and practical is that!  But that’s not all, there’s also a little pot of pickled herrings and a gutsy liver pâté and just in case we have a craving – two little pots of the most sublime chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted with a pot of crème fraîche.  We made a pot of coffee from the freshly ground beans. There’s a minimum two night stay, and other choices for breakfast the next day.

Each room comes with walking sticks, two bikes, fishing rods, two deck chairs and lest you need it, an umbrella.  Wandering or cycling around the island is a joy, fields full of wild flowers…hare bells, fuchsia, loosestrife, heather, honeysuckle… A few cattle here and there and there’s certainly one donkey and maybe more.  Don’t miss the Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows in the chapel of Saint John and Immaculate Mary.  Check if Millington Synge’s little thatched cottage is open and climb up the steps to at least one of the stone forts.  You’ll probably be alone to ponder how these extraordinary ruins were built between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago…

Inis Meáin is possibly the quietest and the least visited of the three Aran Islands – there’s one shop and one pub with lots of outdoor seating.  Depending on the time of the year, there’s one or two cafés and a quirky craft shop but don’t leave the island without visiting Inis Meáin Knitwear.  No ‘fast fashion’ here – beautifully crafted pieces that you’ll treasure for a lifetime…

I almost forgot to mention dinner, always a surprise – Ruairí de Blacam’s food reflects seasonal organic produce from their garden and polytunnel, fresh catch of fish and shellfish from local fishers and occasionally wild and foraged food from the island.  The wine list chosen by Ruairí’s wife Marie-Thérèse is also exceptional.  This place is one of Ireland’s hidden gems, check it out and put your name on a cancellation list – www.inismeain.com

Thank you Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse (who hails from East Cork) for sharing your recipes.

Cáca Treacle (Treacle Bread)

Makes 2 x 450g (1lb) loaves

160g (5 1/2oz) self-raising flour

320g (scant 11oz) wholemeal flour

40g (1 1/2oz) wheatbran

40g (1 1/2oz) mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and linseed)

1 level teaspoon bread soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

400 – 450ml (14 -16fl oz) buttermilk

1 dessertspoon treacle 

2 x 450g (1lb) or 1 x 900g (2lb) loaf tins

Preheat the oven to 210˚C/410˚F/Gas Mark 6 1/2 and grease the bread tins.

Mix the dry ingredients together by hand in a big bowl and make well in the centre.

Mix the egg, buttermilk and treacle together, pour half of the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and mix lightly by hand.  Pour the remainder of the liquid in and continue to mix very lightly.  Turn the mixture into the prepared bread tins and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approximately, remove from the tin and pop back into the oven for a further 15 minutes until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, when it is cooked, it will sound hollow. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Aubergine with Feta and Mint

We enjoyed this as a starter but you can imagine how good it would be as a salad or side also.

Slice aubergines 1cm (1/2 inch) thick, drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill on a cast iron griddle on a high heat until cooked through and nicely charred.  Serve three slices per person for a starter portion.

Crumble good quality feta cheese over the aubergine slices with torn mint leaves, aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Note: good quality piquillo peppers can be an optional extra.

Monkfish Roasted on the Bone with Garden Carrots, Tzatziki and a Lemon Chilli Dressing

A delicious combination – typical of Ruairí de Blacam’s simple, inspired dishes at Inis Meáin Suites.

Serves 4

Skin and trim a 1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) monkfish tail (bone in), season generously with Maldon sea salt

Melt 50g (2oz) of butter in the oven on a baking tray until bubbling
Roll the monkfish tail in the butter until completely coated.

Roast for 12 minutes at 225°C in a fan oven.

On a separate tray with another 50g (2oz) of butter and seasoning, repeat the process with 6 medium garden carrots split lengthwise. These will need to go into the oven 5 minutes before the monkfish.

Add a good fistful of fresh thyme at the end and toss.

For the tzatziki, grate a whole cucumber on a rough grater. Salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze to remove the water. Stir into 500g (18oz) Greek yogurt and a generous amount of chopped dill.

Serve with the fish and carrots.

A mixture of lemon juice, good quality harissa and extra virgin olive oil is a great dressing with this dish. Quantities will depend on how spicy you wish to make it….

Broccoli with Anchovy Dressing

1 average head of broccoli will yield 5-6 starter portions

Cut the vegetable up into equal sized florets. Bring 3 litres (5 1/4 pints) of properly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the broccoli for 60 seconds, strain and plunge into ice water to arrest the cooking. Strain and set aside. 

For the anchovy dressing put 250ml (9fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin in a hand blender vessel. Add 2 whole free range eggs, 6 Ortiz anchovies, 1 crushed clove of garlic and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Emulsify with the blender and finish off with the juice of half a lemon. Salt to taste.

Gently sweat 200g (7fl oz) of Beluga lentils & mirepoix of vegetables for 2 – 3 minutes. Add 1/2 bottle of Madeira, burn off the alcohol and reduce by half.  Add the beef stock and cook until al dente for a further 7 – 10 minutes. 

To Serve

Reheat the broccoli with boiling water from the kettle. Put a good blob of anchovy dressing on a serving plate, add the broccoli florets and a tablespoon of the lentils, dress with a chilli, garlic and olive oil…

Chocolate Pots

These exquisite little chocolate pots are served as part of the breakfast tray at Inis Meáin Suites.  I can’t do chocolate for breakfast so I tuck them into the fridge and enjoy them later for my picnic lunch of homemade soup and onion focaccia with the accompanying pot of crème fraîche.

Makes 1 litre to pour into ovenproof single serve containers

325ml (11fl oz) cream

250ml (9fl oz) milk

250g (9oz) chocolate (70%)

6 egg yolks

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

 Melt the cream, milk and chocolate together in a saucepan over a low heat.  Beat the egg yolks and the caster sugar together and combine with the chocolate mixture.  Pour into individual small oven-proof containers (ramekins or Weck jars).

Place these in a bain-marie in a deep baking tray, filled with hot tap water two thirds up the sides of the small containers.

Cook at approximately 130°C for 30 minutes approx., until a slight dome shape appears on the surface.

Leave to cool and then refrigerate. 

Note: if you can resist them, they keep brilliantly for up to a week.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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