Belfast Telegraph

Top chef Danni says more places will serve the slippery delights of Lough Neagh

This week, we speak to a top chef who says we should embrace the appeal of the eel and learn about a restaurant’s new range of Game of Thrones knives

By Rachel Martin

Restaurants here should do more to show off the best Northern Ireland produce, according to Michelin-starred chef Danni Barry.

The culinary maestro at Michael Deane's Eipic spoke at the launch of Eel-Eat Week.

And she said that eels - which are mainly fished from Lough Neagh and are one of just three Northern Ireland products with EU protected geographical indication (PGI) status - could soon be a stalwart of menus across the province.

Danni said: "If we have a PGI product in this country we should be proud of that as well and make use of it. Eels are quite versatile.

"I hadn't really worked with them as a raw product until recently.

"Eel is great to work with - as a chef it's quite nice to try something different and to use something unusual.

"We get lots of feedback on the eel when we have used it on the menu. It's not something people see everywhere - they're quite surprised by the flavour and the texture as well. The smoked eel product is outstanding and should be used as it's very accessible to people."

And she added that the 2016 Year of Food and Drink was bringing Northern Ireland produce into the limelight. "We're used to hearing about Peter Hannan's beef and Abernethy Butter but eels are very much a well-kept secret. I think that by the end of the year it will be part of the conversation, it'll be on menus and people will know it."

Ms Barry said her first use of eel was in a smoked eel and parsley soup.

But she said a lack of knowledge of eels meant that most were exported.

"We mightn't match that demand here in Northern Ireland but where we are using it, we should really be showcasing it -and that's what we try to do here.

"Raw eel products are not expensive at all. It's not something you will be serving a steak out of, but for a starter or a canapé they're ideal. A very small amount adds a huge amount of flavour to a dish.

"It's very similar to other oily fish like mackerel, only with a more robust texture, so it really takes a barbecue flavour quite well.

"It's used a lot in Japan so we've looked to what they do. I've used a lot of marinades with citrus and ginger and seaweed, another product native to the shores here.

"Obviously restaurants around Lough Neagh know about it and are using it, but in other places here not so much. I've seen it on restaurants in Dublin and it's not maybe being served up here. Up until now the export has been where the focus has been.

"Once more people are informed that's when you'll start to see it being used more here."

The Co Down woman was one of just three chefs representing Northern Ireland on BBC show Great British Menu in series 10 last year.

And last year Eipic joined Ox to become one of just two Michelin star restaurants in Northern Ireland. The achievement made her the second female chef on the island to earn the accolade.

Ms Barry began her career 13 years ago under Michael Deane, at his restaurant Deanes in Howard Street.

Eel-Eat Week takes place at the end of this month. More than a dozen restaurants have joined Eipic in signing up to the event, including Culloden Estate, Europa Hotel, Slieve Donard Resort, The Tullylagan Hotel in Cookstown, and Pier 59 in Londonderry.

Eel-Eat Week takes place from June 25 to July 2

Belfast Telegraph