When I think of being on holidays, the scene I imagine often involves looking out to sea, at a restaurant table groaning with local fish and a glass of some chilled white wine to hand.
Research has shown that when visitors come to Northern Ireland they want to especially try our local fish. In the past, most of our shellfish was exported to the continent, but with increased tourism and visitor numbers, most of it is now staying and being cooked here by local restaurants. Ironically, if you enjoyed langoustine, lobster or crab in many parts of Europe, the chances were it came from here in the first place.
There’s a heady decadence about eating hot crispy seafood, washed down with a glass of chilled wine. Some of my best holiday food memories involve devouring deep fried squid, prawns or crab cakes dipped into something simultaneously creamy and zingy. Straight from the fryer calamari dipped into pungent garlicky aioli or prawns into a mustard and lemon dressing.
Mussels aren’t something you see deep fried frequently, but it’s a great way of cooking them. Here they’re cooked quickly in cider until opened. The meat is removed and placed in the cooking liquor which acts as an adherent for the meat to stick to flour first. It’s dipped again and then dredged in semolina. You could use polenta or breadcrumbs for the last part. They’re then fried until golden and crisp.
There’s a bit of work involved here, but the results are well worth it. To keep on the apple theme, the accompanying dip is a cacik (pronounced ja-jik) - a tangy Turkish yoghurt and dill dish with the addition of Bramley apple. Local ingredients with an exotic touch of the Aegean.
When I go sea fishing, gurnard is often a prolific part of the catch. This red hued fish with a sharp spike on top is a tasty, meaty fish that’s often ignored. Ideally, it’s cooked on the barbecue and here I’ve added a glaze of whiskey, soy and honey. For some texture, the cooked fish is sprinkled with gomashio — a Japanese condiment of seaweed, sesame and salt. Dulse is a divisive ingredient that people love or hate.
It can be a bit chewy, but if you bake it until brittle and crush into the gomashio, it adds a wonderful umami to dishes.
Radishes are coming into season now and add a juicy crunch for the soft fish. Like gurnard, watercress is a local treasure that we overlook in favour of more exotic varieties. It has a brilliant peppery flavour that we really need to rediscover and cherish. The radishes are cooked until golden with butter, vinegar and oil added to make a hot dressing that’s tossed into the watercress. Perfect with the sweet, salty, umami gurnard.
What you’ll need:
125ml dry cider
1 clove finely grated garlic
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
250g plain flour
250g fine semolina
Oil for frying
Rinse the mussels and discard any “beards”. If any of the mussels are open, tap them and if they don’t close, throw them out and the same with any in broken shells.
Heat a large pan and add the cider and mussels. Cover and shake. Cook for about 3 minutes or until mussels have opened. Drain the juices through a fine sieve into a bowl and turn the mussels onto a tray and cool.
Remove meat from shells and place in cooking liquor.
Place the flour in a bowl and season with salt and then have the semolina in another bowl.
Dip each mussel into the flour, shake off excess, dip back into the liquor and then into the semolina.
Heat a thumbnail depth of oil in a pan and when a little bread added slowly fizzles, cook the mussels in batches until crispy — about two minutes.
Drain and then serve with the apple dressing for dipping.
For the apple cacik:
¼ large Bramley apple
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
250g thick Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil or local rapeseed oil to drizzle
Peel and remove core from apple. Slice thinly then cut the slices into sticks then into fine dice. Toss in the vinegar.
Mix in the yoghurt and dill and season to taste. Spoon into a bowl and drizzle with a little oil.
What you’ll need:
4 gurnard fillets, about 200g each
1 tablespoon oil
25g light soy sauce or tamari
Boil the soy, whiskey and honey to a thick syrup.
Brush the gurnard fillets with oil. Place skin side down onto a hot barbecue or frying pan. Cook for a minute, then turn over. Brush some of the glaze, cook for a minute, then turn again and glaze. Do this frequently until the fish is cooked through. Set aside to rest and brush over the remaining glaze.
Sprinkle each fillet with a teaspoon of the gomashio — the rest can be stored in an airtight container.
For the gomashio:
5 tablespoons dulse
100g sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt
Place the dulse on a baking tray and place in a 180°C oven until crisp, about 15 minutes.
Toast the sesame seeds on a tray in a 180°C oven until golden — about 10 minutes. Cool and grind the dulse and seeds in a mortar and pestle or in a plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin. Mix in salt.
For the buttered radish and watercress salad:
150g radishes, quartered
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar
25ml good olive oil or local rapeseed oil
2 handfuls watercress
Heat the tablespoon of oil in a pan and cook until hot. Add the radish and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the shallots and cook until golden with the butter. Add the vinegar and remove from heat. Season and whisk in the good olive oil.
Scatter the watercress onto a platter, top with the gurnard and scatter over the radishes and dressing.