Irish food has become incredibly exciting since I first landed on these shores in 1979. In those days, the choice for St.Patrick’s Day dinner was an uncontested one. It would’ve been Bacon and Cabbage, not a bad dish if cooked properly, but then it would have been highly over-cooked cabbage served in a puddle of its own water as a sauce. Thankfully, it would be difficult to find that same dish now. I used to find it difficult to find exciting food ingredients when I first arrived, now I find it difficult to restrain myself to a few ingredients when I visit good food shops (thankfully, of which there are many). The stockists of my sauces are delighted to see me coming for two reasons: delivery and my shopping!!
I’ve been listening to the radio this week, while cooking, and was upset to hear that the image of Irish food is still not being fully portrayed to people who have yet to visit the Emerald Isle. In a conversation on Drive Time, they were saying that the image is still one of bacon and cabbage, and it isn’t until people visit that they are pleasantly surprised at the standard of our food. Despite the good work of our food journalists, and the many exhibitions by Bord Bia in foreign lands…we still have more to do…more to shout about, because Irish food is worth shouting about.
I want to personally dispel the notion that Bacon and Cabbage is the only option for St. Patrick’s Day, so here’s my bit, and like my unrestrained shopping (let’s be honest, I’m not good at holding back), I’m going to do several recipes using good Irish ingredients, (so watch this space for the rest of the month of March…at least), because we have THE BEST ingredients, made by the best foodie people. One of the great things about living in a small country is we know each other, or at the very least we know of each other, because someone we know, knows someone else! It’s personal and you can’t beat personal…there’s a real person (or several) behind the production of a particular ingredient and that in itself is exciting. The fact that one can usually meet that person by going to the local market, or bump into them within the foodie world makes it even better. That’s when we get to have the fun foodie conversations, exchange ideas and come up with exciting new ones.
I will start with my own ingredients (why not?!!), because customers have been asking me what to do with my tapenade other than dip into it with a breadstick, or spread it onto some olive bread- which I often provide. Tapenade wouldn’t be as popular as Pesto….yet. To be honest, I prefer it. I adore olives and there are both green and black in mine as well as sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and balsamic vinegar. It’s intense and balanced and it makes the back of my tongue tingle….(love that back-of-the-tongue tingle !!!) And it marries well with SO many staples other than bread. Lamb (grill a chop, deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar and pour those juices over the lamb chop and spread some tapendade over it before allowing the meat to rest in a warm place), chicken (fill a chicken breast with tapenade and mozarella cheese and wrap it up in parma ham , then parchment, then foil and bake), Steak (see lamb idea) and pork. It’s highly versatile and it won’t overpower, it will just grab your main course choice by the arm and accompany it, gracefully, all the way to your mouth…happily!
In this case, I married it with fish, the wonderful, meaty, lobster-like monkfish. It is perfect with white fish …the tapenade doesn’t overpower its delicate flavour, rather makes it come to life…somehow, magically (!), it highlights the taste of the sea and satisfies in a way you mightn’t have known possible. I had business in Cloughjordan, and so diverted into Nenagh afterwards (as you do), and landed in Daly’s Seafood Shop. There, laying on the ice chips before me, were the most divine looking monkfish tails….they just had to be had. Large, fresh and screaming my name.
I got some fresh bulb fennel from Paddy Cunningham’s vegetable shop. I sliced that thickly, brushed it with olive oil, cooked it on the grill pan then put it in a heat-proof dish with some vegetable stock, white wine and a good squeeze of lemon juice (simplicity to die for btw).
And this week is Tomato and Fresh Basil sauce week, so I brought that into the equation too…it also served well to give me my Irish colours on the plate, and the juices of the monkfish and the tapenade blended into the nicest swirl of flavours.
I flattened some streaky rashers between 2 sheets of baking parchment (you can use greaseproof paper) with a rolling pin until they were twice the size I started with. I spread tapenade over the monkfish and then laid fresh basil leaves on top of the tapenade and then wrapped the rashers around the fish to cover it completely.
Then I tied it securely with butcher’s twine.…well almost completely. I left either end uncovered, mostly so I could gauge the cooking time. I then placed the magic monk parcels on a hot grill pan and cooked the parcels , turning to make sure the rashers were cooked all the way around, evenly.Magically, this is also when the monkfish is JUST cooked. I adore my fish, and one thing I detest is over-cooked fish. This method worked perfectly with the thinned rashers, but you have to mind it and turn them regularly…you will see the centre of the fish being just not done….well that’s when it IS done!( are you with me?!) It will continue to cook while it’s resting in a warm place, and the juices will flow and the tastebuds will tingle.
I served this with home-made garlic, rosemary and thyme chips (Don’t peel some small potatoes, slice them into bite-size pieces and toss them in heated olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 200 C until starting to go brown. At this point, add some thick slivers of fresh garlic, some fresh thyme leaves and some fresh rosemary. Toss all that into the potatoes and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes.)
I also had purchased my favourite vegetable in The Little Green Grocers, grown by Sinead…thank-you Sinead, and please keep it coming…purple sprouting broccoli. Simply the definition of Springtime. I lightly steamed that and served just as it is, because you needn’t do anything to it…it’s wonderful.
So, after your fish has rested (there will be a lot of juices in the pan), remove the twine, and slice into thick rounds. Place on a couple spoonfuls of heated Tomato & Fresh Basil sauce, with the chips, broccoli and grilled fennel and enjoy the taste of modern Ireland Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!…now I’m off to make a calzone with Goatsbridge Trout, and my ranch dressing….stay tuned!