A Fine Kettle of Fish

Like many kids, I did not like fish when I was growing up. If we ate fish, it was one of three ways – a tuna sandwich, frozen fish sticks, or a pan-fried trout fresh from my dad’s line, usually with head and skin still on. Yum.

When I moved to Ireland, and particularly when I started working at the Salthouse, I gave fish another go. I soon found that I liked a lot of the fish here, from pan-fried Hake to seared scallops, and grilled salmon to creamy fish pie. But I still didn’t really know how to cook it. My friendly neighbourhood fishmongers,  Paddy and Phillip at Kirwan’s Fish Cart, were always willing to give a quick tutorial, but my results were rarely as good as I knew they could be.

Inviting Utensils

After this weekend, the winds of change have come into my culinary repertoire, and they smell salty and delicious! 🙂

A couple months back I met a lovely woman named Hazel who does cooking courses for The Kitchen In the Castle down in Howth. (Remember Howth?) She encouraged me to check out the selection and even sent me a voucher to further entice me (not that I needed convincing!!). Well, as an early birthday gift from Frank, I finally got to use the voucher plus a little extra and take the train down to Howth Castle for a course.

Japanese-style steamed seabass

There were loads of exciting courses from which to choose – Cakes, Breads, French Macaroons, Italian dinner parties, Indian Curries, Morroccan Feasts, and on and on. Many of them take place in the evening and are followed by a three-course dinner, wine and socializing. What fun! But when I saw the listing for “A Feast From the Sea – Seafood Cookery Course,” I knew this is the one that would serve me best.  Why? Because it scared me a little.

First let me tell you what an amazing array of recipes we got to cook and try: Poached lobster and lobster mayonnaise; Seabass en Papillote with carpet clams, Dublin Bay Prawns and oriental vegetables; Japanese style steamed seabass; Grilled Lemon Sole on the bone a la Meuniere Beurre Maitre d’Hotel; Roaring Bay Mussels and Irish crab meat with shallot and wheat beer cream; Deep-fried goujons of Black (Dover) Sole with fresh Tartare sauce; Pan-fried John Dory (St. Pierre) with bacon, cabbage and beans.

Mussels & Crab in Shallot Beer Cream

You know that feeling you have after eating Christmas dinner? Where you’re so so full that you can’t fit in another mince pie if you tried and all you can do is lie on the couch in glutonous agony? Well… let’s just say I had to roll myself onto the train last night. 🙂

Amazing fresh fish at Beshoff's

But back to the course. We began the morning by visiting Beshoff’s, a famous Howth fishmongers and oyster bar. Hazel showed us all the morning’s fresh catches and gave us loads of information about the varieties of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Then we went back to the castle where we watched three blueish lobsters  (smaller than the North American browns) get plopped into a pot of simmering stock (simmering, not boiling, interesting!). Aprons on, hands washed, and they put us to work prepping vegetables. Then, and only then, were we handed knives!

Dublin Bay Prawn or Langoustine

I’m not being funny – I learned so much from Hazel and her husband, Neil. I do a lot of cooking, as you know, and a lot of cooking-show watching, but I have never filleted a fish. Now I know how! I can gut, decapitate, scale, fillet and pin-bone a fish. Ha!!! I can prepare lovely big Dublin Bay Prawns (also known as Langoustines or Scampi) from their raw state into a beautiful cooked delicacy. I can de-beard and wash mussels and clams and steam them into submission. I also made a deal with myself and tried all the stuff I would normally be a bit wary of, like fish skins (both wet and crispy) and mussels. I’m glad to report I liked both, and will be trying both again.

Lobster mayonnaise with fresh fennel & chive flowers

At the end of the day, it did everything a great class should – it inspired me, educated me and made me want to learn so much more! The environment was both relaxed and professional – tea, coffee and wine was served throughout the day, plenty of sampling and munching went on, and we were all responsible for preparing the food and keeping things clean and safe. I adored the kitchen itself – its age made it completely charming, and it was also warm and bright. I could very easily see myself in a kitchen like that all the time, cooking, baking and just sitting back in a rocking chair with a cuppa after the day was done.

Neil McFadden giving a lobster tutorial

But now, back to “real life.” A new work week awaits me tomorrow, but I am totally excited to run across the road to Kirwan’s and get some fish for dinner. As for The Kitchen In the Castle, you can bet they’ll be seeing me again… maybe I can drag Frank along for the BBQ and O’Hara’s Beer Demo night next month.

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming my fishy dreams. 🙂

Shellfish selection at Wrights of Howth


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