Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ditch the prosciutto and go smoked... Irish

I'm always looking for fast suppers. In fact fast food in general - the type that doesn't come with a piece-of-crap plastic toy your dog or toddler swallows before a fun night out in A&E.

One easy way to guarantee a fast meal is to use preserved foods. This is because smoked, cured or tinned food can be left for months while you ignore the "eat me" guilty looks that the withering lettuce and pudgy aubergine throw at you from the bottom shelf.

While preserved foods might sound like something scary and veering in the direction of mummification, think of what the Italians serve as antipasto - prosciutto, salami, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted peppers in olive oil and the mouthwatering speciality of my local Italian wine bar, some Speck cheese or some parmigiano reggiano.

This is the luxury end of the scale but remember - tins of beans are also a preserved food, as are lentils, kidney beans, tomatoes, cans of sardines and tuna. All are cheap choices that can be chucked into pasta with a dash of olive oil and a few torn basil leaves or whatever herbs you have to hand.

But if we think a little outside the Parma-ham box, preserved foods from closer to home deserve a lot more attention than they get - one of them being smoked fish. There are several really good brands now available in the supermarkets so you can eat local food without having to trawl too far for it. Sadly, it tends to be a product that's really esteemed by our export markets but gets a quieter reception on the home front. Part of this may be that herring, mackerel etc used to have the perception of being "poor man's food" as it was eaten on a Friday as a meat alternative and generally, things that came from the sea were not as valued as things that had four legs.

The thing is, smoked mackerel or smoked trout make an outrageously quick meal - open the packet, put together a green salad and serve with some olives and crusty bread. It's also great served with a ratatouille (pictured at the top) as the sharpness of the tomato makes a nice accompaniment to the smokey smooth fish.

Smoked trout and mackerel are also a lot cheaper than salmon. My favourite thing to do with it is whizz it with some creme fraiche, lemon juice and dill - this results in a fantastic pate that gets loads of "where did you get this from?" interrogations. For about three euro you can pick up smoked mackerel and trout in the supermarket from the likes of William Carr and sons. These are the bigger manufacturers but on a smaller scale there are increasingly more Irish artisan producers doing smoked foods and getting a lot of international attention for their products -

Ummera- is owned and run by Anthony Creswell and their smoked chicken and duck has won a rake of awards. It's a delicious alternative to smoked fish and has a lot less salt than cured meats. Their smoked chicken is truly out of this world.

Goatsbridge's Mag and Ger Kirwan not only run a trout farm supplying live trout around the country but produce a range of smoked trout products which are really delicious and have received great attention both in Ireland and internationally.

Belvelly – Located near Cobh, this tiny smokehouse is run by Frank Hederman and his wife Caroline (who co-wrote the “Good Food in Cork” guide along with Ireland´s culinary grande dame Myrtle Allen). They cure salmon, mackerel, and mussels with organic English salt and hang-smoke it using beech wood.

Connemara Smokehouse does a range of smoked salmon, tuna and mackerel. Interestingly their tuna is very sustainable, being line-caught in Irish waters thanks to an initiative to develop a sustainable and environmentally friendly way of catching wild tuna.

There's also Rogan's real smoked fish, Burren smokehouse, Old Millbank smokehouse, McConnell's gourmet smoked foods and guess what, a handful of other Irish food businesses doing the smoked thing very well. I'm hoping that smoked fish, chicken and duck can find wider popularity with Irish consumers. And while we are now very familiar with the joys of Italian meat and cured hams, it would be nice to see some Irish smoked products taking their place. If I really get the time I fancy smoking some fish myself, after all, we do have a stream in the garden, and there's got to be some fish in it. Okay, you're all laughing now.

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