Foraging Flavours from the Deep
The Irish have long enjoyed a passionate relationship with the ocean; we are an island nation after all, and a nation of poets and artists who find their muse in the tumultuous seas.
We are also a nation of folk who love their grub. Seafood dishes play a central role in traditional Irish cooking, with diners as likely to find smoked salmon and oysters sitting comfortably alongside more unusual dishes like lesser-spotted dogfish and sea urchins.
As with many things Irish, the relationship between the Irish cook and the surrounding waters is as evolving as it is deeply rooted. Just look to our modern chefs who not only find inspiration in the beauty of the sea, but in the traditions of past generations who found sustenance along the shores.
For experimental chef Katie Sanderson that means foraging for wild sea ingredients and cooking them in sustainable ways along with fish caught earlier that day. Her series of creative dining experiences in 2014 and 2015 were named the Dillisk Project (dillisk being a type of Irish seaweed) and held in a converted boat shed in Connemara, County Galway. The unconventional location underscored the hyper-local themes of dishes like tandoor-cooked pollock with samphire and sea beet.
On Inis Meáin, chef Ruairí de Blacam finds and cooks ingredients in ways that have long been part of the hardscrabble Aran Island existence. For de Blacam, a native islander who was born before electricity came to the island, foraging the coastline is a tradition based on survival, not food trends. Ruairí’s creative combinations of seasonal coastal produce, typically just two ingredients to a plate, elevates the foraged and freshly caught ingredients to heady heights.
Meanwhile, in Blacksod, County Mayo, Barbara Heneghan – another keen forager and locally inspired chef – continues the traditions of previous generations of fishermen, lighthouse keepers and others who found sustenance along Ireland’s coasts.
Wild cooking workshops and guided foraging walks (as well as making soaps and candles with seaweed and wildflowers), tap in to the often-hidden resources of Ireland’s bogs, hedgerows and seashore for wild edible plant life.
Ireland’s coastline is famously beautiful and provides much of the draw for millions of tourists. The water that surrounds us has more to offer than just the views however; it’s an unexpected larder for those with a wild hunger.