One of the biggest changes we noticed last summer in Ahakista was the sprucing up of Arundel’s Pub. It is now being run by Paddy and Mary’s son Shane and his wife, Fiona. It still works as a pub and the fishermen are still there late on an afternoon drinking their cider and Murphy’s and the change still gets pushed over the wooden bar but all the lights are on now in the evening and the tables are full of people eating food.
Here is a small memory of a drink I had there one summers day a few years ago.
Mary – carefully pouring more pints of Murphy’s for me than I care to remember. In my mind some debate as to who pours the best pint – Mary or Paddy? Paddy’s pints are poured more slowly and he uses an old knife to tidy the pint, but Mary is more careful, paring off the foam at the top and giving the glass a gentle wipe with her fingers, passing it onto the drip tray for a minute before putting it onto a beer mat in front of me.
Mary and Paddy are the proprietors of Arundel’s Pub, fifty yards up the road and the trip that is usually taken two or three times a day.
I had been to the pub and met a farrier who explained how it had been suggested to him that you could cook mackerel in the microwave. He had been sceptical at first but having tried it he said it was the perfect way to get the best out of their absolutely fabulous flavour. Put the gutted mackerel on a plate and put another plate on top and then cook it for 2 blasts of 2 minutes each. He said there was no better way of preserving the full flavour of the sea with the fish.
The farrier had something of the Hwyel Bennett, in Malice Aforethought, about him, tight round glasses and an eager red face shaped around the glasses.
He went on to say that he had been fishing for mackerel off the pier at Union Hall some two weeks before and had been talking to someone and then heard someone else talk of how they cooked mackerel stuffed with rhubarb. He had wanted to ask how they did it but by the time he had turned to ask for the recipe the person talking about it was gone.
Talking it through with Mary he thought that perhaps rather than splitting the full length of the belly to pull out their guts a smaller hole was made and the guts pulled out through that. Pieces of rhubarb were then stuffed in the belly. He went onto suggest that perhaps this could also be cooked in the microwave.
That year I had brought with me to Ireland half a dozen sticks of rhubarb I had taken from the garden just before we left home. The original rhubarb plants had been bought a couple of years previously in pots from Bantry Market. I had made a rhubarb sauce to go with mackerel taken from Alan Davidson’s North Atlantic Seafood. So we talked on this and the cooking of gooseberries to go with mackerel.
There was then a brief discussion on the cooking of crab claws. They were good thrown onto an open fire and pulled out with a pair of tongs. Mary said that scallops could be cooked the same way, whole in their shells, and they cook in their juices. She will only do 2 at a time when she is able to get them from the fishermen who take them out of the bay between November and March. They are placed on the fire whole in their shell, curved side down, flat on top, so the juices are caught in the shell. The flavours are beautiful.
The farrier then talked of how his grandfather had salted mackerel, splitting them on the bone and laying them flat in a plastic barrel and covering with coarse salt, layer after layer, put aside for 6 weeks and then all liquid being poured off and then being re-salted, after the barrel had been cleaned. Left for three months before more salt was added and left again until ready to be eaten. The salt purged the blood and badness from the fish and the third salting was necessary to make sure that no blood should be left to rot away at the fish. Left like that salted mackerel had fed people for hundreds of years.
Small mackerel are better than the big fish, he said, and I think there is some truth in that. On a big fish the flesh can become heavy and solid. The smaller fish are lighter to eat and I would say it is easier to eat down 3 small to medium sized mackerel than one big one. One big mackerel is very much a meal in itself whilst a few smaller ones will do for a snack.
I asked him how best to cook pollock and was told to wrap it in foil with butter and flavouring; salt and pepper, and then leave it to bake in the oven. And with that he was gone, slipping into his black van parked on the gravel outside the pub and off up the peninsula. Mary confessed that she had not met him before and did not even know his name.
A RHUBARB SAUCE FOR MACKEREL
Not really a recipe, more an application of common sense.
You will need a pound or so of good rhubarb. Chop it up finely and put in a pan with a drop of water and a tablespoon of sugar. Squeeze in lemon juice and allow to simmer until the rhubarb has collapsed. Use a wooden spoon to push the rhubarb through a fine sieve. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if needed but remember you will need it sour to cut through the oil of the mackerel. Eat with fillets of mackerel lightly fried in flour.