Fresh fish 960x300

I am a big fan of fish, which offers endless opportunities to be creative whether pan-fried, poached, baked, grilled, or even eaten raw.

One of our family treats is deep fried fish and chips, a piece of cod in a light crispy batter, served with some fat chunky chips, some pea puree and a shot of homemade tartare sauce. One little tip when cooking it in a deep fat fryer is that when you are adding the battered fish to the oil, start by dipping a little bit of the fish into the oil, then gently sweeping it back and forth as you lower into the oil so the batter doesn’t stick to the basket.

I live just beside the little fishing village of Duncannon in Co. Wexford, where fresh fish are brought in by local trawlers a few times a week. We are so lucky to have this wonderful commodity on our doorstep and get the pick of the crop for our restaurant here at Dunbrody. Below are a few guidelines about what to look out for when selecting your fish.

Firstly you will either be buying flat fish (e.g. sole, plaice, ray and turbot), round fish (mackerel, cod, haddock, coley, salmon and hake to mention a few), oily (herrings, mackerel and salmon) or meaty (cod, monkfish, ling, turbot) and if you’re unsure, just ask your fishmonger.

Here are a couple of tips when buying fish:

  • Eyes: For whole fish, the eyes should be clear and bright. If the eyes are cloudy, sunken or blotchy, give it a miss.
  • Gills: The gills should be a lovely lustrous pink or bright red, not at all faded.
  • Smell: Fish shouldn’t smell fishy, it should smell of the sea.
  • Skin: The skin should be moist and shiny. It should look appetizing and something you’d like to eat, not something you hope the odour will go from once cooked, because it won’t.

Fish en Papillote

If you’re not too confident when cooking fish, start off with something simple yet tasty.

Try my recipe for fish en papillotte, a lovely light dish composed of fish and vegetables enclosed in a parchment parcel and baked in the oven. As they cook, the parcels fill with steam that infuses the flavours of the fish and vegetables. The fish comes out moist and flaky and the vegetables are al-dente. Loads of fish are suitable for this, such as salmon, haddock, hake, coley or monkfish, and it also works well with prawns. I like to add a teaspoon of red pepper jelly to each parcel before cooking which gives a lovely flavour to the fish and vegetables.

Sometimes I wrap the parchment parcels in tinfoil, particularly if I’m adding wine. The foil ensures that all moisture is retained in case the parchment should split, but do remove before serving. When serving I like to split the parchment parcels at the table, allowing the lovely aromas to permeate around the table.

Pan fried cod with chive mash and wholegrain mustard sauce is another dish that is very simple to cook, however like most fish recipes if the fish is overcooked it will destroy the texture and the flavour. When cooking fish on the pan I always remove the pan from the heat when it’s almost there, the residual heat from the pan will finish the cooking perfectly. Remember, you can always return your pan to the heat, but once your fish is overcooked, it can’t be undone. Try to be organised and have everything else ready, the fish part of your meal will only take minutes to cook, so have your vegetables cooked and sauce done.


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