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Fish 4 Friday: Mackerel and Rhubarb, Saviors of Dingle

This entry is part of a series, F4F 2011»

Rhubarb

When last we toured in Ireland, we found one of the most interesting parts to be the Dingle Peninsula. One aspect that’s noteworthy is that Dingle didn’t have a fishing industry until the Great Potato Famine, which largely depopulated Ireland in just four years. Dingle was rather isolated, and to avoid starvation they desperately began to harvest the sea’s bounty and whatever they could find in the countryside.

Mackerel was one of the fish they caught, and ultimately grew to like.

A dish that was popular during and after the famine, and caught on nicely as a standard, is Mackerel and Rhubarb. During the famine, rhubarb was especially important as it became available in late winter/early spring, when many other food stocks were depleted. It also protects against scurvy, and so it traveled as far as Alaska in the sailing days. Although the starving Irish may not have appreciated those last facts, it may have contributed positively to their nutritional needs.

Rhubarb also has its dark side. The red stems are edible, but the leaves are quite toxic. Its name comes from the Latin “rhabarbarum,” which means “root of the barbarians.” Lastly, it’s become a slang term for a right good tussle. (The Irish understand that part, even if they enjoy hurling instead of baseball.)

Rhubarb Pie

So: Starving Irish, mackerel from the sea, rhubarb from the garden or whever it had gone feral. These factors combined to lead to this tasty dish:

  • 4 Mackerel, 1/2 pound each, cleaned and trimmed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 Shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 Pound rhubarb stems, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar

Heat oven to 450° F. Prepare the fish by making three diagonal slashes into the flesh on each side; cut nearly to the bone. Season liberally with salt and pepper, then place on a pan lined with parchment.

While fish are cooking, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, with stirring for 4-5 minutes. Don’t let the shallots brown or scorch! Add the rhubarb, lemon zest and sugar and cook with occasional stirring until the rhubarb becomes tender and cooks down into a thick purée. (This will happen fairly quickly with fresh, tender rhubarb.)

At this point, bake the fish for about 10 minutes, or until done. (Alternatively, grill on high heat for 5 minutes per side.) While that’s happening, press the rhubarb purée through a sieve. Arrange the fish on a serving plate, garnish as desired and serve with rhubarb sauce on the side. Don’t forget the potatoes.

Cashel

A fancier version using a rhubarb and orange sauce can be found here. A fancy rendition, using chiles and mint, can be seen here. Whichever you try, you’ll be enjoying Irish style food that’s different from the usual fare, and in this case, a dish that’s historically important…

Enjoy the (Last Irish Dish For a While) Heat!

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