Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pollack poached in milk and fennel.

Fennel is a great Italian staple, cooked on its own its wonderful. If you visit an Italian market you're likely to see them in carefully stacked pyramids of fennel, fronds trimmed and the blemished outer layer removed.
 But the great thing about it is that it is delicate, and can be used to enhance a meal without overpowering it, and can be used raw or cooked.
I just got home from Naples to a very overgrown garden, but not all the fennel had bolted.
All homegrown and sustainable
I love fennel when added to pinzimonio (raw vegetables), and in winter salads. The best examples of this that use the sweetness of Fennel against sharper flavours come from southern Italy, like in Sicily where it is served with blood orange and olives, or Finocchi del Sud - a warmed fennel salad with anchovies, olives and nutmeg.

Fennel is great in mixed salads, with other vegetables including celery or tomatoes, cheeses, or finely chopped walnuts. 
As a general rule, the Italians do not use vinegar in fennel salads.
The leafy fronds are a nice addition to any salad and as a veg itself, braised, it has a unique and delicious flavour.

A neighbour of mine, Con, very kindly dropped off a few pollack fillets, pin boned and cleaned caught the day before. He has always done this, but in keeping the garden it's nice that I can finally return his generosity with homegrown veg. I really do have too much, particularly when one has a glut.

We had a very pleasant young French couple, Thomas and Estelle, visiting, so it was a real pleasure to be able to cook a meal like this using all local produce.It's quite a small world - I met Thomas and Estelle at the Pony show, they had no real plans of where to stay so they camped on the croft. 
The meal was put together with available produce, and the fact I have just got back from the Italian Maritime Academy has my cooking brain on one track, so thats where the meal came from.

But as it turned out later, Thomas has worked with Catherine Fulvio - Ireland's leading expert in Italian cuisine - hows that for serendipity!!!!
Whitefish poached with milk and fennel
This dish is very simple, using Irish dairy produce to enrich an Italian style flavour. 
Using milk to cook fish is not something I found in Italy, but in more Northern countries it's quite common.
The poaching in milk process enriches the fish, and gives it a more creamy texture.
Fish poached in milk is actually quite a regular Scottish way of preparing whitefish like haddock, whiting, pollack and on occasion even herring. The Scottish will also cook smoked fish like haddock or kippers in milk. 
In Nordic cuisine, the Finns soak salted or sometimes even fresh herring in milk before cooking.

You will need:
Filleted and pin boned pollack - enough for each person. Another sustainable white fish like whiting is also good.
1 fennel bulb - trimmed and finely sliced
2 small shallots
knob of cuinneog butter
enough milk to barely cover fish
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180 deg centigrade

Grease the dish with a little butter
Arrange the fish fillets in a single layer
Sprinkle over the finely chopped fennel and shallot
Add salt and pepper
Pour over milk until the fish is barely covered

Cook for 20-25 minutes at 180

When the fish is done, the liquid can be strained off to make the base of a parsley sauce.
I tried to use sorrel instead, but it is tricky because the milk can curdle a little, so I would advise sticking to a parsley sauce only. It was my first time using sorrel, so there is more I need to learn about it.
Spuds, peas, carrots and local fish - a little confused perhaps, but still good.
Served with new potato's (different varieties, Orla, Nicola, Kerr pink and Mr.Littles) and a quick Moroccan carrot mix.
The potato's were buttered and garnished with samphire and salsola, pretty much everything on the plate came from within 5 miles.
The samphire really adds to the meal, that nice crispy, salty bite makes it more than just a decoration.

The poaching process takes about 20 minutes, so timing wise, get the potato's and other veg down first.

In hindsight however, I think in future when doing this, I would cook the fish and potato's - but rather than have cooked carrots, I'd go for a carrot and fennel salad with a lemon based dressing as the veg.

Thanks for reading and please take the time to comment

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Clifden Pony Show 2011

Got home to Connemara just in time for one of the best days of the year. The weather was fantastic and there was a great turn out this year.
For us here in Connemara, show day is a great time to catch up with people, even though you need to be careful where you step for horse manure and political candidates - equally hazardous on occasion.
Being such a widespread community its nice to be able to see so many old acquaintances who one might not have seen in a while. It's the end of the summer so everyone is more relaxed, its a great time of year.
My cousin Morgan with his entry, Morgans Pride the second.
It draws people from all over the world - and the horses are the major part of it, for the breeders and the association it is the major annual event.
The horses are the reason the show exists, and the amount of work that goes into preparing the ponies for show is immense. I got to the show early as one relative had an entry and did well, and with all the work that goes into it some year I hope he will win the overall prize.
The serious business of judging

But for me there is another highlight, the competition for crafts, home grown produce and home cooking and preserves.
The crafts section is really for kids, and in such a show with all the grown up horse trading.
Its great that this less serious but I feel equally important part of the show is there to include all ages and interests in our community.
Home grown foods prize table
I was very disappointed not to be able to enter this year as I could not find an application form online for the baking, preserves and homegrown section, and hope this can be arranged for next year.
No offence to the winner, but I really think my Tipperary Turnips could have won a red ribbon - I could have been a contender, the turnip king of Connemara.
3 table turnips, looked like Milan Purple Tops
I spoke with the chief steward and she will look into it. If the application form for 2012 goes online or is emailed to me I will make it available here by download or by link.

The home crafts section had been in decline for a few years, and there has been talk of moving out of the showground to make way for more commercial ventures - but this year with I think 80 entries, it's on the up again.
It has always been a great favorite of mine, my Grandmother who was great at knitting and crochet would meet friends and relatives there like Mrs Gibbons (who generally won) - it was a part of growing up.

To lose this part of the show would be a real loss to the ethos, the fun of the show. And of course kids would have less interest and involvement.
The show is one of the major social community events of the year, it is vital in my opinion to maintain and even expand the home crafts and produce competition - after all, not everyone owns or has an interest in horses.

In attendance was Mr. John O'Hara, President of the Irish Shows Association and a neighbour of our county in Co. Mayo who quite rightly said that to have variety in a show that is so focused is a great thing.
5 veg basket winner
There were several entries for the 5 veg selection, and this would probably be the hardest to win. There was a wide range of veg. Cabbage and beets featured in most. Great cauliflowers were there as well - and a few fennel. With the advent of pollytunnels it is obviously now easier to produce very good examples of what I would call borderlines crops like cauli's and fennel, those plants that have a tendency to bolt outdoors.
Potato winner - could have had a chance at this
I felt the potato section was a bit disappointing this year, one would like to see more notes on variety presented etc. and I think my Mr.Littles would have been an unusual and eye catching entry.
Unless I am corrected, I think I am the only person on this Island that grows them. I opened up the ridge a few days ago and the results look really promising.
Roosters, Orla, Records and Nicola also did well. Because of the late planting, the Kerr pinks still remain to be seen.

There was a great selection of onions at the show this year, all perfectly presented and tops tied off French style with twine - that's probably the trickiest entry to win in Clifden.
Jams and preserves
Then there is the jams and preserves section, this years winner was blackcurrant. There is also a section for home made marmalade, and I feel the Mrs Beetons carrot marmalade would be a nice entry for next year - and I'm posting it here so if someone beats me with one of my own recipes I can point it out ;-)
Sponge contest winners
There is also a section for home cooked sweets, cakes, apple pie, soda bread and sponges. I would not even attempt to compete against the matriarchs of Connemara when it comes to soda bread, but maybe next year I might give some of the others a go.
One thing that was a bit of a downer on the day was chickens. I have always liked chickens, and there were some for sale. But being away so much it is pointless to even consider them, even though there was poultry for sale on the day. I loitered so much looking at them I started to worry I might be told to move on by the Gardai!!
My neighbour, whose chickens get all the kitchen scraps in return for eggs, generally wins a rosette for her eggs. I wonder if it is possible to rent chickens?

Anyway, it was a great day out and if ever readers get a chance to visit, you should really try to make it down to this part of the world on this special day.
Range of jam sponge cake
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and please feel free to comment, I appreciate the feedback - and its reassuring to know that someone reads this blog on occasion.

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