Cara Magazine-Enjoy your flight-Aer Lingus-July Issue 2011
EAT AND DRINK YOUR WAY AROUND THE WEST OF IRELAND, WHERE AN AVUNDANCE OF ARTISAN PRODUCERS ARE MAKING THE MOST OF THE FINEST LOCAL INGREDIENTS. LIZZIE GORE-GRIMES GIVES HER TASTE BUDS A TREAT FROM CONNEMARA TO CONG.
ALONG GALWAY’S RUGGED Atlantic coast, near the town of Ballyconneely, low-lying, whitewashed building sits perched on a pier, with the strong cold water of the Atlantic crashing almost to its door. This is the Connemara Smokehouse. It appears an unassuming place at first, until you step inside and meet the Roberts family. Graham, in thid mid-thirties, runs the smokehouse with his wife Saoirse and thier four young children (all artisan-smokers-in-the-making). Together they produce the best smoked Irish Salmon and line-caught Irish tuna you are ever likely to taste. There is a freshness and delicacy of flavour to Graham’s smoked salmon that is hard to equal. To taste it, with the mellow aroma of beech smoke in the air and the crashing waves of the Atlantic outside, leaves you in no doubt that this is, indeed, Ireland the food island.
We’re here in the west of Ireland, as part of a seafood appreciation weekend taking place in Ashford Castle. Arriving late at night after a long drive from Dublin, it’s hard not to be impressed by the stunning vista of the sweeping drive, bridging the river to the fairytale castle by the lake. Ashford Castle knows how to make a big impression, but David the doorman tops the lot – you’re definitely somewhere special when the doorman knows your name. All we have to do after that is settle into our sumptuous room, drink in the view over Lough Corrib and wander downstairs for dinner.
The next moring we get up early to head west, about as far west as you can go. Passing through the popular town of Clifden and on out to Ballyconneely and Bunowen Pier, we arrive at the smokehouse at the edge of the world. As Graham Roberts takes us on a tour of the smokehouse, it’s evident how hands-on he is at every stage of the process. As he deftly fillets, trims and preps a whole salmon in minutes, he explains the true depth of connection he has to the area. “fishermen I work with today are the sons of the fihermen my father worked with. Most of our fish come from nearby Killary Harbour. We have wild salmon in season in June & July (until stocks last), and we also get fantastic organic salmon from nearby Clare Island”. Graham opens the thick steel door of the smokery to show us the racks of salmon sides all deepening in colour in the fog of gentle beech smoke.
“We prefer to burn beech rather than oak,” continues Graham, “as oak contains more tannins and can produce a slightly more bitter flavour in the fish” Graham takes a side of salmon from the smoker to his slicing station where he still prefers to slice the majority of the salmon by hand. The way this man wields a filleting knife would make Nobu Matsuhisa look clumsy. A whole side of salmon is perfectly sliced in a matter of minutes. While he is doing this, his four immaculately behaved children hand out plates of smoked salmon and tuna for us to taste. The tuna is something you don’t see too ofter; it’s line-caught off the Irish coast, and Rick Stein was so impressed with it when he came here (to film Graham and Saoirse as part of his Food Heroes television series) that he now serves it in his famous seafood restaurant in Cornwall. Other piscatorial pleasures to stock up on are the Roberts’ family recipes of smoked tuna mousse, as well as gravadlax and traditional smoked kippers.
From one fish feast to another. We leave the Connemara Smokehosue to make our way to Rossroe Pier……
Other wonderful places/producers mentioned in this article:
Cullen’s Bistro – Ashford Castle
Air dried meats – James McGeough
Mussels – Marty’s Mussels
Stefan Matz – Ashford Castle
Seaweed – Seamus Moran Lo-Tide Foods
Butcher – Sean Kelly
Aran McMahon – Café Rua
Farmhouse butter – Cuinneog
Homemade Jam – Grove Jams
Mixed leaves – Stephen Gould
Cheeses – Carrowholly
Chocolate – Helena’s Chocolates..
To view this article I’m afraid you will just have to take an Aer Lingus flight to view their inhouse “Cara Magazine”. Food & Drink – The West of Ireland – July Issue 2011