Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Connemara Mussel Festival


When most outsiders think of Irish food, the first thing that comes to mind is lamb and possibly smoked salmon.  However one of the best kept secrets is the mussels that come from the Killary in Connemara.  The Killary is Ireland’s only fjord; a long narrow inlet with steep sides that is usually formed by a glacier.  These waters produce mussels that have  a delicious sweet and briny flavor with a texture that is delicate and never tough.  Frankly, I have eaten mussels in many places around the globe, but the mussels from the Killary top them all.  To use an Irish expression; “Fair Play To Them”.

My love affair for mussels from the Killary began when my Yank friend (who is a Connemara resident) was showing me the beauty of Connemara, and we stopped at the Blackberry Cafe in Leanne to have a quick lunch.  As I looked around the dining room, almost every table had a pot of mussels.  At that point the question of “what to order” became null and void.  I certainly wasn’t ordering a burger.

A few months later, I learned of The Connemara Mussel Festival; an event that was born of the simple gesture of a “good mussel feed” in 2006 at Paddy Coynes pub in Tully Cross. So, I dragged my NY Yank along for the ride.

Walking to the entrance,  there was a great  atmosphere in the town.  Inside, the marquee was lined with local crafts and food vendors.

Inside the cooking demonstration area, attendees grabbed a seat and, as you do, headed next door to Paddy’s pub to get a pint while enjoying the festivities. After a night on the piss, I was no exception!

Over the course of the festival weekend, there were many great cooking demonstrations, tours of the Killary Harbour, amateur chef competitions and even a fly casting class.  I saw two demonstrations; one from Jack Duffy who is the Executive Chef for the international chain, Elephant and Castle, and another by Graham Roberts who operates his family business,  The Connemara Smokehouse.  The smoke house  supplies some of the best restaurants with fine quality smoked fish.

Jack featured mussel dishes that he prepares at his restaurants, and represented an incredible array of food.  My favorite was his impromptu and simple smoked mussels served with their own juices.  The mussels for the entire festival were graciously provided by  Marty’s Mussels http://www.martysmussels.ie

Graham Roberts hosted the other demonstration.  Graham runs his family’s business, Connemara Smokehouse (www.smokehouse.ie). The Connemara Smokehouse has been touted by Rick Stein as both a “Hero of Food” and a “Food Super Hero”.

Graham demonstrated an extremely unique technique for slicing the salmon that I will have to practice and master.    After seeing and tasting so much good cooking it was time to hunker down for a good mussel feed.  Back to the pub, for a crisp glass of house white with  mussels from the pot out in the back. They were simply served with brown soda bread in garlic, tomato and basil or cream, they could not have been better.
Fair play to the great local Irish cuisine, and the passion from which it is born!

Posted by Gastro Chef at Tuesday, May 10, 2011