Tom Parker Bowles – Mail on Sunday Supplement “Night and Day” Magazine
I’d make a wretched sailor. Fierce currents and an exposed location six kilometres off County Mayo on Ireland’s rugged west coast might create ideal conditions for farming organic salmon. But for me, they were less than comfortable.
As we cut a precarious swathe through the peaks and troughs of a tetchy Atlantic Ocean, my full Irish breakfast began to threaten an impromptu reappearance.
Still, the journey out to the cages was worth every soggy moment because the Clare lsland Seafarm is no ordinary, overstocked and underwhelming salmon farm. It represents a safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly form of aquaculture.
When we eventually reach the bobbing circle of buoys, there’s not much to see on the surface, but the nets stretch down to around 15 metres. The pen contains around 10,000 square metres of water, as near to the natural conditions of wild salmon as possible.
‘There is a phenomenal water exchange down there,’ says David Garforth of Skretting Ltd, the company behind the farm. The fish have to fight against these currents, building up muscle for a better flavour.’
Garforth estimates that each fish (there are two pet cubic metre of water at about one one percent fish to 99 percent water, they are far less densely stocked than conventional farms) swims about 20 kilomerres a day The resulting fat content of these salmon is around nine to 11 per cent, much lower than their flabby fleshed, intensively farmed cousins.
Their organic feed is 85 percent fish by-product (not unsustainable fish trawled especially for fish food), and homeopathic treatments (a mix of garlic and rosemary) help the fish to stay healthy.
There is little doubt as to the passion of all involved and the sustainability of the whole operation.
But to try the organic farmed salmon we wend our way through the gloom to the Connemara Smokehouse, a simple white house that perches prettily over a crystal-clear bay. Here we meet Graham Roberts, owner, manager, chief smoker and a man possessed. ‘I work every hour God gives,’ says Graham while filleting an entire salmon in the time it would take me to do up a tie. Despite the huge demand, he insists on filleting evrey fish himself. ‘It’s very important to me, as I can guarantee quality.’
The Fish (65 pet cent wild, 35 per cent organically farmed) are washed, salted with dry sea salt for eight to ten hours before being washed, left in the fridge overnight and smoked (for a further eight to ten hours) over beech wood. Then the fish is dried and hand-sliced by Graham with the precision of a neurosurgeon.
By this stage, my tongue is on the floor,so desperate am I to try his wares. The organic farmed fish has firm flesh and a mild smoke. Subtle and elegant, the smoke and fish flavour are imperfect balance. It’s a fitting end for a superlative farmed salmon, and one that proves that aquaculture and sustainability need not be mutually exclusive.
Contact: Graham Roberts – Connemara Smokehouse Tel: +353 95 23739 Email:[email protected] or order online www.smokehouse.ie