Fresh ingredients make all the difference
I was standing in the bustling corporation market in Smithfield, Dublin, wondering at the array of Irish produce around me. It was only a few weeks ago, but already Irish cucumbers, Irish tomatoes and all the regulars like cabbage were out on pallets being sold.
Ciaran Butler picked up a head of cabbage, stuffed it in my hand, and said ‘Here, that was picked this morning in North Dublin’. It looked in good shape, but it was only when I got back to Mayo that I cut a bit off and tasted it. Freshness, vitality and a proper, fresh crunch (no ‘soft crunch’, if that makes sense!) and a gorgeous, peppery tang. Its lasting green colouring was a joy to behold too.
We boiled some rice, fried onion, garlic and courgette rings and tossed in the cut cabbage with slithers of red peppers for a fresh stir-fry.
The first part of the story is that we enjoyed a very pleasing meal enhanced by this super-fresh lovely green cabbage.
The second part of the story is that the Brunette enjoyed it so much she appeared with another cabbage head from a big store some days later to repeat the experience.
Because I am that type of person, I cut off and tasted a bit of it… What a disappointment. It lacked freshness, had a limp sort of crunch and had none of the other cabbage’s zesty pepperness. It was a lot whiter in colour. It was obvious we were dealing with different products that were as similar as chalk and cheese.
And it struck me that as consumers, we are being sold a pup. All the emphasis in our ‘life-style’ saturated lives is about what food is currently ‘in’, what recipes is the best, what celebrity chef is on TV. Somewhere, lost in all this, is the actual product – where it was grown, who grew it, and how it travelled to where you got if from. I remember shopping with my mother as she picked out what looked good on the shelves first, and made the meals around that. Worth bearing in mind. Shops would fail without our support – perhaps we consumers should exercise our rights a bit more, and let them know what we would like them to sell us?
Pan-fried monkfish with wild garlic and fennel
Wild garlic is nearing its season end but you can still find it in the covered hedgerows and along streams and ditches. You can’t get much fresher than that! Try some, it’s worth it. Monkfish is a good meaty fish and can take pan frying. This meal uses both the fennel fronds and fennel bulb. The fronds are as good for decoration as for their delicate aniseed flavour. It’s heavy on the butter, but sure you’ll walk it off… The zesty springtime flavours are green and pungent, the garlic and fennel brother and sister in the same family. You cook the fish in a liquid stock and then keep cooking the stock to reduce it to a rich, sexy sauce.
What you need
- 4 monkfish fillet pieces prepared
- Bunch wild garlic
- 4 cloves garlic sliced
- 500ml half-strength fish stock
- 80g butter
- 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- Sprig of wild fennel herb/frond if you can find it
- Squeeze of lemon juice
What you do
Over a medium heat fry the sliced garlic and fennel bulbs in half the butter. Lay down your monkfish and cook either side for three minutes. Add the fish stock and it bring to a simmer for four mins. Remove the fish and place it on a covered plate in the oven. Simmer the juice rapidly until it’s reduced in volume, add the remaining butter, lemon, wild garlic and wild fennel herb. Reduce to a rich sauce and season. Remove the monkfish pieces onto a chopping board and slice diagonally into thick slices. Place on a plate and spoon the sauce around each piece.
Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.