Being married to an Irishman, it is only apt that I acknowledge St Patrick’s Day with something Irish. One of the first Irish meals that I was introduced to many, many years ago was seafood chowder. Chunks of fresh seafood swimming in a creamy soup with hints of fresh parsley. And of course, you must have Irish brown bread for dunking into the soup. So you see, this dish is typically Irish to me.
Over the years, since I've been with Mark, I have celebrated this day in so many different ways. We've been to street parades, hung out with other Irish people and drunk in lots of Irish pubs, having one too many drinks. But we're taking a break from the norm this year, as we went to a friend's birthday party over the weekend and our heads are still recovering. We're going to cosy up at home (being a Tuesday school night) with this comforting soup instead, whilst the continuing chilly nights make it suitable for eating soup.
I have since had many versions of seafood chowder over the years. This trip I took last year reminded me of how good this soup is, but you don’t need to be in a stunning location on the west coast of Ireland to enjoy this meal. It’s really easy to make, takes no time at all and you can add whatever seafood you like. What I have discovered is that the main ingredients you will find in most Irish recipes is butter, cream and potatoes, which is the base of this recipe.
To add more texture and flavour to the soup, I added dillisk (purple Irish seaweed), which I bought from a farmers market in Galway, Ireland. Upon opening the jar, I was reminded of it's pungent smell but not off putting at all. Don’t worry, once you soak the dillisk in boiled water, the smell subsides and it won't over power the soup. The dillisk is the star ingredient in this food story today, which has also been added to the brown bread. I love the deep purple colour of this seaweed and the smell it reminds me of - the sea.
Happy St. Patrick's Day to those who are celebrating!
The brown bread recipe was adapted by a recipe that was kindly shared by the chef at Ballinahinch Castle during my stay there last year.
FOR THE SEAFOOD CHOWDER
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery, finely chopped
50g pancetta, cut into 1cm cubes
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
250g waxy potatoes, chopped into 2cm pieces
1 litre fish or vegetable stock
400g skinless cod, cut into 2cm pieces
400g skinless salmon cut into 2cm pieces
250g prawn, cooked & peeled
1kg mussels in their shells
100g dillisk, soaked in boiled water and roughly chopped
150ml double cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt & pepper to season
Heat the butter in a large saucepan until melted and add the onions, carrots, celery. Sweat the vegetables for about 5 minutes until soft.
Add the pancetta until it is cooked, then add the leaves from the thyme sprigs, bay leaf, dillisk and potatoes and continue to cook for another 3 minutes before adding the fish stock. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the potatoes soften.
In the meantime, cook the mussels in a separate pan. Discard the ones that do not open and remove half the mussels from the shell, saving the other half in their shells.
Once the potatoes have softened, add the fish, mussels, prawns and simmer for another minute or so. Season with salt and pepper. Then gently stir in the cream and parsley.
FOR THE BROWN BREAD
340g brown wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking soda
50g pumpkin seeds
50g sunflower seeds
15g dillisk, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 free range eggs
Preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8. Prepare a rectangle baking tin.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, pumpkin and sunflower seeds together. Form a well in the centre and add the buttermilk, eggs and olive oil. Mix together to form a wet dough. Knead the dough briefly in the bowl.
Tip the dough into the baking tin and bake for 45 mins. The bread is cooked when an inserted needle comes out clean, or tapping on the base of the bread creates a hollow sound. Remove the bread from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
Here are some other Irish recipes I’d like to try:
Colcannon Patties for breakfast topped with crispy pancetta.
How good does this Smokey Fish Pie look?
This Black Velvet & Cream Jelly – an adult dessert with Guinness.
Nigella's Chocolate & Guinness Cake anyone?