It’s Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, and Hastings Hotels have fully embraced the best of seasonal produce on offer. Passionate about food, they believe, and I tend to agree, that eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. They champion local producers in their six hotels, and they work closely with all staff to make sure everyone gets the best out of the Northern Irish larder. This year, it’s just a little bit unusual.
Throughout July, they chose to highlight two dishes fished from Lough Neagh.
Lough Neagh (pronounced Loch Nay) is a freshwater lake, the largest lake, supplying 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water. Owned by the Earl of Shaftesbury, it’s 20 miles west of Belfast and is about 20 miles long and 9 miles wide. Fishing has been a major industry here. The eels make a 4,000-mile journey from the Sargasso Sea to the mouth of the River Bann and make their way into the Lough. They stay here to mature for up to 15 years before making the return journey to the Atlantic to spawn. The eels are shipped all over the world, and a PGI protects the Lough Neagh Eel.
For the first dish, the Eel was served cold with pickled rainbow carrots and beetroot. Armagh apple adds a sweetness which cuts through acid. Slices of Comber potato, just 7 miles from Holywood, have an incredibly creamy texture which works well with the firm fish with its delicate smoke.
Pollan is a freshwater white fish, similar to herring, found only in five Irish lakes, Neagh being one. It’s been a staple in the region for hundreds of years and was lightly fried, served with burnt lettuce and slices of Comber potato. Capers, beetroot and tomatoes are added to the dish, topped with a slab of lemon and herb butter.
You don’t have to go to great lengths to enjoy smoked eel, and while you might not get your hands on a Lough Neagh fillet, it’s often available in high-end supermarkets and online. A simple recipe is all that’s often needed to showcase the brilliance of the ingredients, and this is an indulgent lunch or dinner party canape.
2 tbsp creamed horseradish
142ml carton double cream
100g smoked eel fillet
Thinly sliced brown or rye bread
Salt and pepper
Beat the horseradish with the double cream until it’s thick. Season to taste. Cut the eel at an angle into thin slices. Top the bread with a dollop of horseradish cream, add a slice of eel and enjoy.