The Darina Allen Column - Celebrating our Oceans

 Unsure whether World Ocean Day is a celebration or a day of reflection, Darina Allen explains how much we depend on the oceans – and shares some recipes that respect them...

World Ocean Day was on Wednesday the 8th of June 2022. I am not fully clear if this was meant to be a celebration, or a day to remind us of the chronic mess we humans have got ourselves into. In our busy lives, most of us have taken the oceans for granted. We somehow haven’t understood that mankind depends on the health of the oceans for our very existence. The oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface, provide 97% of the world’s water supply and 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. 94% of the earth’s living species exist within the oceans and apparently much is yet to be discovered. 70 - 80% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants, plus the oceans feed and provide livelihoods for billions of people.
The ocean plays a vital role in our climate. It’s the ocean currents that govern the world’s weather. For decades scientists and marine biologists have stressed that rapidly rising ocean temperatures are causing the ice to melt, altering coral reefs and coastal ecosystems, causing cold water habitats to shrink resulting in less plankton available for marine life.Rising temperatures are putting low lying nations such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean at immediate risk of disaster.

Enough statistics…
For centuries, the oceans have been used as a dumping ground for all manner of waste, sewage, plastic in its many forms, six pack rings, fishing nets, polystyrene…which harm sea mammals, fish and sea birds, who get entangled in it or feed it to their young mistaking it for food. Although the ocean is vast, it turns out it is more easily polluted and acidified than was originally thought. Many of you will have read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast floating dump, 15 times the size of Ireland in the Pacific Ocean. It contains over 100 million tonnes of plastic debris.

We have reached a tipping point…
At last, scientists and governments of many countries are cooperating to limit overfishing and control pollution in a frantic effort to slow down global warming – hopefully it’s not too late. Here in Ireland, a little progress has been made but there is still much to be done. Year-round swimmers have given further impetus to the Clean Beach campaign and Blue Flags are much coveted.

So after all that, let’s go back into the kitchen to cook some delicious fish…
But where do we find information on sustainable fish, it’s much easier to get information on the health benefits. There are few things more delicious than a piece of spanking fresh fish simply cooked. Freshness is everything. Remember, fresh fish look bright and lively and DOESN’T smell fishy. Stay alert when shopping, freshly landed (could be five days old) is altogether different to freshly caught.
Forever and ever, fish has been referred to as ‘brain food’ and numerous studies confirm the health benefits of eating fresh fish at least once a week. The omega-3 fat found in fish is now scientifically proven to be helpful in the treatment of depression, Alzheimer’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD….

From the cook’s point of view, fish is the quintessential fast-food. I am a big fan of crudo or thinly sliced raw fish but it must absolutely be fresh. If that idea doesn’t ‘float your boat’, there are a million other super quick recipes to enjoy with your family and friends. It’s really easy to overcook fish, remember the flesh just needs to change from translucent to opaque, a matter of two to three minutes if the fillet is thin like plaice, lemon sole or megrim. A little longer for a piece of hake or haddock.
It’s also worth knowing that sea vegetables are 10 to 20 times more nutritious than anything grown on land.

Sustainable fish in Irish water?
It is unbelievably difficult for the concerned public to get simple coherent information on what to buy and believe me – I’ve tried! My preferred option is day boat fish, but there are few enough day boats still fishing around our coasts for a variety of reasons. The bigger boats can go further out and stay longer at sea. They target the fish shoals with sophisticated technology. The ‘unintended’ consequences often result in copious amounts of by-catch and decimation of the ocean floor and breeding grounds. Many species have been overfished almost to the point of extinction which impacts on many other species and habitats in the complex web. So, let’s do our best to seek out non-threatened species and strive to support our local fishing communities. Be prepared to pay more for day boat fish if you are fortunate enough to be able to source it. Try at least to ascertain that the fish you buy is caught in Irish waters so we are supporting the Irish fishing community who are experiencing unprecedented challenges. Check out Sustainable Seafood SSI: (01) 8472376


Whether wild or a product of aquaculture, mussels feed naturally in clean nutrient-rich seawater and they are among our most sustainable seafoods. After purchase, wash the mussels and check that they are tightly shut; keep refrigerated. Serves 4
2kgs (4½ lb) mussels
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
50g (2oz) sliced onions
1 clove of garlic, crushed
450g (1lb) very ripe fresh tomatoes (peeled and chopped) or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
pinch of chilli flakes
½ -1 teaspoon smoked paprika
175ml (6fl oz) rich cream
2-3 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped
To make the tomato base
Heat the oil in a stainless-steel sauté pan or casserole. Add the sliced onions and garlic, toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured - about 10 minutes. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. Add a pinch of chilli flakes and the smoked paprika. Add the ripe tomatoes or the chopped tinned tomatoes with all the juice to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity). Cover and cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens, uncover and reduce a little. Tinned tomatoes will need to be cooked for longer. Add cream and allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes and taste for seasoning. *The base can be prepared ahead to this point.
Just before serving, bring the base back to the boil, add the mussels in their shells. Cover, stir from time to time and cook on a medium heat until the shells open (discarding any that don’t), 3-4 minutes approx. Turn into warm bowls, scatter with coarsely chopped parsley and serve with lots of good sourdough to mop up the juices.

Plentiful mackerel makes a good smoked fish pâté, which is easy to make and only needs some interesting crackers to serve it. Alternatively homemade crisps can be fun and delicious. Serves 6-8

110g (4oz) undyed smoked mackerel or herring, free of skin and bone (we use Belvelly smoked mackerel – )
50-75g (2-3oz) softened butter
1/4 teaspoon finely snipped fennel
freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2-1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
salt and freshly ground pepper
Garnish: with sprigs of dill or fennel and flowers, or crisp leafy little celery stalks

To make the smoked mackerel pâté: Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and garlic. It should be well seasoned and soft. Cover and chill until needed.
Serve with sprigs of dill (or fennel) or leafy little celery stalks and crisp crackers or homemade potato crisps.

An inspired way to cook either whole fillets or individual portions of fish, I’ve given three separate sauce suggestions here but even a simple dill butter makes roast fish into a feast. Other ‘round’ fish, such as hake, haddock, ling or cod can be cooked in exactly the same way as salmon given here - however pollock stocks are not in good shape at present. Serves about 20

1 whole wild fresh salmon or Mowi (organic farmed salmon)
butter or extra virgin oil, about 25g (1oz)/25ml (1fl oz)
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tomato and Dill Topping
4–8 tablespoons chopped dill
4–6 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and diced, sprinkled with a little flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar
110–225g (4-8oz) extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 250°C/500°F/Gas Mark 9.
Descale the salmon, fillet and remove the pin bones. For the topping, mix the dill and diced seasoned tomato together with the extra virgin olive oil.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Put the fillets of fish on top. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the dill and tomato oil over the surface. Roast for 8–10 minutes or until cooked and tender.
Serve in the tray or transfer the salmon onto one or two hot serving dishes. Sprinkle with a little fresh dill and dill flowers. Serve immediately with a salad of organic green leaves.

Roast Salmon with Teriyaki Sauce
To make the teriyaki sauce, put 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) light or dark soy sauce, 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) dry white wine, 2 large, thinly sliced garlic cloves, a 4cm (1 1/2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced, 2 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard and 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar into a stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3–4 minutes. (Alternatively, spoon over the fish before putting it in the oven.) Roast the fish as above. Brush the fish generously with the teriyaki sauce, sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

Roast Salmon with Pul Biber
Prepare the salmon as above, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and pul biber (Aleppo pepper), or an equal mixture of chilli flakes and paprika Roast as above. Serve with a good green salad.


Summer Day Salads at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Monday, 22nd August.
We have amazingly productive glasshouses here at the cookery school. In Summer, they are bursting with produce – heritage tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, radishes, aubergines, zucchini, skinny green beans, fresh herbs...So let’s get creative. We’ll make 10 irresistible salads so invite a few friends around for a late lunch or early supper, crack open a bottle of a fizzy rosé. Enjoy the summer sun and share new flavours. Easy to prepare and super delicious. For more information, see

Groundswell Regenerative Agriculture Show and Conference
Progressive young farmers and growers take note…Groundswell Regenerative Agriculture Show and Conference (22nd and 23rd June 2022) takes place at Lannock Manor Farm, Hertfordshire in the UK highlighting regenerative agriculture pioneers from across the UK and the wider world. The event provides a forum for farmers and anyone interested in food production or the environment to learn about the theory and practical applications of Conservation Agriculture or regenerative systems, including no-till, cover crops and re-introducing livestock into the arable rotation with a view to improving soil health. For more information, see

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