There is a decidedly Irish theme around here at the moment; its Cheltenham Festival Week and Irish horseracing fans have flocked to the town en masse. The Festival has always been popular with the Irish, St Patrick's Thursday is the racing day before the famous Cheltenham Gold Cup. What's more Saint Patrick's Day falls on the 17th March so shamrocks and guinness are the flavour of the month. I have been looking for an Irish recipe to try and now Spring has a firm foothold with the weather turning warmer I thought a lighter dish would suit.
There is an old recipe that has really caught my attention. It's a traditional Irish dish called Ardglass Potted Herring. Ardglass sits on the east coast of County Down and a hundred years ago it was a booming centre of the herring fishing industry. The fishing fleet has long gone but Ardglass Potted Herring was still sold locally until a few years ago. Today the dish is kept alive by restaurants and countless family homes with each one having their own variant, handed down over the generations.
Potting – the sealing of meat, cheese and fish with fat or butter – has been used for centuries in the UK and it has delicious results. It has seen a bit of a revival recently with top chefs championing the method, such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater and (in particular) James MacKenzie, to name a few. I have enjoyed Potted Shrimps in the past but the Ardglass Potted Herring is more like a Soused Herring as it is cooked in a mild vinegar marinade. I think the dish must have acquired the name 'Potted' as in the old days they were baked in a fireproof pot. I have a secret passion for Rollmops (pickled raw herring wrapped round slices of onion or gherkin) – which, incidentally are also seeing a revival thanks to the recent interest in Scandinavian cuisine. So I can recreate an old dish and yet be at the height of fashion!
Ardglass Potted Herrings
8 herrings, fileted and heads removed
2 bay leaves
allspice (or ground cloves)
Lie the herrings flat and dust with salt. Roll them from the tail up and place in a greased baking tray. Pack them in tightly so that they support one another and don't unroll. Pour in a 50/50 mix of malt vinegar and water to just cover the herrings. Add the bay leaves and sprinkle the allspice over the herrings. You can vary the recipe by scattering breadcrumbs or brown sugar over the herrings – or by drizzling honey. Bake in the oven for about 25 – 35 minutes until the herrings have browned. Serve with crusty bread.
Sparkling wine from Alsace pairs very well with this dish. Cremant d'AlsaceBrut from Jean Baptiste Adam is very aromatic and enhances spicy cuisine with its flavours of baked apple, brioche and spice. It has floral and fruity notes of apricot and acacia blossom and a dense and fine mousse of bubbles.