Kerry Fish ~ Quinlan’s Fish Shops and a recipe
“You picked the wrong Saturday to visit!”, said Fintan Quinlan as he met me at the Kerry Fish Factory at Reenard Point, Caherciveen, “It’s the first Saturday we haven’t worked in months”. The reason there was no processing – the tail end of Hurricane Katia was battering the west coast of Ireland and windy weather means no fishing. There had been some landings in Killybegs on the Wednesday before I met Fintan but all the boats were in harbour until the winds died down again.
Quinlan’s are synonymous with fresh fish in Kerry. They have 4 shops located around the county, a seafood bar recently opened in Killarney, the processing plant in Reenard and 2 boats that fish off Ireland’s southwest and northwest coasts employing over 30 people between all the enterprises. They are members of Taste Kerry and the BIM Seafood Circle which awarded them the Seafood Specialist of the Year 2011. While they have seen an increase in the last few years in fish consumption locally (2 of the shops and the seafood bar were opened in the last 2 years) 75% of what the Quinlan’s boats catch is exported immediately. It goes straight from boat to truck to ferry, no processing in Ireland, and the main market is France. But if Martin Shanahan cooks something on television, demand for it the following day in the shops goes through the roof.
Kerry Fish is a family owned and run business: it was started by a group of Caherciveen men, including the Quinlan family, in 1963 and Fintan’s father bought them out in the 1980s. Fintan and 2 of his brothers work in the business today and, like all business owners and producers I’ve met, they are hands on. Despite there being no processing in the factory that Saturday, Fintan had the last of the weeks catch loaded into the van above to deliver himself to the shop and seafood bar in Killarney. He likes being on the road: I asked him if he ever goes out on the boat but he says only if the crews are badly stuck, it’s not his thing but there are those who would never do anything else but go to sea fishing.
The factory is where all processing for the Quinlan Fish Shops and the restaurants is carried out. Filleting, cleaning, extracting crab claws and meat, oak smoking, and all the packaging is done on the premises. There is little waste in the process: any bones or shells from filleting are sold to another producer who makes fish stock to supply the restaurant trade in Ireland, any fillets not sold in the shop are sold as mixes for chowder and soup. They source wild salmon and mussels from Cromane, organic farmed salmon from Clare Island, lobster and crab from local fishermen with pots in Valentia Harbour, scallops from Valentia Harbour and Wexford.
There are 2 smokers in the factory, one is 40 years old and Fintan is convinced the flavour is certainly better from this smoker. The salmon is caught and frozen during the season in summer. From mid-November, the smokers are started to supply the Christmas market with oak smoked salmon, mackerel, and haddock. The frozen fish is thawed in salt water, cured in salt for 4 hours, rinsed, dried in the smoker for 12 hours and then smoked for 12 hours. 1,000 sides of salmon can be smoked in 24 hours between the 2 smokers. Fintan estimates that 90% of the smoked salmon produced by Kerry Fish, all either wild or organic, is exported to Germany and many are established customers ordering directly online and through the shops.
As well as supplying their own seafood bar in Killarney, Quinlan’s supply QC’s Restaurant, owned by Kate and Andrew Cooke (Kate is a sister of Fintan’s), O’Neills the Point Bar Reenard (right across the road), and they plan to open another of their own seafood bars beside their shop in Tralee. One of my favourite products of Quinlans, which I don’t see anywhere else, is baby squid. This has a very short season and is frozen to continue supply through the year. The recipe below is how baby squid is served in QC’s (thanks to Kate for allowing me to reproduce it here) and the onion marmalade recipe is one I use from the Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Sheridan’s produce an onion marmalade for cheese which works really well here too. Have everything ready to serve before cooking the squid as it’s best eaten straight off the pan.
adapted from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course
700g white onions
160g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsps salt
1 1/2 tsps freshly ground pepper
7 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
250ml full bodied red wine
Peel and slice the onions thinly (use a mandolin if you have one). Melt the butter in a saucepan and watch it until it turns a nut brown colour but not burnt. In go the onions, sugar, salt, and pepper and stir well. Place the lid on and cook on a gentle heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar and red wine. Cook, uncovered, for another 30 minutes stirring regularly. Allow it to cook gently but not reduce too much. Skim off and discard any butter on the top when it has cooled. Pot like any jam.
400g baby squid, defrosted and rinsed
serves 2 as main course, 4 as starter
The squid is very simply and very quickly cooked on a hot frying pan with some butter and oil. Work in a clockwise fashion, placing a baby squid at the 12 o’clock position and work your way around the pan, ensuring the squid is not too crowded (a tip learned from the course at Ballyknocken Cookery School). By the time you’ve got back to the top of the pan, it is time to turn your squid. Work your way around piece by piece and this time when you reach the top your squid is ready to serve. Eat immediately!
I like this as a lunch or supper dish served with some very good brown bread, lots of butter, maybe a little green salad, and whatever is your favourite white wine.
Thanks to Fintan for his time on a stormy Saturday morning and to Kate for allowing me to reproduce her recipe here.