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:: Martin's Mad About Fish!

Renowned Irish chef Martin Shanahan is mad about fish! Or so the program title tells us. Martin has just recorded a 6 part RTÉ series which starts this evening on RTÉ 1. As the owner of the award winning restaurant Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, Co. Cork. Martin has years of experience cooking with seafood, and he believes that many Irish people are still afraid of cooking and eating fish. Throughout the series Martin’s determined to “take the fear out of fish” and show that anyone can cook simple tasty seafood at home. I spoke to Martin yesterday to have a quick chat about fish! Check out the interview below and make sure to tune in tonight!

Hi Martin, congratulations on the new series, the promo on youtube looks really fantastic! So how did you find the crossover from cooking in the kitchen to the filming process and cooking on camera?
A bit nerve wracking initially, I suppose number one I'd be a chef and obviously the biggest part of it was when I got in to the fish business first I had a fish shop for 7 years, and I wouldn't have cooked so much during that time, but I listened to the customers all the time. The biggest thing was that they all obviously loved fish, but they weren't able to cook it or they were afraid of the bones. That was the feedback all the time! I think a lot of people come into fishmongers and they are afraid to ask for the fish without the bones. So basically in the program I'm trying to educate people and to encourage them to go out and go in to your fishmonger and ask them to do those little jobs for you. Most fishmongers would be more than happy!

Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into cooking and how cooking fish became your passion?

I would have trained as a chef in Rockwell back 25 years ago and I would have worked by the sea quite a lot and I worked in San Francisco and anywhere I worked it would have been beside the sea, so I always loved cooking fish. It was always so simple and tasty. My experience in the restaurant is that you never get a complaint that the fish is tough. Fish is truly nature's fast food and it really is, it can be cooked so fast and so easy. That's why in the program I say that if you can fry a rasher or cook a sausage, you can cook a piece of fish! Again the techniques are really simple and that will definitely encourage people to get cooking.

People may know you as the owner of Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, but for people who haven't been to Kinsale could you tell us a little bit about the area and the food scene down there?
Well look, Kinsale is a great tourist town, and when I say tourist town, I consider someone coming down from Cork to be a tourist! People come down for an afternoon from Cork to get away from the stresses of their everyday life and it's only 20 minutes down the road but it's like walking into a different atmosphere. And the obvious connection I suppose is with the sea, you don't think of a cow, you want to eat prawns or you want to eat a bit of fish and chips!

What are some of the most successful dishes from the restaurant?
We'd have a couple of great ones but one of the most popular is probably the traditional fish and chips! We use fresh haddock and we take the skin and bone out of it and cut it into pieces, fry it in batter and you pick it up in your hand, put it in, close your eyes and you can be guaranteed no bone.

In the promo you mention you are on a mission to get people eating fish, and from my experience people seem to be quite nervous when it comes to cooking fish, have you any sure fire winning dishes that always win over even the pickiest eaters?
The very simple one we do is a pan fried piece of cod and people would be nervous about a piece of fish like cod, or haddock, or hake, because they have a line of bones around the top of them, but in the program, I cut a piece of cod, I show them exactly the piece they should look for in the fishmongers and we just roll that in a little seasoned flour and pan fry it. I add a little knob of butter near the end and a little drop of water and by the time the water has evaporated, the butter has melted into it and you finish it off with a squeeze of lemon and on to the plate, I tell you can get nothing better! The one thing I would always say to people is to season fish, although it comes from the sea people think it might be salty but it's not, it's quite mild in itself, so you have to season it! The other thing is to make sure is that you have a good solid pan, you can't cook a fish in one of these omelet pans because they just don't hold the heat and the minute you put on the piece of fish the pan goes cold and starts to stick.

There are some great shots of you doing some cooking at a local kids school, how would you recommend getting kids to eat more fish?
At that demo we actually made fish fingers in the school and we shot some back in the studio to show people at home how to make them. Fish fingers are great because they involve the kids and I would encourage parents to go to the fishmonger, ask for a pound of nice white large fish, it can pollock, it can be hake, it can be cod, it can be haddock, but again no skin and no bone, and I would encourage them to ask the fishmongers to cut them into fish fingers for them. Then you bring them home and do your flour, a dip in egg and breadcrumbs and pan fry them. That way the kids can do it with you, and it gives them a great connection with the food. You'll see in the program the reaction of the kids when they eat the fresh fish as against the processed fish and what we find is kids never lie. You know they say it as it is, you can't tell them "don't say that", they just spit it out. You will hear some of the comments from the kids and they know there stuff even at that young age.

What was the reaction to you filming locally?
We got a great reaction! When the lads from RTE approached me, I wouldn't be one for the camera, but they said they would love to make a program and I said no lads the only way we could make it, was if we were to make it in Kinsale and they asked me why and I said well I know everyone in the streets, so I'd feel comfortable around them and I can have a chat with them! But the reaction overall with people has been super and everybody local just can't wait to see it. We're involving people on a day to day basis and get great feedback from people and so we understand their fish fears!

What are some of your favourite dishes from the series?
I couldn't pick just one, but what I am hoping will come out of this more than anything, is that we'll keep the fishing industry that we have here in Ireland. My business wouldn't be successful without the product the local fishermen are catching. If we lose the local fishermen, and they are under pressure between quotas and costs, and people aren't obviously eating enough fish in Ireland, and we end up exporting a lot of it. So hopefully this program will highlight it and we'll make people realise it is a great product, it's a local product and you couldn't get anything more natural, it's not grown, it's not fed fertilizer, it's not mass produced at the push of a button, so hopefully people will see that and taste it and think that was lovely!

Martin's Mad About Fish airs tonight on RTÉ 1 at 8.30, make sure to tune in!

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:: Martin's Mad About Fish! + tv