Feast or Famine A Cultural Food Journey of the North West of Ireland


Over the next few years I will be on an exciting journey to rediscover the North West of Ireland’s fascinating food heritage with the aim of preserving and celebrating the region’s culinary heritage in a brand new publication to be entitled Feast or Famine. This Book is to be published by premier local publishers Guildhall Press in 2013.

My research has already led me all over Ireland, continental Europe, and into the new World, following the region’s extensive culinary trail.

Emmett McCourt tries out the recipe

Emmett McCourt tries out the recipe

As I gather my material, I’ll be posting various morsels of interesting research on this page, keeping you up to date with any regional food events and occasionally presenting the odd recipe as an appetizer for the finished publication – Feast or Famine.

There remains a dedicated network of suppliers and producers who have withstood the test of time here in the North West – local restaurants, bars and food artisans, who have now started a renaissance of local food production for the modern age, all dedicated to their products, their rich food heritage and an appreciation of the past.

I intend to show that there is still a place for our region’s unique food produce and traditional dishes, re-discovered and re-imagined, to suit our modern lifestyle. I will be suggesting recipes, using the finest of local produce, which will suit a variety of occasions, diets and budgets to meet the demands of today’s keen and informed aspiring chefs and home cooks alike.

So if you hunger for heritage and thirst for tradition – take a seat at the table and join me in celebrating the colourful and evocative flavours of our region’s bountiful past.

In this recipe Sustainable Local Mackerel can also be used in place of herrings.



Serves 8


p 8 Herrings, cleaned de-scaled & filleted(or Mackerel)

p 2 table spoons of Sea salt (fleur de sel)

p 4 bay leaves

p 1 onion peeled and sliced

p 1 teaspoon pickling spice

p 3 Star anise

p 1 Fennel Bulb chopped fine

p 4 Table spoons of Vinegar

p 1 pint of water


Place the herrings in a deep tray; Rub the herrings lightly with salt and pickling spice. top with bay leaves ,onion and chopped fennel .Pour over the vinegar and water, enough just to cover the fish, Marinade and cure for 4 hours or up to 2 days . Grill or bake with some of the curing liquor for 15 minutes 150c. Serve hot or allow cooling in the Liquor.



p 8 cold smoked Herring fillets

p Melted butter


Gooseberries have grown wild in the northwest of Ireland for centuries and were used mostly for jams and preserves like chutney .They go well with the herrings in this dish as they are naturally tart in flavour complimenting this oily fish.


1kg of Gooseberries thoroughly washed

200g sweet apples, cored and chopped

200g white sugar

4 tablespoons of distilled vinegar or white wine

1 clove of garlic

2 star anise

2 table spoons of pink peppercorns

p 1 white onion chopped

p 1 fennel bulb chopped

p 1 small sprig of thyme

p 2 bay leaves

p 1 half teaspoon salt


Place all the ingredients, apart from the gooseberries, in a preserving pan (copper pan) bring to the boil slowly, stirring well, reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes. Add the gooseberries, adding more liquid if required .Reduce until the mixture has thickened. Pour the preserve into sterilised jars.

To finish

Brush the Herrings with melted butter. Griddle or bake the herrings until cooked. Serve with Oaten bread & Gooseberry preserve.

Photography by Conor Glynn