Can you guess which seafood Jp McMahon really couldn’t begin to cook?
The author of the Irish cookbook loves a little Italian food, but isn’t so sure about some of his ancestors’ ingredients
In The Irish Cookbook, author and chef Jp McMahon reaches pretty far back into his homeland’s past to offer a rounded account of how the Irish have cooked and dined throughout the ages.
For example, according to artefacts found at a site in Mount Sandel in Coleraine, County Derry, Mesolithic Irishmen and women of had a pretty wild and varied diet.
"We can tell they fed on many foods that are still common, such as shellfish and freshwater fish,” he writes of the dining habits of his countrymen back in 7,000 BC. “However, they also consumed animals that we no longer consider worthwhile for eating. Bear, squirrel and seal come to mind.”
And today, McMahon still stands by that assertion. In a new interview with The Irish Examiner, he admits that, while he has had the pleasure of dining on seal, he’s not too sure how he would go about cooking one.
"I imagine that’d be very difficult,” he writes. “I had it in Newfoundland and it was a big flipper in a pizza oven. I presume you just cook it low and slow, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin butchering a seal.”
Perhaps that’s best. Actually he’s much more at home with dishes that originate far beyond his country’s borders. If he had to pick a last meal, McMahon says he would go for spaghetti Bolognese. “I grew up making it,” he says. “It’s the first exotic food I ever had – when I was 11 or 12 – and I thought, ‘This is just the most amazing thing I’ve ever had in my life’. I tell the kids now and they’re like, ‘What are you like?’”
When it comes to comfort food, the chef also reaches for Italian recipes. “Sometimes, after work, I might go for a slice of pizza,” he says. “I think chefs always want comfort food, especially when you’re cooking all day, you just want simplicity.”
And while there are certain gadgets in McMahon’s professional restaurant kitchen many of might not be familiar with – he singles out his Thermomix - “a food processor that can heat” - his signature dish, Oysters and seaweed. is simplicity itself.
“We have a little dish with oysters, seaweed and trout roe, and we dress it with extra virgin rapeseed oil, seaweed vinegar and some sea salt, but it’s one we do a lot,” says the chef. “If I have to be remembered for anything, that would be enough for me. If someone said, ‘Oh he did a nice seaweed and oysters dish’, I’d be like, ‘That’s grand’.”
Not a bad legacy. You can read the full interview here; and to get to know both Irish cookery and McMahon’s own cookery a little better, order a copy The Irish Cookbook here. The book's 480 home-cooking recipes celebrate the range and quality of Ireland's bounty, from oysters and seaweed on its west coast to beef and lamb from its lush green pastures, to produce and forage from throughout the island.