Harvesting Seafood The sea-shores around Donegal are teeming with various types of seafood, yet 99.9% of people do not know where to look, and even if they saw it they would not recognise it ! A further problem is that most people would not know how to harvest or cook it. It was quite different with our ancestors. They knew how to live off the sea shore because times were hard and food was scarce. Cruit Island offers excellent opportunities to forage the sea shores within walking distance of Donegal Thatched Cottages. There is a tremendous satisfaction in sourcing, harvesting and cooking your very own seafood fresh from the sea shore. It also makes for a fun activity holiday. Below we give helpful guidelines on where to find these hidden treasures locally and take you from A to Z in each case. Good luck. Beir bua.
Dulse is seaweed which attaches to rocks on the seashore. It is known as dulse in the northern half of the country but as dilisk in the west and south. It grows in bunches of small, flat, burgundy coloured leaves about the length of your thumb, with some leaves up to twice that length. Usually you will find it growing on the sides of rocks or in crevices which are fully covered when the tide is in but which are exposed when the tide is half or fully out. It is more inclined to grow on headlands or outcrops of rock rather than in sheltered coves. Often you will find it where clusters of tiny mussels are to be seen. Do not mistake it for longer, flat, leathery seaweed. Remember it is soft and pliable. On Cruit Island you will find it on rock outcrops down from the Golf Club facing Owey Island, which is famous for its dulse.
Having picked your dulse spread it out on a flat rock to dry in the sun and wind. If it is a really fine day it should fully season in one day. Otherwise it will take two or three sessions in between showers. It is most important that you do not allow rain to fall on the drying dulse. Heavy rain will simply bleach your hard won dulse and leave it tasteless. Fully dry and seasoned dulse will keep safely for weeks, even months. You will often see it for sale in plastic packs in the shops in Dungloe.
Dulse is mostly eaten raw and chewed almost as a person would chew gum. It has a distinctive salty seafood taste which can be a bit off-putting for the uninitiated but which is almost addictive for those reared to its taste. It is better than peanuts when eaten with a pint of Guinness ! It can also be boiled in water to make a thick soup or added to food to serve as both a flavouring and thickening agent. It can also be diced and sprinkled over food in much the same way as pepper. It contains many healthy additives, in particular iodine. Happy harvesting.
Like dulse, carrageen is edible seaweed which grows on rocky outcrops on the seashores of the West of Ireland. It can be found on Cruit Island in much the same places as dulse. However, unlike dulse, the tide must be almost fully out before you will see it. It grows in little bunches just like a bunch of grapes with all the grapes plucked off. It is deep burgundy, heading towards black in colour, and is generally not so plentiful as dulse.
When you have pulled sufficient for your needs ( please do not pull any more than you need ) lay it out on a flat rock to bleach in the rain. If it is a dry spell you could also place it in a basin of fresh water, changing the water a couple of times over a 48 hour period. In this respect you will see that harvesting carrageen is totally opposite to harvesting dulse.
When it has at least partially bleached and is beginning to gel somewhat lay it out on a flat rock to dry and harden in the wind and sun. It will then be quite brittle and predominantly a golden hay colour. At this stage it is capable of keeping safely for months and months.
Carrageen is a delicious seafood jelly served mostly as a dessert but also taken at any time for medicinal purposes as it is very rich in vitamins and valuable trace elements. It has a slightly bland but distinctly seafood taste which may be modified according to taste by adding various essences. Personally I prefer the natural taste.
To prepare for cooking take a fistful of dry carrageen. Rinse in clean water. Place in a saucepan with about a litre of milk and bring to the boil, taking care that it does not boil over. Simmer gently for 15/20 minutes. Now strain into a container and leave to cool. The carrageen will mould into the shape of the container and set to a firm milky white jelly with tiny flecks of brown throughout. At this stage it can be cut into the shape of your choice or scooped out with a spoon and served on its own or with appropriate appetiser. It can also be drunk as a thick liquid especially by those suffering from colds or chest ailments. A wholesome seafood straight from the seashore.
Sand eels are about 9 inches ( 23 cm ) long, silver in colour, and as thick as your finger. They generally swim in teeming shoals and form the staple diet of larger fish such as pollock. However, true to their name they also come into the shelter of sandy estuaries and hide in the sand of shallow rivers. On Cruit Island you will find them at the mouth of the shallow river over towards Kincasslagh pier. Here it is possible to catch them by standing heels together, toes apart in shallow water when the tide is out. Bending down and reaching forward as far as possible, pull an ordinary kitchen knife through the sand towards your heels.
Repeat this exercise from another location until you feel the wriggle of a sand eel in the vee at your heels. With your other hand reach down and lift the struggling sand eel into a bucket or other suitable container. Bear in mind however that this is not as simple as it sounds………many people panic when they first encounter that wriggling sensation ! If conditions and your technique are right it is possible to catch a bucketful of sand eels, but please only keep what you will eat. It is advisable to wear wellingtons and a rubber glove in case you encounter a lesser weaver in the sand. This fish has a potentially dangerous sting and is occasionally found in just such sandy estuaries.
There is no need to fillet or clean out the sand eels. They can be pan-fried with garlic while fresh and have a delicious seafood taste. Happy hunting.
Razor fish come in shells about 6 inches ( 15cm ) long. When open they would remind you of the old- fashioned razors used in Westerns……..hence their name. In Irish they are called “ scian mara”, or “sea knife”. As with cockles, live razors live beneath the sand in sandy estuaries and bays. You will only find them at Spring tides, when the tide is fully out, and the sea is calm and about to turn. Look close to the water’s edge. Look for little indentations in the sand almost like as if a person pressed hard with their thumb.
Dig with a spade at that point bearing in mind that razors are deceptively elusive and adept at burrowing deeper into the sand. Do not be surprised if instead of a razor you dig up a beautiful sea- urchin as it is extremely difficult to distinguish between the little indentations left by either one. Please replace the sea-urchin safely as he is not considered edible, although I understand that they eat them on continental Europe.
The best place on Cruit to dig for razors is on the large flat sandy beach fronting onto Kincasslagh Bay. Bring your razors back to your cottage in a bucket and leave them steeping overnight in fresh water. Steam them in their own juices taking care not to over-do them. Happy digging.
Cockles may well be the poor relation of their more illustrious cousin, the mussel, and the flesh somewhat more limited, yet picking a small bucketful of prime, fresh cockles is an exciting adventure, while cooking and eating your own personally harvested cockles beats buying mussels hands down ! Clients staying at Donegal Thatched Cottages are to turn right coming out of the cottages and then access the fine flat sandy beach on the left hand side about 300 metres from the cottages. Cut diagonally to the right across the beach till you come to Monument Island……..a small island with a memorial clearly visible on its highest point. Just to the left of this island is a very good place to dig or scrape for plump cockles. Please only take what you will eat.
Cooking the cockles is a simple matter. Best to leave them steeping overnight in salt water to allow them clear their system. It is a good idea to sprinkle a little flake meal on the surface of the water to encourage them to feed and thus clear their systems. Then simply steam them in their own juice till they open up. Do not overcook. Enjoy.
If cockles are the poor relation of mussels, then periwinkles are the poor relation of cockles. Periwinkles are small blue/black shells attaching to rocky outcrops and indented crevices on the seashore. Not many people bother with them any more as the amount of meat in each shell is tiny. Yet it is not so long since quite a few hardy souls along the west coast of Ireland made their living solely from picking, harvesting and selling these tasty morsels. Clients at Donegal thatched cottages are to turn right coming out of the cottages. Then take the next right turn where the sign says “Failte”. At the fork take the lower laneway. A few hundred metres further on you will see the sea to the left and a number of rocky inlets. This is the best area for periwinkles. The tide must be at least half way out. You will find them stuck to the rocks, very often under cover of bladder rack (seaweed) Please only pick what you will eat.
As with cockles periwinkles are simple to cook. Best to leave them overnight in clean salt water to allow them clear their system. Then steam them in their own juice for a few moments. Now busy yourself with a needle extracting the tasty meat. Enjoy.