Friday, December 23, 2011

Some simple food before the indulgence of Christmas

Christmas is a time of traditions and every family has their own. Whether it's a glass of eggnog by the fire or tucking into a plate of mince pies in the kitchen; we all have something that makes Christmas special.

One of the things that I look forward to at this time of year is a dish that is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve in West Kerry. Salted ling in a white sauce served with floury potatoes makes for a very simple supper the day before the richness and overindulgence to come.

(This may not be the most attractive food I've ever posted on this blog but it is some of the tastiest)

Ling (or salt cod) is widely available in the shops in Ireland at this time of year. It's an easy dish to cook but I do urge some caution. The first year I made this, I didn't soak it for long enough and my boyfriend and I both woke up in the middle of the night with mouths as parched as though we'd been lost for hours in the desert. Soak your ling in plenty of water for 24 hours, changing the water two or three times and run the fish under a cold tap before you use it, and you'll avoid this potential pitfall.

I've based my recipe on my mother's as with all traditions, you always want things to taste just as they did when you ate them as you were growing up. She doesn't add leeks but I think they make this traditional favourite even better.

This makes enough for four.
800g of ling

50g/2oz butter
1200ml/2 pints milk
1 onion, diced

6 leeks, washed and sliced into rounds
25g of butter
8 floury potatoes such as King Edward, Russet or Maris Piper
  • Soak your ling in cold water for at least 24 hours, changing the water two or three times in that period.
  • Run it under the cold tap before you cook it to remove any salt flakes.
  • Place it in a shallow pan. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked. You can tell that it's cooked by the fact that it will flake easily.
  • Cook your potatoes in boiling salted water while your fish is cooking. Floury potatoes can take a while to cook, perhaps as long as the fish does. Check them from 12 minutes into the cooking time. The best way of doing this is by piercing them with a knife. When they're cooked, the knife will go through them easily. Otherwise, the flesh will be resistant. When they are cooked, drain them of water and leave them in the saucepan with the lid on. The residual steam will make them even more floury.
  • You can also cook your sauce while the fish is cooking too. Start by melting the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat.
  • Add the chopped onions and cook for one more minute.
  • Stir in the flour and cook for one to two minutes.
  • Add in the milk, little by little, stirring as you go to get a smooth sauce.
  • I also add one or two ladlefuls of the water the fish is cooking in to my sauce. It adds a real depth of flavour and as it has absorbed some of the saltiness of the fish, it means you probably won't need to season your sauce.
  • Make the leeks by melting the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and cooking the leeks in it for four to five minutes or until they have softened and coloured slightly.
  • When your fish is cooked, remove it from its cooking water and set aside until it is cool enough to handle. Then flake it into the sauce. Add the leeks. Check for seasoning. You probably won't need to add salt but you may like to add some white pepper.
  • Serve with the floury potatoes.

The saltiness of the fish, the creaminess of the sauce, the crunch of the leeks, the sweetness of the onions and the soft flouriness of the potatoes – this is one of the real traditions of Christmas.

Before I go, I'd like to wish you all a happy and a peaceful Christmas. May it be full of all of the good things - food, family and friends.


  1. Hi Sharon I'm a breakfast chef in the south east, I love the sound of this dish (not for breakfast you understand) I'm going to try it if I can find some ling around here.

  2. I hope you find it, Tony. I know that it's usually only available here in the run-up to Christmas. It seems to be a seasonal thing. It's very local too as people in Cork have never even heard of it! Let me know how you get on.