Chef and author Aishling Moore has transformed palates and changed the hearts and minds of many seafood-hesitant Irish diners as executive chef at Goldie Restaurant in Cork, which focuses on fresh “fin to tail” seafood brought in from local day boats. No surprise then that Aishling’s beautiful approach to seafood has earned the restaurant a Bib Gourmand classification from the Michelin Guide.

Irish Country Living caught up with Aishling after the launch of her new book, Whole Catch, (published as part of the popular Blasta Books series) to learn more about her approach to food, cooking and life.

When did you decide to become a chef? Did you grow up with the idea or was it something you discovered later on?

“I always enjoyed food. I first thought about becoming a chef, probably when I was 15, watching Jamie Oliver on TV. I think he made cooking cool and accessible to everyone. I was lucky enough to go to Ballymaloe House for my transition year work experience – that really affirmed my interest in cooking.”

Has seafood always been a part of your life, or is it something you grew to love and appreciate?

“I didn’t grow up eating a huge amount of seafood. When I started cooking professionally, it was an area I really enjoyed working in – the possibilities for creativity are endless. I’ve always loved picking mussels and clams, shelling langoustines and shucking oysters. These are really satisfying tasks. Whatever you’re cooking, the quality of ingredients are so important. In Ireland, we have incredible wild species in our waters, as well as some of the best shellfish in the world being produced.”

Tell us about becoming a head chef at such a young age and then opening Goldie. When it came to creating your first menus, what were you trying to achieve and have your goals changed?

“My first head chef position was at Elbow Lane when I was 23 years old. That was a steep learning curve, for sure, but I had a huge level of support from the team and the owners there (who are now my business partners at Goldie).

“Opening Goldie as head chef/owner was a different kettle of fish. I had never worked with fish exclusively before. We wanted to appeal to lovers of great food and hospitality; not just lovers of fish. I knew, with the limitations we had put upon ourselves, that clever menu writing was going to be key to ensure we were offering as much variety and quality as possible. There are a couple of dishes, or elements of dishes, that we opened with in 2019 that still feature on the menu today, and that’s something I’m very proud of. We operate with a daily changing menu, which can be very challenging, but it’s also exciting and rewarding.”

What made you decide to write a book about seafood?

“When we opened Goldie, it was apparent quite early on that we were acquiring lots of learnings as we operated within our own limitations. It was great to have the opportunity to put this book together and join the Blasta Book family. It’s full of little things – tips around storing; preparation and handling – stuff that I wish I had known [when we started]. It also came from listening and talking to our guests at Goldie, who loved eating fish but were reluctant to cook it at home. I wanted to write a book that would hopefully make things easier for the home cook.”

What do you wish the average consumer understood about Irish seafood?

“I think it’s really hard now for consumers to make decisions around what food they are buying. There’s a lot of mixed messaging out there. I think one really important thing to understand is that fish are caught in very dangerous conditions. When we’ve poor weather, that greatly limits our access to wild caught fish.”

Chef Aishling Moore helps Alan Johnston, Tom Ryan and Chris O’Connell sort native oysters for her restaurant while on a visit to Rosmore Oysters, North Channel, Cork Harbour. \ Donal O’ Leary

Do you think you’ve converted many diners into seafood lovers? What is your approach for those who might be afraid to try certain types of seafood?

“I would like to hope so! We have been able to coax some cautious diners to try a couple of species they might not have tried before. My job is to make sure what we are serving is delicious – we try to serve dishes that are familiar to everyone in concept, but just happen to be served with fish.”

Do you have a favourite type of seafood or a favourite way to prepare it?

“To be honest, it changes daily as we receive so many gorgeous varieties. Red Mullet is always very high on my list of favourites, but I also really love eating and cooking flat fish like brill, plaice and turbot. At home, I love baking fish in the oven. It’s so quick and involves very little hassle.”

When readers purchase seafood, is there any way to ensure we are supporting sustainable Irish fishers?

“If you’re lucky enough to have a fishmonger close by, build a relationship with them; and ask questions. Likewise if there is a fish counter in your local supermarket or farmer’s market. The smaller the supply chain, the better. Ask for wild Irish fish. Choose mussels and oysters, which are foods you can really feel good about eating.”

Do you have tips for buying seafood?

“Fresh fish should smell of the sea. Refrigeration is essential to the shelf life of fresh fish, so make it the last stop on your shopping trip. Fish covered in slime or mucus is a very good sign of freshness. Also, the gills located just behind the head of the fish should be bright red and shiny.”

Do you have big plans for the future?

“I’m looking forward to squeezing in a little more writing while enjoying my day job of running Goldie; making sure it’s becoming a better place to eat and work every day.”

• Blasta Books 10: Whole Catch by Aishling Moore is published by Blasta Books, €15

Chef and author Aishling Moore signing her first book ‘Whole Catch’ .

Mussels with creamed watercress and cider

Ingredients: serves 4

1kg mussels

200ml cider

For the creamed watercress:

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, sliced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

100ml white wine

300ml cream

80g watercress

15g fresh parsley

Sea salt and a pinch of ground white pepper

To serve: crusty bread

Mussels with Creamed Watercress and Cider / Nicky Hooper

1 Fill a large bowl with water, then add the mussels (discard any that have cracked shells or don’t close when gently tapped on the counter). Using a small paring knife, remove the beard and any barnacles from the shells. Rinse the cleaned mussels in a colander and refrigerate until just before cooking.

2 To make the creamed watercress, heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes to develop their sweeter notes.

3 Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the white wine and cook off the alcohol until it has reduced by two-thirds. This is a crucial step – the taste of uncooked alcohol will ruin this dish. Add the cream and bring to the boil to reduce by half – this will take about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the watercress and parsley.

4 Using a hand blender, blitz on a high speed until everything has amalgamated together and is a vivid green. Taste and season with a little salt and white pepper. It’s important to remember that mussels are naturally high in salt, so go easy on the salt here. You can make the creamed watercress a day ahead and add it straight from the fridge to the cooked mussels. It also freezes well for up to six weeks.

5 To cook the mussels, heat a heavy-based pot on a medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Drain the mussels and add them to the pot. Immediately pour in the cider and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Give the pot a little shake and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.

6 Remove the lid – all the mussels should be cooked and open at this stage. Discard any that haven’t opened. Add the creamed watercress and bring the sauce back to the boil. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning.

7 Divide the mussels and the sauce among four wide, shallow bowls. Crusty bread for dipping is non-negotiable.

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