Captain's Dinner in Howth
Howth-based fisherman Steven Farren gives us a look into a typical day fishing for shellfish along Ireland’s east coast, and his favourite recipe for his fresh catch – Irish surf n’ turf. Steven is just one of the fishermen profiled in Paul Pflüger's Captain's Dinner, a beautiful book that captures life at sea and is published by teNeues.
The day begins with blood-red clouds on the eastern horizon as Steven Farren steers his small boat out onto the unusually calm sea. It is a blaze of colour that enthrals the untrained eye, but which makes the man at the wheel grumpy. “A red sky in the morning means bad weather,” explains Steven. The words are barely out of his mouth when his phone rings. His father, a retired fisherman himself, sees the red sky from his garden in Howth and urges caution. After a look at the weather map — the forecasts are still good— the boat once again picks up speed. Two days ago, Steven had set crab pots on the sandy bottom 1.5 nautical miles north of Howth. It’s Christmas time: peak season for crustaceans. Crab, shrimp, and lobster bring premium prices on the European mainland.
On this icy December morning, he is hoping for velvet crabs. Apart from the holiday business, commercial fishing of this type of crab is hardly worthwhile because the prices are too low. Right before Christmas, however, the sea creatures are extremely lucrative, and a box is worth around 100 euros. The pots are well filled, and it doesn’t take long until the first box on board is full. As the seagulls cry overhead, Steven hauls one pot after another onto the deck and rebaits the pots. By midday all the pots have been emptied, and Steven can head home to warm up a bit. In the distance, the tops of the Dublin mountains disappear beneath the first snow of the year.
Against all expectations, the weather continues to be good even after lunch. The sun makes an appearance, the sea is still calm, and Steven decides to head out again. A few lobster pots are waiting right outside the harbour, and the lobster prices will rise again in the next few days. Steven would like to be well-prepared: He not only catches the creatures, he also sells them together with some of his fishing colleagues from the jetty in Howth. At home, he stores the live lobsters in tanks until the prices reach a peak. Once that happens, Steven empties the tanks, loads the precious crustaceans into his van, and drives to the wholesaler in Dublin.
When the Celtic Spirit makes its second run of the day, Steven’s father is also on board. Steven learned how to fish from him. Although the senior citizen has been retired for several years, he still keeps busy. If the weather is not too rough and the fishing area is not too far away, he regularly rides along and helps out his son. Sometimes the two get competition from the sea: One of the seals from the harbour has followed them and will not leave their side. He begs loudly for a treat. Although the begging works well with tourists, the two experienced fishermen initially ignore the seal. Seals are not very popular with fishermen: The intelligent animals devour the fish, occasionally destroy nets, and are even able to open and empty lobster pots.
Nevertheless, at some point Steven relents, and after he demonstrates the seal lock on one of the pots, he tosses a treat to the big-eyed beggar. The father and son fill the lobster boxes on board with practiced motions. It promises to be a good day for all, even for their insatiable companion: By the time the last lobster pot has been emptied and they head back to shore, the seal has polished off nearly an entire school of bait fish.
Irish Surf n’ Turf
Steven’s favourite dish combines two Irish delicacies on a single plate: the best beef from lush green meadows and fresh crustaceans from the depths of the Irish Sea.
1 clove of garlic
1 handful of mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano)
16 brown crab claws
400g rump steak
1 Finely mince the garlic and herbs, mix with the butter, and salt to taste (you can make this the day before or you can prepare and freeze a larger amount). 2 Heat water in a pot to 70°C, then poach the crab claws for 6 to 7 minutes. 3 Fry the steaks in a pan until the desired degree of doneness is reached. 4 Depending on the thickness, for a medium steak sear over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes per side and then let rest in an oven preheated to 80°C for another 8 to 10 minutes. 5 Afterwards, slice the steak and arrange on a plate with the crab claws, then drizzle the melted herb butter over everything.