JP McMahon: A dish that reconnects you with your Irish ancestors

How to poach salmon and make watercress purée

Reading an old interview with Myrtle Allen recently, I was amazed to learn that she went out and picked watercress between lunch and dinner service in Ballymaloe House. After a swim in Ballycotton at about 4pm, she would "drive the car up the hill to pick some watercress by a clear stream where there are no sheep".

You may wonder why she adds the latter details to her late afternoon harvest, but they are important. A clear stream and the absence of sheep will signify that the watercress is safe to eat. While most of us no longer pick watercress in the wild, liver fluke was once a problem for those who did.

As I wrote recently in The Irish Cookbook, watercress is an important aspect of Irish food culture through the ages. Whether raw or cooked, in a broth or served with salmon, it has been used as a food source for as long as there have been people in Ireland.

Seemingly, eighth century monks would dine on salmon, watercress and barley bread. Barley bread would probably take the teeth out of your head, as food historian Regina Sexton once observed to me. But salmon and watercress is still a match made in medieval Ireland and remains so to this day.

Poaching salmon in simmering cider and serving it with some watercress purée would be a good way to reconnect with your Irish ancestors during these difficult days.

How to poach salmon and make watercress purée

Blanch 500g of watercress in salted boiling water for two minutes and then transfer to a blender. Blend until smooth, adding a little of the blanching water if necessary. I also like to add 50g of butter to help it emulsify, but this is not absolutely necessary.

Simmer 500ml of cider with a chopped shallot or a small onion and a bay leaf. Lower the salmon fillet, lightly salted, into the cider and poach for five minutes.