As an island nation, Ireland has bountiful fish stocks off its coast and we have some of the best and most readily available seafood in the world. However, the people of Iceland, a country in a similar position to us, apparently eat about 4 times the amount of fish as the Irish.
Per capita, the average person in Ireland eats about 20kg of fish per year. While this is a much higher figure than in previous decades, it is still lower than many other island nations. Some of the main fish consumed in Ireland include; Hake, Salmon, Oysters, Mussels and Prawns, among many others.
The number of seafood restaurants in Ireland has been increasing in recent years and fish is becoming more readily available. But you would think that people in Ireland would have been eating more fish for a lot longer. So what fish do the Irish eat and why didn’t they eat as much?
Seafood in Ireland
There is a long tradition of seafood in Ireland dating back to before recorded history. One of the oldest archeological discoveries on the island was that of a fishing net, dating back to approximately 5,000 B.C. There are even myths and legends about fish, with the “Salmon of Knowledge” being the most famous.
Historically, fish have always played at least a small part of the Irish diet. However, Ireland also has a history of having its waters fished by people from other countries. This meant that the Irish rarely had access to the best of their own fish stocks.
From at least the 1700’s fishing fleets from countries like France and Spain would venture into Irish waters and fish without contributing any taxes or revenue to Ireland. This was compounded by the fact that British rule in Ireland meant the country was rarely ever administered for the benefit of the Irish.
For the most part, when the Irish had access to seafood, it was the stock not wanted by anyone else. This lower quality food was generally eaten by the Irish poor. Also, with the majority of people in Ireland in the past being observant Catholics, very few people ate meat on a Friday.
These factors helped contribute to the Irish people eating less fish. For generations, seafood in Ireland was associated with poverty and religious fasting. There were however plenty of traditional meals based around seafood, many of which have had a resurgence in recent years.
Fish Traditionally Eaten in Ireland
There have been plenty of different seafood dishes consumed in Ireland historically. Some of these dishes cannot be found anymore, in the case of Shark Fin Soup this is probably a good thing, but other traditional meals are still common. Here we will go over some of the more popular fish to eat in Ireland.
If you are in Ireland and want to have a look at what sustainable fresh fish is currently on offer, you can check out EatMoreFish.ie.
Salmon is one of the most popular fish eaten in Ireland. While it can still be possible to find wild salmon in some Irish rivers. The vast majority of salmon eaten in Ireland will be farmed, usually organically. Salmon has been over fished in recent decades, but this helps to replenish stocks.
Salmon will be served in almost any restaurant in Ireland. Often, you will find a portion served as a main course, but you will also find salmon mixed in with other fish in dishes like chowder.
Smoked salmon is probably the most popular traditional way to eat this fish in Ireland. Commonly, you will find this dish served as a starter or for lunch. Smoked salmon is a delicacy in Ireland and is often saved for a special occasion or given as a gift when visiting someone’s home.
When ordering fish and chips, this is the fish that you will likely be getting. Some people in my parent’s generation even replace the word “fish” for “cod” when ordering. In fact to many people in Ireland, when thinking of fish, Cod is what will come to mind.
Though it has been overfished in recent years, the fish stocks seem to have recovered sufficiently. You will now commonly find cod served in traditional Irish fish and chip shops (or “chippers”). It will usually be served deep-fried in batter.
Hake is a white fish that is commonly found in Ireland. It is an easy fish to prepare and you can easily bake or pan-fry it with some herbs and butter or honey. You can find this fish in most fishmongers in Ireland.
Hake has also become more popular in Irish restaurants in recent years. Oftentimes, you will find hake on a menu instead of a more traditionally popular fish like cod. But this would usually be as a main course and not for fast dining.
Oysters are one of the most intimidating seafoods for people who have not tried them. They do not look particularly appealing. However, oysters are a sustainable seafood that is found in abundance around Irish shores.
When in restaurants, they will often be served as a starter or side dish. Often lemon juice will be added to give extra flavor, but you can also use hot sauce or anything else that might be available.
Another shellfish that is plentiful in Irish waters. For years after an oil spill off the Atlantic coast of France, almost all of the shellfish sold in French, Spanish and Belgian restaurants and supermarkets came from Irish waters.
Mussels are easily harvested and there are plenty of mussel farms in Ireland, mainly on the west coast. You will find them sold in almost any sort of establishment. They can be a part of a meal with other fish, like a chowder, or steamed on their own with a garlic sauce, for example.
More commonly known as scampi on Irish menus, prawns are found in waters all around Ireland, but most famously in Dublin Bay. They might be served breaded or sautéed.
Where to Eat in Ireland
If you want to find my recommendations of places to eat in different parts of Ireland, you can find my favorite establishments, by location, in the links below: