Life Food & Drink

Sunday 21 January 2018

Donal Skehan: A taste of the Med

Enjoy the flavours of summer in the sunshine withDonal Skehan’s delicious al fresco menu


Donal Skeehan

The Irish summer is well on the way, and despite the rain-cloud dodging most of us are forced to do, we still tend to get a nice stretch of sun that shows our fine country in its most beautiful light.

Which leads me quite nicely to the subject of al fresco eating. While the opportunities might be limited, when the sun eventually decides to shine an Irish summer can be magical.

I love outdoor eating, and some of my favourite experiences come from holidays in Italy and the south of France, where they really do it right. It's about light, zingy and refreshing salads using fresh, in-season produce that still has enough bite to fill you up, combined with flame-grilled meat. These are some of my favourite summer recipes. Mackerel is my ultimate fish for the season because I grew up catching them with my grandad. I love to fry it or cook it on the barbecue with lots of Mediterranean flavours, such as lemon and oregano. I serve it with an Italian bread salad called panzanella, which is refreshing and a great way to show off the best of summer tomatoes.

If the cracking of bones and slicing of flesh isn't your cup of tea, then spatchcocking a chicken might not be your favourite thing to do in the kitchen. In that case, your butcher will happily do it for you. It's a great way to cook chicken and makes for easy carving and portioning. I love serving it with my deconstructed guacamole salad, which has all the best bits of a guacamole but in a nice chunky form.

There's lots of al fresco eating inspiration here, so pull up a chair and tuck in!


I'm a big guacamole fan, so I thought it would be great to try making it into more of a salad and something you could serve alongside meat, rather than the usual mush served with tortilla chips. It works very well, and feel free to add extra ingredients such as sugar-snap peas, cannellini beans and jalapeno peppers to really pump it up even futher.

Serves four.


2 ripe avocados, cut into

thick slices

1 red onion, sliced in half moons

Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

A generous handful of coriander

Sea salt and pepper, to season

For the dressing

Juice and zest of 1 lime

1 tsp Tabasco sauce

3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil


Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside. Assemble the ingredients for the salad on a serving platter, starting with the slices of avocado, then top them with the red onion slices followed by the cherry tomatoes.

Pick off little leaves of the coriander and sprinkle them all over the top of the salad. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and then season with sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

Serve straight away.


Mackerel reminds me of a summer barbecue in Ireland's Eye with my grandad and cousins. It goes beautifully with the Italian panzanella salad. Serves four.


For the salad

½ loaf ciabatta bread, torn into rough


Sea salt and ground black pepper

1 tbsp red-wine vinegar

3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for


4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ red onion, finely sliced

1 punnet cherry tomatoes

150g sunblush tomatoes

For the crispy mackerel

4 mackerel fillets

Juice of 1 lemon

Pinch of dried oregano

A good handful of basil, roughly chopped


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Toss the ciabatta chunks in a roasting tray with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Then, place in the oven for about eight minutes, until toasted and golden. Give them a good toss half way through. Remove from the oven and feed with an extra drizzle of olive oil.

In a large bowl, whisk together the red-wine vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Then, add in the onion, cherry tomatoes, sunblush tomatoes, toasted bread and toss until completely coated. Leave to soak up the dressing while you get on with the fish.

Place the mackerel on a plate and drizzle with a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and a little of the dried oregano. Heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the mackerel flesh-side down for two to three minutes. Turn over, squeeze over some more lemon juice and cook for a further two to three minutes. Serve straight away alongside the panzanella salad.


This is my mega way of serving chicken in the summer. It looks absolutely fantastic served and carved at the table. You can experiment with different flavours for the marinade — I love different combinations such as garlic and mixed herbs or even a spicy cajun mix. Serves four.


1 small chicken (about 1.1 - 1.4kg)

For the marinade

3 garlic cloves

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp dried oregano

3 tbsps olive oil


Whizz the ingredients for the marinade with a hand blender with a food processor attachment. To prepare the chicken, place the bird breast-side down and, using a knife or a sharp scissors, cut along either side of the back bone to remove it. Open the bird out and flip it over breast-side up and, using your fist, push down hard on the breast to break the bone. Thread a skewer diagonally through the bird from the leg to the breast and repeat on the other side.

Using a sharp knife, score the bird on the legs and breast. Place the chicken in a large roasting tin and pour over the marinade. Cover with clingfilm and allow to sit in the fridge as long as you possibly can.

Cook in the oven at 200°C for about 45-55 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Alternatively, cook on the barbecue for 25-30 minutes breast-side up and then for a further 15-20 on the other side. Serve alongside a selection of fresh salads.

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