The scales are falling from our eyes
We used to be afraid of cooking fish, but that's changing, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, as she talks with two scions of fishmonger families
Have we finally got to grips with cooking fish ourselves at home? I actually think we almost have, for certainly there are more cool fishmonger's shops and fishy eateries popping up around the country. It's quite extraordinary really, for an island nation, that down the generations we have been so reluctant to do something as simple as toss a couple of fillets of cod or hake on a pan in butter or olive oil to produce one of the simplest, healthiest and most delicious of dinners.
It's not that we don't like fish, for we have no problem churning out the old breaded poisson, be it a fish finger or triangular shape, of something unknown from the far away deep, and feeling we are feeding our kids quite virtuously. When it comes to the naked fish, I have heard every excuse from 'it smells out the house' to 'scales' and 'bones', but actually I think some people are just afraid in case they make a mess of it.
Some older people still have fish on a Friday - and maybe a Wednesday - for religious reasons. However, the idea of fish being associated as almost a penance really wasn't good. I had a brother-in-law who used hide his knife and fork on a Friday in case they even touched fish!
On the other hand, most people love seafood when it's dished up to them in restaurants, and I always say a seafood restaurant is pretty well guaranteed to be successful. Likewise, who doesn't love fish and chips from the chipper? People even boast of knowing the 'best chipper' - and 'posh' fish 'n' chips is pretty well on every menu in the country.
The fish business seems to be very much a family thing going down through the generations. The Wright family has been getting it right, if you will forgive the pun, for almost 100 years. They both retail and wholesale fish, supplying many restaurants and shops in the Dublin area.
Already being in the fish business in Malahide since 1898, second-generation Patrick Wright and his wife Elizabeth opened Wrights of Marino in 1934 and, above the shop, they also raised their four sons, Michael, Paddy, twins John and Tom and one daughter, Ita.
When their parents died, John Wright remained in the Marino fish business, whilst his brother Michael, who passed away in 2011, opened his own separate, very well known business, Wrights of Howth, which is now run by his son Mark. Paddy, a well-known businessman, also passed away in 2007 and Tom is a popular former restaurateur.
Nowadays, Wrights of Marino has its wholesale dispatch and administrations section (Wrights of Marino Manufacturing) at its plant in Howth and it has just spent four months redeveloping the retail shop in Marino, as its cool new flagship store. John's sons, Jonathan, James and Jeffrey, the fourth generation in the business, are at the helm here. "It was the longest time the shop has been closed since 1934, which back then was for three days," says, Jonathan.
"We source fish from a number of ports in Ireland. We have buyers in Kilkeel Harbour, Co. Down, Clogherhead, Co. Louth, Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford, Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, Dingle, Co. Kerry and Ballycotton in East Cork. We also import exotic fish from many parts of the world."
All of the fish is delivered daily to the processing facility in Howth before it is delivered to shop and wholesale customers each day. In 1973, the company employed only four people and now Wrights of Marino has a workforce of almost 50 employees, and growing.
"We have 10 delivery vans processing about 300 deliveries daily throughout the city. We have also created five new jobs in Marino. The response from the local people to the new store has been incredible. We have quadrupled the retail space by removing all the wholesale storage, restoring it to its original 1934 size. We have doubled the size of the fresh fish counters, installed a lobster and crab tank, added a fresh deli counter, barista 'ready-to-go' coffee and a smoothie section.
"We have also put in a fresh production kitchen where our chef Jennifer Tyrrell prepares our freshly baked breads, homemade cakes, our signature fresh seafood chowder and ready-meals to go. The dishes that have been proving popular so far include smoked salmon quiche, fish pie, green Thai prawn curry, chicken and broccoli bake and lasagne. In the coming weeks we also plan to add a hot 'joint of the day' on our hot plate to add to our gourmet sandwich selection. We are very lucky to have such loyal customers in Marino and the surrounding areas who have persevered with us during the long build. Nana Wright would be very proud of what we have done, she was so proud of her shop and it's amazing how fond the people of Marino were of her."
The Rogersons are another of the great Dublin fish families. They have been based in Dun Laoghaire and Monkstown Farm for many years. The third generation, in the shape of Graham Rogerson, has just opened a really cool new fish shop in Monkstown Village, Co. Dublin.
Along with great fish, Graham has captured, in his new shop, a really chic nautical feel with a French blue ceiling and lobster crates and various marine artefacts displayed at a raised level. I know we are there to buy the fish but it is really nice to be in pleasant surrounds as well rather than, as in many fish shops, just slabs of wet fish and glossy eyes.
Graham told me that his grandfather, James Rogerson, originally from Fleetwood in Lancashire, was the founder of the business. "He and his three brothers had their own fishing boats and used to fish the Irish Sea. When it was rough, they would come into Dun Laoghaire for shelter and stay a couple of days, a lot of fishing boats did that sort of thing. At the same time, my granny, Ellen Shorthall, used to sell fish on the pier and they got to know one another and the rest is history. He moved over here, his brothers stayed in Fleetwood.
"When he moved over here he worked on a minesweeper vessel during World War II. He couldn't seem to get a job here as a fisherman, he felt at the time that this was because he was English and there was a bit of resentment. He then bought his own boat and used to go 'hobbling'."
'Hobbling', Graham explained, was where if a boat came into Dublin Bay and the crew didn't know their way around the rocks, 'hobblers' would race out from Dun Laoghaire and Ringsend and the first person out who succeeded in getting their rope on board the boat would get the job to guide them in.
Graham's dad, George, and his brother, Graham's uncle Tommy, used to sell fish from the time they were about 11 years old on the Coal Quay in Dun Laoghaire in the 1970s. They also got sent over to Fleetwood to the family there during the summer to work on the boats. "However, when Dad was on the pier one day a fellow from Irish Lights came down and asked him if he would like a job with them, so he was actually then working on the Kish Lighthouse. He then met my mother, Lee, and they decided to open a fish shop in Monkstown Farm, which they did in 1979." They went straight into the wholesale fish business and it grew to become one of Dublin's top fish wholesale suppliers called Ocean Marine providing fresh and frozen seafood to restaurants, hotels and bars.
The sea was definitely in the Rogerson family. Graham's eldest brother David became the youngest skipper in Ireland at just 16 years of age, in Greencastle. He is now selling yachts in Greece. His other brother, Darren, is a great swimmer and was in the RNLI; he runs the wholesale fish business Ocean Marine. Graham laughed as he told me, "I was originally working in IT with the Bank of Ireland but, in 2009, my sister, Lisa, and I re-opened the new Georges Fish Shop in Monkstown Farm." It seems the draw of the sea is still there.
They have a wonderful array of fish and deli products including Toonsbridge mozzarella cheese, Silver Darlings, Kerry walnut salami, chorizo, Boquerones and their own signature 'Georges' chowder and fish pies plus delicious fish cakes. To what does he attribute the increase in the popularity of fish? "People are much more health conscious nowadays and eating more fish. In the old days people weren't getting fish as fresh as it is now. Boats weren't as modern back then, the fish wasn't kept as well, there wasn't as much ice, it probably ran out at sea. In the 1940s a lot of boats went out with no ice at all and they would come back that day or a couple of days later. Even the shops wouldn't have had refrigeration as good as it is today. We have our factory in Monkstown Farm and we do all our processing there." Monkstown is also now a real foodie village as there are so many restaurants. Graham says hake is a very big seller, with organic salmon being also very popular.
"At weekends, people will go for things like John Dory and shellfish. An Italian friend of mine is sourcing top-notch charcuterie in Italy and soon this will also be available in the shop."
When I was there, amongst many other sparkling poissons on display, tempting the customers, were fresh turbot, hake, John Dory, brill, scallops, baby squid, wild Irish salmon, tuna, swordfish, seabass, haddock, mackerel, fresh gambas, plaice and great big shelled Dublin Bay prawns.