The Burren Smokehouse: Smoked Salmon & Seaweed

This silky smoked salmon with lots of buttery white striations seasoned with a little Irish seaweed made a delcious lunch--its also offers an intriguing glimpse into Ireland's ancient food traditions.

I bought the smoked fish at the The Burren Smokehouse, which is a highly recommended stopover on the Wild Atlantic Way. The sales room is designed for tourism: there are lots of food products, books and educational materials on hand.

While I was there,

I also bought a bag of locally harvested dillisk and watched a 7-minute video about the organic salmon farm and modern smokehouse where the excellent products sold here are produced. There are tastings of the various styles of hot and cold smoked salmon if you can't make up your mind.

Salmon is an ancient food in Ireland. The fish weren't caught on hooks in neolithic times, they were gathered in fish weirs. A weir is an obstruction placed in a river or bay that forces the fish into a trap. In Ireland, fish weirs have been found that date back 8,000 years. Salmon are particularly susceptible to being caught in weirs as they migrate upstream.

Seaweed is another ancient Irish food tradition. Sea lettuce, sugar kelp, and dillisk (dulce) are a few of the species being harvested today. In fact, I ate all three for lunch the other day at Tartare in Galway. There was a gigas oyster with sea lettuce and trout caviar, potato leek soup with dillisk, and a sugar kelp chocolate brownie. What an amazing lunch!

Before potato farming was introduced, seaweed was a staple of coastal Irish communities. Seaweed foraging goes back to the dawn of time, but seaweed cultivation was also practiced in the Burren and elsewhere.

Every morning as I drive my kids to the Doorus school in Kinvara, I look down over Aughinish Bay as I come down the mountain to hit the N67. Archaeologist Michael Gibbons has pointed out Ireland's best preserved example of prehistoric seaweed farming here. The long rows of rocks with cart tracks in between discernible at low tide mark the place where seaweed was cultivated some 7,000 years ago.

The Ancient Irish may have been as advanced as the Asians at seaweed farming in that distant era. Something to think about.

Find out more about interesting food destinations in this region on The Burren Food Trail. The website also includes listings of food events.