Rainbow trout is the Irish fish you need to try

    Goatsbridge Trout Farm Mag and Get Kirwan Eat Ireland Jocelyn Doyle Easy Food
    Mag and Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm
    In this installment of her Eat Ireland column, Deputy Editor Jocelyn Doyle encourages everyone to swim outside the school.


    I’ve written before about the strange relationship between Irish people and seafood, and how — for an island nation — we can be oddly unenthused. While recent efforts on behalf of government bodies and nutritional experts have encouraged more people to eat fish, and oily varieties in particular, there’s still little in the way of diversity when it comes to the types of fish we eat — cod, haddock, tuna and salmon remain the standard.

    If you’re looking to swim a little outside of the school, one fish to look out for is rainbow trout. Similar to salmon in texture and appearance, yet without many of the salmon industry’s issues with over-fishing and intensive farming, sustainably farmed trout is an excellent option often overlooked by Irish consumers. While rainbow trout is indigenous to North America and was only introduced to Ireland in 1899, other species of trout are native to our island, and so the rainbow trout thrives here with ease.

    Probably the best-known trout farm in Ireland is Goatsbridge in Co. Kilkenny, owned by Mag and Ger Kirwan, who are on a mission to grow their trout as naturally as possible. The history of fishing in this locality stretches back to the 12th century, when monks from the local Jerpoint Abbey depended on the fruits of the Little Arrigle River to form an important point of their diet. The current generation of Kirwans has been running Goatsbridge Trout Farm for 20 years — having taken over from Ger’s parents — and they employ over 25 people.

    Goatsbridge Trout Farm Mag and Get Kirwan Eat Ireland Jocelyn Doyle Easy Food
    Mag and Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm

    Goatsbridge was one of the first fish companies to sign up to Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme and, five years later, continues to prioritise sustainability and purity. “We don’t use water,” Mag tells me, “we harness it.” While the farm hasn’t looked to obtain organic certification, it does operate within that ethos, keeping use of medication to an absolute minimum and making sure the trouts’ environment is kept as natural as possible. The earthen ponds they use are certainly more complicated to work with than those with concrete walls, in several ways, “but we chose them because they’re simply more natural for the fish.” 

    One benefit of farming fish is the lack of seasonal constraints, and the Kirwans can breed trout and make their products all year round. It takes between 16 and 18 months to raise a trout to the size required, although this is contingent on a few factors, including the weather. The farm has a hatchery in which the eggs are bred, and a nursery where the fish are then raised. Once fully grown, the trout are then processed in Goatsbridge’s own factory, while a secondary processing facility creates products like the smoked trout pâté.

    This start-to-finish system means that Ger and Mag have complete control from farm to fish fork. “We don’t take shortcuts,” says Mag. “Once you do, you sacrifice quality and you have potential issues with disease. We focus on quality from start to finish.” From her perspective, the superiority of the Goatsbridge end product comes down to two factors: water purity and fish food. While they’d love to be able to source their food from within Ireland, that’s not currently possible, and so their certified food comes from Denmark.
    “Our business starts and ends with our products. I believe that they’re of amazing quality, some of the best fish products out there. Our customers can always trust that we’re making them to the highest quality and, because of that, the products speak for themselves.”

    I ask Mag about her favourite way to enjoy her trout. “It’s incredibly easy, but I can convert anyone with it — especially kids! You simply take fresh trout fillets and spread them with mayonnaise, then add a layer of ground almonds on top. Bake them until golden brown, then serve with a green salad and some nice brown bread. I find it perfect when you’re having people over, especially in that awkward time in between dinner and tea.”

    Goatsbridge Trout caviar Eat Ireland Jocelyn Doyle Easy Food

    While the Goatsbridge trout pâté is the most popular on the everyday market, the product that really grew the brand is their trout caviar, “because it’s so unique.” Looking for inspiration on secondary products back in 2010, the Kirwans got the idea to create Ireland’s first trout caviar on a visit to a trout farm in North Carolina, and subsequently did the research needed to develop their own. The result of their labour is a one-of-a-kind Irish product that is popular with chefs around the country. 

    Caviar is essentially salt-cured fish eggs, or roe. While the word is traditionally used to refer to sturgeon roe, this is prohibitively expensive for most of us mere mortals. However, there is no reason (other than snobbery) that eggs from other fish can’t be used in a similar fashion. If you’re still with me in the quest to broaden your fishy horizons, why not go full Russian royalty and give roe a go?

    In contrast to sturgeon caviar — deep black in colour — the Goatsbridge offering is an attractive deep orange that almost glows with hints of gold. It’s definitely clichéd to describe caviar as “jewelled,” but it is the word that comes to mind when I look at these gorgeous, shining spheres. Sampled alone on a spoon, it has a satisfying ‘pop’ when pressed against the roof of my mouth and a fresh, briny flavour that’s immediately evocative of a walk by the sea. Matched with other foods, however, it really comes into its own, adding a creamy texture and salty notes as well as its visual beauty.

    In perfect partnership with its terroir, Goatsbridge trout caviar pairs well with traditional Irish foods. To pay tribute to its roots in Russian cuisine while celebrating the provenance of this fabulous product, think potato farls in place of blinis; crème fraîche where sour cream would usually sit; and — for those so inclined — a chilled shot of poitín alongside. Here, we’ve paired the caviar with Goatsbridge Barbecued Rainbow Trout in these pretty tartlets designed to show off this quality Irish product in two ways. These tarts are incredibly quick and easy to whip up, but are impressive enough for any posh lunch or dinner party — and they can be made ahead of time, too.

    Trout caviar tartlets Easy Food Eat Ireland Jocelyn Doyle

    Not a pair to rest on their laurels, Mag and Ger are currently working with Bórd na Móna to investigate the possibility of utilising bogland for sustainable fish farms. They’ve also been stocking their trout in Sainsbury’s for the past year, and are trying to grow their export market further. “Our ultimate goal,” says Mag, “is to become the most trusted trout brand in the world.” No small fish to fry.

    If you’re interested in cooking with rainbow trout, it can easily be substituted into any salmon recipe. For more inspiration, Mag also has a cookbook, Fishwives, available through the Goatsbridge website, all of the profits of which go directly to a charity called Hospice Africa Uganda. “I’d really just like to encourage people to give trout a try, with an open mind,” says Mag. “It’s an amazing fish, and very sustainable. Don’t be afraid to experiment with it.”