Flavour Revelations

Stave off the squall with seafood and whisky
By Seáneen Sullivan
Niall Sabongi, owner of Sustainable Seafood Ireland and crab shack style restaurant, Klaw, in Dublin’s Temple Bar.
Niall Sabongi, owner of Sustainable Seafood Ireland and crab shack style restaurant, Klaw, in Dublin’s Temple Bar.
Flavour revelations come thick and fast on Islay. Gazing across Loch Indaal, you can taste the salt on the air. The sea breeze is whipping around my ears as a brace of oysters is delivered with a flourish, shucked from their shell and garnished with a drizzle of Lagavulin 16 Years Old. The tang of the sea echoes around my mouth, trying to isolate which of the rich oily flavours was the whisky and which the oyster. The flavours roll on, iodine pursuing brine, smoke coursing after salt - the finish everlasting.

Eating seafood is visceral: a steaming pot of mussels slurped down, the juices mopped up by floury bread, squid scored and seared over fire served piping hot, or crab pried from the shell, each morsel a prize. These occasions beg for sandy dunes for shelter, a warm fire to cook over and the perfect whisky partner stowed in a hip flask. A drop of whisky in the preparation adds to the experience (and staves off the squall).


Gabriel Faherty

Gabriel Faherty is a farmer, cheesemaker and fisherman from Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands perched off the coast off Connemara in Galway. He has fished the wild Atlantic waters off the Irish coast for more than 20 years.

What is the most challenging thing about fishing as a profession?
The work is hard. It is very physical especially in adverse weather conditions. As a married man, time away from my wife and children
is tough, missing those one off memories: children’s first steps and first day at school.

You also make your own goats cheese, are there any combinations with seafood that particularly work?
Our dillisk (a native seaweed) soft goats cheese is particularly good when combined with smoked salmon on soda bread.

Do you have any favourite seafood and drink pairings, particularly whiskey?
I am not really a Guinness fan (the traditional pairing with oysters on the west coast of Ireland). I am partial to a good single malt with my oysters, especially Tullamore DEW 10 Years Old.

Niall Sabongi

Niall Sabongi comes from salt water people. He is the owner of Sustainable Seafood Ireland, and Klaw, a crab shack style restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar. He is on a personal mission to promote Irish seafood.

What is the most challenging thing about working with fish as a profession?
Without being too political, the quota situation in Ireland. Other nations can fish our waters while Irish boats are prevented. Other than that, the early mornings and the cold. You spend most of your day in big fridges, which are wet and cold. Definitely puts the goo (want) on you for a whiskey!

Do you have any favourite seafood and drink pairings, particularly whiskey?
There is a myth that you shouldn’t drink whiskey with oysters as they will turn to stone, but I had a customer bring me in some Connemara peated whiskey. We drizzled it over some freshly shucked oysters and the result was mind blowing. The oysters we had were from Dooncastle in Connemara and they were sweet and juicy with a hint of peat themselves, so this really lent itself to the pairing.

You are known for your oyster shucking prowess, any tips?
Use a towel to cover the hand you are holding the oyster steady with or you will cut your hand open. Other than that, a good knife is essential. Every knife will break, but once it does, take it to a locksmith and have it ground back and you will have a knife for life.

Mussels with three cornered leek & whiskey butter

Three cornered leek grows prolifically in the wild in Ireland and the UK. The flavour is similar to chive and can be used similarly although the stems are more pungent.


  • For a starter, between 200-350g mussels per person

  • For a main course, use 500-750g mussels per person

Per kilo of mussels

  • 70g unsalted butter

  • 1/2 lemon, juice only

  • 1 teaspoon of finely chopped stems of three corner leek or chives

  • 35ml whiskey, I use Connemara Single Malt, but try Springbank, Tomatin or Talisker

1. Firstly clean the mussels in cold water using a brush and scrape off any barnacles with the back of a butter knife. If they still have a straggly wispy beard, de-beard by giving it a firm tug. Discard any mussels with cracked shells, or which do not close when tapped on the counter top.
2. Place a large heavy bottomed pot onto a high heat and melt the butter. As soon as it is melted, dump in the mussels and cover. Reduce heat to medium high, shaking occasionally, until the mussels are all open – three to five minutes.
3. Add whiskey and lemon juice and warm through for 30 seconds. Give the mussels another shake.
4. Remove the mussels from the pot with a slotted spoon and pour the buttery sauce over the top, garnishing with the chopped three corner leek and a glass of the Connemara Single Malt.

Asparagus, clams & whiskey almondine

This recipe embodies the early days of Spring and the lengthening of the days, perfect for lighter drams with a bit of zest to them. Asparagus starts to deteriorate in flavour as soon as it is harvested, so use as local and fresh as possible. I use Old Pulteney 12 Years Old in this recipe, chosen for its citrusy flavours and salty smoke.

Serves four as a starter


  • 1 large bunch of asparagus

  • 200g clams

  • 120g butter

  • 50g nibbed or flaked almonds

  • 60ml Old Pulteney 12 Years Old

1. Prep the asparagus by trimming away the woody stem (save this to boil down and flavour pea soup) and rinse the clams in cold water, discarding any which don’t close when tapped.
2. Place a saucepan over medium to high heat and add asparagus and a large splash of water. Set timer and cook for two minutes, shaking occasionally. In the meantime melt butter in a heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat and then add almonds and whiskey stirring continuously for one minute. Add clams and cook until they open.
3. Serve immediately, arranging asparagus on the plate and drizzling with the sauce and a scattering of the clams. Serve with sourdough croutes on the side, and more of the Old Pulteney in your glass.