How To: Long Swim Recovery Meal

Swimmers love to eat, quite a lot, and to talk about how they eat almost as much. Yet there is little discussion of food on this site.

The last time I wrote a recipe here was some years ago with the Swimmer’s Smoothie, which I still heartily recommend for those many people who struggle with early morning nausea or dislike of or difficulty in eating.

 The earliest food memory I have comes from an evening during my third year of age. We later moved three integers up the terraced street putting two more doors between my mother and my paternal grandmother, just before I turned four years old. So it’s easy to be sure of the year, and it’s unlikely that I, who has a pretty poor memory for most things, can remember having such a meal at two years old.
I once heard a journalist ask populist (but not demagogue) local Irish politician Jackie Healy-Rae ask, “who are the plain people of Ireland” when using his favourite phrase of his rural constituents. Quick as flash Healy-Rae replied, “the people who eat their dinner in the middle of the day“. As did my father. He had dinner at home at one P.M., (just in time for the daily five-minute radio aired just after the news bulletin back then), and supper at seven PM, both cooked by my mother every day. So it’s easy to be sure of the time too. I could probably even say it was not summer, as I do not recall this meal ever having been cooked during that season in later years.

Proust wrote the most famous novel and anecdote about smells and their close association with involuntary memory in À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu when the smell and taste of a Madeleine cake and a cup of tea in a cafe prompts a sudden recall of a time from his childhood. Unlike Proust, I am reasonably sure that, despite my tendencies, this will be a single blog article, rather than seven books in length. Nonetheless you are reading this waffle instead of an ingredients list! Because I want to give you context. Cookery books don’t have context. They have themes, often in line with popular fads. meals in 37 Seconds, The Water and Sand Diet, etc. Context comes after you try out the recipe, and if it’s successful, you create the context for yourself. “Do you remember the meal we cooked that evening, the one with chorizo and chicken…?

So it is that the smell and taste of my favourite post-long swim recovery meal fixes all these disconnected items in my mind. Once I began doing long training swims, this meal became to feel like a psychological as well as physiological demand, with that depth of associated memory of my parents and my early childhood. Those memories become additional seasoning to the recuperation from a long swim.

Before we even get to the recipe, which ninety percent of you will dismiss, all this goes to demonstrate why I will almost certainly never write a cookery book.

This meal is based around liver. You mutter in disgust. If you do, I’ll tell you why you do. It’s likely one of three reasons:

  1. You ate the wrong liver previously. Possibly pork, but more likely beef. Beef liver is tolerable for human consumption, but will never make a nice meal. Pork liver isn’t great either. Or your liver may not have been fresh.
  2. The liver was over-cooked. Over-cooked liver is common, rubbery at best, leathery at worst.
  3. You are one of those who can’t stomach the idea of offal (or are a vegetarian).

So I can address the first two points. If you are a vegetarian, I’m sure you will tell me in the comments what your equivalent favourite post long swim is food is. Risotto is not allowed as it’s baby food.

The liver choice for this recipe is lamb’s liver. It should go without saying that it needs to be fresh. You can freeze lamb’s liver, but don’t freeze it for longer than a month. Stale or frozen for too long liver will have a bitter taste that no cooking skills will over-come. Fresh liver should be a deep burgundy red. As it ages it will lose this rich colour. You could also use chicken liver, possibly, though I haven’t tried it. You’d need to saute the onion and pepper first though.

The easiest way to properly cook liver is a quick high heat sear, followed by a very low heat. The longer low heat will make the liver very tender. And yes, you really need to sear it. Maillard reaction, and all that.

Some people have a ridiculous fear of Hypervitaminosis A when it comes to liver, i.e. the toxic effects of eating too much liver. One meal of 200 grams / quarter of a pound per week is perfectly safe. You’d need to eat that amount every day for months for toxicity to develop. The additional new faddish fear of eating something which has “a build -up of toxins” belongs in the same category of nonsense as homeopathy, “detoxing”, anti-vaccination, climate change scepticism and reptilian overlords. Because a liver filters blood, does not mean it stores toxins. Otherwise you’d be checking in for a liver service once a year like you get your car filters changed. If you believe any of such waffle, I’d be happy to help you with a reading list that will bring you past witches, shamans and magic to understand how to properly evaluate and categorise bogus pseudo-scientific claims.


Photo of Lamb's Liver in a bowl and assorted uncooked vegetables

Food photography isn’t my thing

  • Approximately 120 grams which is about four stupid ounces, of fresh lamb’s liver. (Three or four strips. Not chopped. I have no idea what chopped liver is except something said on American TV)
  • One medium yellow or red onion, sliced
  • A quarter each of a red and green pepper. Sliced thin
  • Quarter litre of vegetable or chicken stock
  • Tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce*
  • Dave’s Ultimate Insanity Sauce
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Garlic, two cloves (crushed)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tablespoon-ish of a high smoke point oil like coconut or rapeseed. But yeah, olive or sunflower oil will do fine.
  • Mushrooms
  • Shallots
  • Peas (fresh or frozen), broccoli, cut into small florets
  • Potatoes
  • Butter
  • Scallions
  • Beer
liver cooking-resized-rotatedMethod:
  1. Swim at least 10,000 metres. This is marathon swimmer’s food, and not for lesser mortals. If you eat this after swimming a mere couple of k, I will come round your house and swim in your vegetable stock.
  2. Make the stock. Whatever.
  3. Chop the onions, peppers and crush the garlic. Same for the broccoli.
  4. Heat the oil in a hot frying pan**, and quickly sear both sides of the liver.
  5. Start drinking the beer. It was a long swim, you deserve it. You won’t be doing it again until next weekend anyway.
  6. Move the pan off the heat if you have an electric cooker and go get your “Not a Cold Water Swimmer” apron while the ring cools down. If you have gas, turn the ring down to the lowest setting and enjoy the control and response without moving the pan. Now we’re cooking with gas!***
  7. Add salt, pepper, onions, peppers and stock. Add optional shallots, mushrooms, peas or broccoli, as much or as little as you like. I typically fill a 28 cm diameter big saute pan with veg, so just add a lot. Forget the little.
  8. Add a good big splash of Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar.
  9. Add ONE DROP of Dave’s Ultimate Insanity sauce***
  10. Cover, and cook at the lowest possible setting for about 25 minutes.
  11. Now start steaming the pealed potatoes, which will take 40 minutes. This step is here to prove that you should read through recipes before you start.
  12. Don’t forget that beer. Better drink the rest before it gets warm.
  13. Using Proper Butter****, salt and pepper, mash the steamed potatoes*****.
  14. Get another beer.
  15. Eat all the food. Drink the beer. The jus, i.e. the poncy term for the brown liquid stuff from the liver and vegetables******, is perfect over mashed spuds and veg.
*Pronounced wooster. I don’t do brands. However the only brand you are allowed is Lea & Perrins. This is because I’ve noticed all TV cookery programmes throw in some obscure ingredient which they claim is widely available and easy to find, and I know that most of you will already have a bottle of Dave’s Insanity Sauce in the pantry. And have a pantry.


** Here’s the thing my American friends. You expect us to learn your terminology. Me mammy would have thought a skillet was some kind of DIY tool me Dad didn’t have or know how to use.


***Cold water swimmers have an implicit grass of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, in the way that dogs understand Newton’s Laws when catching a frisbee. Warm water swimmers use electric cookers. Hence their aprons.

sauces-resized-rotated****  Ultimate Insanity was the third of Dave’s Sauces. The first was Dave’s Insanity Sauce. The second was Dave’s Insanity Sauce II, The Second Burning, eventually followed by Dave’s Ultimate Insanity Sauce, at the time the hottest sauce in the world. It’s rated at 250,000 Scoville units. Tabasco is about two and a half thousand units. That’s 100 times more wimpy than Dave’s. I really mean only use one drop. I’ve had this bottle for 10 years and there’s still half left, and I use it for a lot of cooking. Or try two drops. Just let me know how you got on after the surgery to stop your apparently permanent hiccups and the chemical burns to your intestines. Yes, you can leave out hot sauce but the perfect amount adds depth and piquancy to this meal that really enhances it.
***** Listen to me: Butter should be yellow. Kerrygold is a brand that is no better than any other Irish butter, but if you are outside Ireland, then it’s a good choice. All butter in Ireland is yellow. Not that white muck you all are eating. Good butter is made from milk extracted by sucky pumpy machinery from cows fed on grass and salt who dance under the full moon. Not butter substitute, which is a crime against humanity. Not whatever the hell light butter is. Real yellow butter lasts thousands of years if buried in a bog as an offering to the gods. It makes an excellent anti-chaffing swim lubricant. I am not even kidding. I am. I’m not.
****** I have three Mastermind Subjects, just in case I ever get called with no notice for a BBC Christmas TV Special dedicated to open water malcontents and don’t have time to study: The first is Why Diana Nyad is a Fraud. The second is Jellybabies As A Marathon Swimming Food, and the third is potatoes********.
******* Oh. Right. Why liver? Liver is high in vitamin A. But also in a range of B vitamins, iron and copper and choline. I hate the term superfood. It’s a good recovery food. I think it’s super********.
*********Potatoes. So many varieties. Only a few are called on to be the great varieties. None of the great varieties include Idaho Russet or whatever you bought in a bag labelled “white potatoes” in a supermarket. The thing about potatoes is what’s best changes depending on the time of year. The best variety is Queens, Main Crop (possibly Second Earlies), summer to autumn. Oilean is a superb substitute, also known as Karlena. Followed by Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks between September and November. Records should never be eaten by humans who know what a potato is and are recommended as literal pig swill. Rooster are better than Idaho Russets, and only work well as a general purpose potato. They are at their best in December to January, and decent in spring when none of the great varieties are still available. You can store Golden Wonders for Christmas Roasties by putting them in a well sealed contained and burying them for a couple of months. Potatoes should always be stored in a closed paper bag to keep the light off, which turns potatoes green and makes them bitter with a toxin called solanine. Screw  you Jamie Oliver, I got your number on spuds, you amateur. Duck fat, goose fat or PROPER YELLOW BUTTER work equally well when making roast potatoes despite whatever the current fad is for best roast potatoes.


********* I love footnotes. I don’t use them enough. I reached peak footnote in this post by footnooting a footnote. That makes me happy. I have no idea what’s going on with the formatting in this post. I think I broke WordPress again.


13 thoughts on “How To: Long Swim Recovery Meal

  1. Love your blog, Donal! Looking forward to more recipes like this. I’ve been heard ranting about carrots like you do about potatoes. Please accept my apologies for Fahrenheit and ounces–it’s not easy being American these days, believe me.

    The ocean water by my home in Maine is currently 3 degrees C. Wish it were warmer, but someone’s gotta swim in it. So I do.


    • Thank you Kevin. I can’t imagine carrots promising the same degree of heated conversation and range of recipes as potatoes, but I appreciate the comparison.

      I’ve warm up this side of the Atlantic, you warm up that side, and between we’ll keep it safe for the rest of the world!


      • You are right–bad analogy on my part. My favorite carrots are always Chantenay, but sometimes I have to settle for underwhelming supermarket carrots.

        I’m doing my best to donate all my spare body heat to the western Atlantic. I swam the same curious black lab back to shore twice yesterday. Dogs on the beach are often curious about me (maybe it’s my stylish yellow cap?) and occasionally they swim to check me out.


  2. very informative post Donal, thanks for sharing. i was quite a bit curious to find out what should be my meal plans (i just started doing swimming from a long break) and needed something to get started with “fast & furious” blood 🙂 thanks again for sharing.


  3. There’s just one thing I don’t understand (after picking my way carefully through a minefield of footnotes and emerging unscathed with both feet. And eyeballs.) Why NOT a cookery book? I mean, if they were all written like that, I’d actually buy one. ‘Lone Swimmer Does Lunch’, or ‘Donal’s Delectable Delicacies’. Or ‘How to Catch, Cook and Eat a Sea Bass Whilst Crossing the Channel’. Too late for this Christmas market, but I’m holding out for next year…


  4. I needed a good laugh and a (Very) good read and a reminder that I love Lamb’s Liver but rarely buy/cook it because some other eigits (non=swimmers) don’t eat it. So resolution for the week’s ahead, more Liver and vegetables, potatoes, add some chopped Spring Onions/scallion to the mash (yummy) (No beer,,)..had a fall on Black Ice in Antrim on Friday and can’t swim for a few days. I’ll still be hungry though.


  5. I love this post for several reasons! Have recommended it to others, including my brother who is a professional cook and swimmer! has swam around the world. I love the language, the tone, the footnoting footnotes, the real butter made by cows dancing under the full moon, the whole thing! you’ve really hit a stride here, Donal here, ha ha , go with it!! I’m in America, and LOVE Kerrygold butter! infinitely superior to our white stuff! totally! and yes, very yellow, like real cage free eggs, also very yellow. As far as liver, the best liver I ever had was moose liver, from a moose my brother wilmer killed on a special hunt in montana, and the moose jerky too, divine. I enjoyed cooking liver up then with onions and sour cream. What you’ve concocted sounds divine. And yes, liver has tons of nutrients in it, I can see why it would be a good restorative meal after a marathon swim. Since I am swimming daily for about an hour in fresh water about 10-9 Celsius I often struggle with the night munchies, my body is just hungry!!! face it! Plus, I’m probably building up brown fat. go figure. So I am just deciding not to focus on a weight number, I know all this cold water swimming is healthy and awesome, and just go with it. And yes, eating power food is important. Great post!! look forward to more!
    Gazelle on America’s west coast.


  6. Fun piece Donal! Food is such an important eliment to the sport. I remember eating 2 Irish breakfasts after a morning swim in Kinsal. Then a piece a lemon maragne pie- waiting 20 min. then ice cream. It was the most memorable post swim meal I ever had


  7. I get you on potatoes, I thought I was the only person on the planet to care about this 😊 (I’m still unfamiliar with some of your breeds though, but similarly picky about the ones I do know – I.e. being available)

    Now, with that in mind, what exactly is meant by ‘beer’?


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