Wednesday, 5 January 2011


     Volumes have been written about this king among fish and even more has been scribed about its demise.  Salmon really is in a sad state of affairs no matter how you slice it...
     Bog standard salmon farming is a truly grotesque practise akin to placing them in concentration camps.  From the intense overcrowding, to the dyed feed necessary to aid the lack of natural pigment, to the abhorrent amount of faeces carpeting the floor beneath them, you would be very surprised by the origin of most supermarket salmon.  Over fishing and farming itself have decimated the wild stocks to the point where it is with some guilt that I use wild salmon at all any more.  They need time to recover. 
     As a consumer, your best bet, most easily sourced and financially viable is organically farmed, usually found at a proper fishmonger.  A whole wild salmon can cost £90-100, organically farmed around the £30-50 mark.  Organically farmed salmon have so much more room to splash about and they feast on feed you can trust. It is such a shame, because a truly wild salmon is such a thing of beauty to behold and to devour.  Tell tale signs of a poor quality salmon- fatty and pale flesh, ragged and stunted tail.  As with most fish, overcooking is a crime.  A pink middle is preferable.
     Going old school back to the 'darne' cut is a fantastic way to showcase a fine round fish.  It takes me back to childhood and any fish cooked on the bone will taste superior.  If using a boneless fillet, keep that skin on for frying.  Nothing like a perfectly crisp cooked salmon skin to texture contrast the yielding flesh beneath.  Only ever take the skin off if poaching, serving in a broth/soup or for confit.
The salmon is a vital part of ancient Celtic and North American Native mythologies.

Darne of Wild Salmon, Grilled Courgettes & Hollandaise 

Ingredients for 2 

For the hollandaise: 
180gm Unsalted clarified butter
2 Free range egg yolks
Pinch of cayenne
Juice of half a small lemon
Water if needed 

For the rest: 
2x 180gm Darnes of wild or organic farmed salmon
1 Large courgette sliced into ribbons
Unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil/Rapeseed oil
Sunflower oil 

For the hollandaise: 
1)Ensure the egg yolks are at room temperature.
2)In a medium sized metal bowl over a 'bain marie' whisk the yolks with half the lemon juice to a
      'sabayon' texture, very thick.
3)Slowly stream in the butter whisking all the while.
4)Add the rest of the lemon juice to taste along with the seasoning and the cayenne.
5)Add a few drops of warm water whilst mixing if too thick.
6)Cover the bowl with cling film and leave somewhere warm. 

For the rest: 
1)Using a griddle or barbecue, grill the seasoned and lightly extra virgin olive oiled strips of courgette until tender but not over cooked.
2)Toss in a little more olive oil if desired/needed and set aside.
3)Season the salmon darnes liberally and place in a hot non-stick pan that has been lightly oiled with sunflower oil.  (Poaching in a court-boullion would be equally as tasty and healthier.)
4)Fry until golden on one side, reduce the heat, turn over and baste in 20-30gm cold unsalted butter until medium.

To serve: 
     Place a mound of grilled courgettes on each plate and top with the salmon darnes.  A generous spoonful of hollandaise on top can be blasted with a blow torch or under a hot grill for added finesse.  Serve with minted new potatoes and a crisp Sancerre or Chablis.

'La Cuisiniere Hollandaise' by Gerard Dou, 17th century

A note on hollandaise: 
     Traditionally this 'mother' sauce was made with whole butter in a saucepan over open flame.  As with many recipes it has greatly evolved. The perfect accompaniment for poached fish, asparagus or eggs Benedict this artery clogging delight is truly one of the great contributions of French culture to the world.  In the restaurant we always have an acidic and aromatic reduction to hand for flavouring a hollandaise, really not necessary for home...and sometimes I wonder if needed at work.  
A couple top tips: 
1)Don't let the hollandaise get too hot, this will cause it to split. 
2)If it does start to curdle, it can be re-emulsified by adding a tbsp of water, drop by drop whilst whisking.  Use hot water if the sauce has gone too cold, cold water if the sauce has gone too hot.

Lapsang Souchong Salmon Fillet, Ginger Broth & Basmati Rice

Ingredients for 2

2x 170gm Skinned organic or wild salmon fillets
100gm Lapsang souchong tea leaves
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Muslin cloth or women's tights
300ml Fish stock
30gm Julienne fresh ginger
1 Spring onion
1/2 Lime, zested and juiced
1/2 Small red chilli, sliced
1/2 Lemongrass stalk
200gm Basmati or jasmine rice
Small knob unsalted butter
Fresh coriander
Sunflower oil
1 Garlic clove, smashed
Pickled ginger

For the salmon:
1) Wrap the salmon fillets in a single layer of muslin cloth or inside the tights and coat evenly with the tea leaves, brown sugar and a couple pinches of salt.  Refrigerate in an air tight container for 24 hours.
2) Brush off all the tea and remove the salmon from the muslin.
3) Season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black or white pepper and pan-fry in a non-stick pan, belly side down until golden.  Turn the fish over and decrease the heat.  Baste the golden 'service side' of the fish with a spoon for several minutes taking care not to burn the butter.  Your goal is to achieve a perfect 'mi-cuit' (half-cooked) temperature.  Well done salmon is only fit for the cat.

For the broth:
1) You can prepare the broth whilst the salmon is marinating.
2) Heat the fish stock to boiling point.  Add the ginger, lime juice and zest, garlic and lemongrass.  Season to taste.  Remove from the heat and cover with cling film for a ten minute infusion.  Remove the film, strain the stock and re-boil.  Add the sliced spring onion, finely sliced red chilli and coriander leaves just before serving.

To serve:

     Place the salmon fillets in two deep bowls/pasta bowls and pour over the ginger broth.  Top with a little finely sliced pickled ginger and serve with side bowls Basmati rice.
Top tip:  The addition of a little cassia bark and a couple cloves will add depth and spice to steamed rice.

A note on lapsang souchong tea:

     A Chinese black tea that has been withered over pine or cedar fires, pan-fried, rolled and oxidised before being fully dried in bamboo baskets over burning pine.  The result is a smoky, oaky and robust tea with an overriding scent and flavour of wood smoke.  It works wonderfully with salmon because you get the sense that you are eating smoked salmon although it is a large fillet of medium-rare cooked fish.

'Salmon are like men- too soft a life is not good for them.'
-James de Coquet

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