Sunday, 4 November 2012

Norwegian salmon

Beetroot cured salmon
In Norse mythology, the god Loki sometimes transforms into a salmon. In New York delis you buy lox and bagels: lox is cured salmon rather than smoked, although in Scandinavia they do both, a dry salt cure then a smoke. 'Lox' is not so different from the Scandinavian word for salmon, 'lax' or 'laks'. These terms must be derived from Loki, the trickster god. 
When I was a child, salmon was an expensive luxurious fish, eaten only in restaurants or at Christmas, fish farms have changed all that. Farmed salmon is now one of our most affordable fish. Nutritionists advise eating one portion of oily fish per week. 
I've recently been sent a side of Norwegian salmon which inspired me to find out a little more about salmon in general. Norwegian salmon is of the same species as Scottish salmon, that is Atlantic salmon as opposed to Pacific.
If I have time, my favourite thing to do with salmon is to cure then cold smoke it. Failing that, just cure it. There is a recipe in my book (only £10 on Amazon this week!). Keep the skin on if you are smoking as well. 
Scottish farmed salmon however is currently suffering parasites. Parasites are killed when the salmon is cooked, however if you are curing salmon, make sure your salmon is sashimi grade and parasite free. This is what it looks like when it has parasites. Some sources such as Signe Johansen's excellent book Scandilicious say you can get rid of parasites by freezing the salmon for 24 hours prior to curing. Other sources counter however that the temperature you would need to freeze it at, -25 degrees, is not obtainable in a domestic freezer. So I think it's best to use your eyes, look at the salmon, check it visually and buy it as fresh as possible from a reliable fishmonger.
I've done dry cures with equal parts sugar and salt, I've also added all spice and juniper berries, fresh herbs such as dill, crystallised citrus, sour cherries, or a glug of vodka or aquavit but one of the prettiest cures is with beetroot. 
Slather your fish with sugar and salt and lay slices of beetroot all over the fish. Weigh it down in the fridge for 12 hours, drain off the liquid while keeping the bulk of the sugar/salt/beetroot then turn it over and do the other side. After 24 to 48 hours it's cured. You can tell because the fish is now stiff. 
Remove the sugar/salt/beetroot mix. When you slice into it, you have a beautiful deep red layer on top and the sunset shade of salmon underneath. I don't even like beetroot but I love this recipe. And generally home cured and home smoked salmon is so much better than shop bought, it bears no comparison. We'll probably do another smoking workshop at the Secret Garden Club soon so look out for that.
Another favourite technique, fail proof, is to cook the salmon 'en papillote', that is, in a foil or paper pouch in the oven. This retains all the flavours and moisture and is hard to get wrong. This year we grew fennel in the garden (secret garden club) and baked the salmon with fresh fennel seeds, flowers and pollen. I also think salmon goes very well with slices of orange and kumquat.
Just wrap the salmon filet tightly in the foil or parchment pouch with seasoning and your herbs of choice. Bake at 180c for about 10-15 minutes. You know it's cooked if you punch through the pouch with a metal skewer into the middle of the filet and it's warm or, even better, get a digital thermometer and check that the interior temperature has reached 65/70 degrees C.  Seriously, this is so easy, it's a piece of piss. 
Left: I once did it whole and en croute for christmas. That was a bloody nightmare. Centre: en papillote with kumquats. Right: studded with fennel sprigs, about to be wrapped in vine leaves. 

1 comment:

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