Salmon is arguably the most popular fish in Britain. It can be farmed in Scotland and is widely eaten across Britain, both in restaurants and at home. We think we know salmon, but do we really?
You see for all its ubiquity we tend to be unambitious in how we cook and serve the fish, and complacent in regards to the effect our over-consumption has on the species.
On the issue of sustainability, the word among environmentalists seems to be that wild Atlantic salmon is under threat; in 2010, Greenpeace placed Atlantic salmon on its red-list. Pacific salmon is far more sustainable, though by no means is this a clear-cut issue of Pacific – good, Atlantic – bad; the food miles involved with importing Pacific salmon run into their thousands and do not exactly ensure freshness. Furthermore, serious measures being taken to increase Atlantic salmon stocks.
Then there is farmed salmon, which is what the vast majority of us eat and what tends to be found on supermarket shelves. Farmed salmon has the advantage of being sustainable, but there are other chemical, welfare and environmental issues associated with the product, and as Matthew Fort confirms in our salmon recipe collection, there are vivid differences in taste between farmed salmon and wild caught salmon. A difference in price, too.
Fort advises substituting salmon for sea trout when the closely related pink fish comes into season in April-October.
How to Cook Salmon
Like most other fish, salmon can be grilled, baked, poached or pan-fried. Surely, though, we can be more creative.
Home smoking is bound to impress. You can use a stovetop smoker – available on SousChef.com from as little as £40 - though you will need to cure the fish beforehand. Wood chips can be bought in apple, cherry and oak flavours on the same website.
Cured Salmon and wild fennel - Chris Horridge
Home-curing alone is a very gourmet way of dealing with the fish. Nathan Outlaw recommends curing the fish in beetroot and serving with thyme crackers in our Feastive App.
For those of you with water baths, cooking salmon at 40°C for 10 minutes is recommended by Paul Foster, a method guaranteed to lock in the tender flavour of the fish.
Writing in the Independent, Great British Chefs' Chris Horridge details his own health-conscious way of cooking salmon,
"First, set the oven to 50°C, and once it's heated (check with a thermometer), cook for around 12 minutes, depending on cooker. If white protein leaks out of the fish, the oven is too hot; if it hasn't started to cook, it's too low. You should be able to press the fish so it parts along the zigzag line. At 50°C, most of the omega-3 should still be in the fish.”
Simon Hulstone freezes smoked salmon and then grates over salsify to create a deliciously alternative canapé. Now that is creative.
What Salmon Goes With
The web and cookbooks are increasingly inundated with salmon recipes, and by now the fish has virtually been paired with every ingredient under the sun.
Beetroot seems to be the current partner of choice for salmon amongst chefs – the contrast of salty, oleaginous fish and earthily sweet beetroot proving that in this case, opposites do attract. Luke Holder’s salmon mi cuit with beetroot and Marcello Tully’s recipe for cured salmon with beetroot both delightfully feature the combination.
Smoked, the fish is wonderful in a terrine as Josh Eggleton recommends, or simply served on crackers with a few herbs – dill, fennel and even vanilla pair nicely with salmon.
What are some of your favourite ways to cook and serve salmon? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.