Salmon is arguably the most popular fish in Britain loved by chefs and home cooks alike. Salmon is an oily fish, high in Omega 3 fatty acids which are beneficial for the heart. Most of the salmon consumed in the UK comes from Scotland and is normally farmed which is the most sustainable option, wild salmon are in decline in the UK and the Atlantic. Salmon eggs have been cultivated in Britain since Victorian times with advances in technology in the 1970's allowing farmers to grow salmon to maturity, resulting in a hike of salmon consumption in the UK as supplies increased.
Try to buy salmon that doesn’t smell fishy, that’s bright eyed and shiny skinned with flesh that’s moist and firm. Cloudy eyes and discoloured skin are warning signs that the fish isn’t very fresh. If you’re buying fillets or steaks, go for firm flesh and bright, unblemished skin.
Opt for sustainable wild salmon if you can, though seasonality and price doesn’t always make this possible. Organic farmed salmon is the next best thing. It’s better to eat or freeze fresh salmon on the day you buy it: keep it in the coldest part of the fridge in a shallow dish wrapped in cling film.
Salmon is a robust, oily fish suited to many cooking methods. To know when salmon is cooked, insert a sharp knife into the thickest part of the flesh – if it’s cooked through the knife will come out hot to the touch.
How to cook salmon whole
Traditionally, a whole salmon is gently poached in a little fish stock or water in a fish kettle or a large roasting tin. This retains moisture as well as adding flavour to the fish when cooking. When poaching a whole salmon, it is important to start with cold liquid as if the liquid is warm, the outside of the fish will be overcooked.
An alternative method of cooking salmon whole is in a salt crust as Galton Blackiston suggests in his Snowed-under salmon recipe. Whichever way you cook salmon whole, make sure it has been gutted, with gills and scales removed prior to cooking.
How to cook salmon fillets
Like most other fish, salmon fillets can be grilled, baked, poached, pan-fried or cooked en papillote. The simplest method for cooking salmon is to sprinkle a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil over the fish and then bake in the oven. But to be more creative, try home smoking, using a water bath or serving it cured or raw. Remember to pin bone the salmon fillets before cooking.
A whole poached salmon is a classic buffet dish, especially when served with minted new potatoes, watercress salad and some mayonnaise. Salmon can also be encased in pastry for salmon-en-croute or in the Russian fish pie, coulibiac.
Beetroot is a great partner for salmon – the contrast of salty, oleaginous fish and earthily sweet beetroot proving that, in this case, opposites do attract. Try Luke Holder’s Salmon mi-cuit with beetroot or Marcello Tully’s recipe for cured salmon with beetroot.