It used to be associated with fine dining and the upper-middle classes, but today whole salmon is such great value in Britain today. The reason for this switch is the shift in focus within the fishing industry from wild to farmed salmon. Salmon farmers get a bit of a bad press: they are blamed for polluting our seashores and are accused of producing a low quality product that lacks the fullness of flavour and firm texture that wild salmon are prized for. Like all farmers, there are good and bad and it is very hard to know which are which. However if you are going to a reputable fishmonger they should be able to inform you about the farm; plus, of course, the price of the fish will be a good indication of the quality of the farm.
Scottish fishermen spear salmon as they leap upriver
If you do see any wild Atlantic salmon and you can afford it, buy it and cook it simply like in this recipe. I know this is not the sustainable thing to do, but if current research is correct, the wild salmon population in the United Kingdom has gone past the point of no return and it will become extinct sadly soon. It is past saving; sad but true. It is a world away from the pre-industrial age where salmon was so common in the River Mersey that they were used as pig feed!
This is such an unbelievably easy dish to make you would be a fool not to try it:
Get yourself a nice bright-eyed, firm fleshed whole salmon, ask your fishmonger to descale and gut it if he hasn’t already done so already.
At home give it a rinse inside and out and pat it dry. Unroll a piece of foil that is quite a bit larger than the salmon and smear it with butter, salt and pepper. Butter and the season the fish on both sides as well as within. Lay it on the buttered foil and lay another sheet of buttered and seasoned foil on top. Wrap it up to make a spacious parcel. If you want to serve the fish cold, rather than hot, use olive oil rather than butter.
Now you have two options: you can cook the salmon in a fish kettle or the oven.
For the fish kettle: To eat it hot, lay the wrapped salmon on the rack and place it in the kettle. If the salmon is too large for the kettle (as mine was) behead the fish and wrap the head up separately. Place it over two hobs, cover it with ‘tepid water’ and slowly bring to a simmer. Let it simmer gently for five minutes, then turn off the heat and let it sit in the water for 15 minutes more, then remove and unwrap. If you want to serve it cold, bring the water to a boil and then turn off the heat and allow the salmon to cool in the water.
For the oven: To eat it hot bake in the oven at 180⁰C (350⁰F) for 50-60 minutes. If you doubt how long you should keep it in the oven, the fish is best served a little undercooked. However, this method ensures that the fish never dries out so worry about it leaving it cooking to long. To eat cold, put the fishy parcel on a baking tray and bake for an hour at 150⁰C (300⁰F) if under five pounds, if over bake for 12 minutes per pound.
Unwrap your fish and place it on a serving dish and get to work on making it look pretty.
You have an easy job if you are serving it hot because all you have to do is remove the skin and add a bit more salt and pepper. Make a hollandaise sauce by first boiling down any juices to a concentrated stock to use as the base to it. Check out this link if you want to use Jane Grigson’s own recipe for hollandaise sauce (though I think Gary Rhodes’s is the best and most fool-proof recipe).
If you are serving the fish cold for a buffet, you can get creative with the decoration. Skin it and remove the thin layer of brown meat if you like – though Griggers does say that she finds it ‘far too delicious to discard’. If you are used to cooking fish, you could try and remove the fillets take out the bones and then replace it. Adding cucumber scales to the fish used to be a common way to present a fish cooked like this, but I think it is best left alone. If you removed the head lay it down in front of the body and hide the join with ‘a ruffle of mayonnaise’. For Jane’s mayonnaise recipe click this link.
#356 Salmon in its own Juices. I served the salmon hot with hollandaise as suggested and some simple boiled vegetables. I thought this was delicious in its simplicity: essentially just salmon, butter, salt and pepper. The fish was moist and flaked off the bone whilst still yielding plenty of moisture. The hollandaise too was delicious, flavoured with those delicious concentrated juices. Excellent stuff! 9/10.