Wild Irish Salmon


Last night we had a feast – a wild Irish salmon gently poached and served with Hollandaise. We ate the first tiny broad beans and sugar peas from the garden and new potatoes from Patty Walsh’s farm across the road, and finished with a bowl of loganberries and cream.

Wild Irish salmon is in season for just a few short weeks in the year. In this area the season opens on 1st June and finishes on 31st July or sooner if the allowed quota of fish has been caught, but wild salmon may still be available from some other areas until August 12th 2003. The quota was introduced to help conserve precious stocks. Fishermen with salmon licences may only fish on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Wild Irish Salmon is such a special treat that its worth seeking out during the last few weeks of the season.

At Ballymaloe House we serve only wild salmon. During the short season it will be on the menu almost every night, served in a variety of ways. The flesh of wild salmon varies in colour depending on whether it comes from the river or the sea. If the fish are feeding on shrimps the flesh will be a richer ‘salmon’ colour. Few wild salmon are as vibrant in colour as the farmed fish, where the hue can be pre-determined by adding carotene to the feed.

The salmon we get from the fishermen in Ballycotton are caught as they leave the sea to journey up the river. They are in prime condition, fully charged with fat before they return to the river to spawn in the breeding grounds where they themselves were hatched.

When you are buying a salmon, choose a spanking fresh fish that looks stiff and shiny. Wild Irish salmon will be clearly tagged so they are easy to identify. Each fish is tagged as soon as it is caught – a red tag indicates that the fish has been caught in a drift net, a green tag means that a traditional draft net has been used and a blue tag means that the fish has been caught by an angler. It is illegal to sell these blue tagged fish so they should not be available in the market place.

So what’s the difference? Drift nets do just that , they drift at sea. The use of Draft nets has a long tradition stretching back at least 1000 years. This ancient and time honoured technique can produce better quality fish, partly because the salmon can be damaged when they become enmeshed in the drift nets.

If you are eager to support local draft net fishermen, choose fish with a green tag. A code on the tag will indicate where it was caught, ,CK- Cork, KY- Kerry and so on. It can actually be more specific, for example – L1 CK which indicates that the fish was caught in the Lismore/Blackwater region of Co Cork.

The flesh of a piece of wild fish will be slightly duller in colour than the farmed fish which is shinier and brighter in appearance. A fish weighing up to 7½ lbs is referred to as a peel, a fish over that weight is called a salmon.

If a wild salmon has spawned the flesh will be very pale and will also be less flavoursome. From the cook or chef’s point of view, salmon is a wonderfully versatile fish. Delicious served raw, poached, pan-grilled, or fried. Steaming gives the least flavour unless the liquid is well-infused with seasoning and herbs. For ‘extra posh’ it can be enrobed in a flaky, puff or filo pastry or embellished in a brioche crust, but it takes a skilled cook to ensure that the fish is perfectly cooked. Sometimes its better not to attempt to ‘gild the lily’ but enjoy it simply cooked and served with a fresh herb butter or a little Hollandaise Sauce made with our rich Irish butter. If you have a smoking box, warm smoked salmon is incredibly succulent and delicious – takes between 12-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the piece and is a perfect centrepiece for a summer lunch party.

Poached Salmon with Hollandaise Sauce

Most cookbooks you look up will tell you to poach salmon in a ‘court-bouillon’ . This is a mixture of wine and water with perhaps some sliced carrots, onion, peppercorns and a bouquet garni including a bay-leaf, but I feel very strongly that a beautiful salmon is at its best poached gently in just boiling salted water.

The proportion of salt to water is very important. We use 1 rounded tablespoon of salt to every 40 fl ozs/2 Imperial pints of water. Although the fish or piece of fish should be just covered with water, the aim is to use the minimum amount of water to preserve the maximum flavour, so therefore one should use a saucepan that will fit the fish exactly.
Serves 8
To Poach a Piece of Salmon
1.4 kg/3-3½ lbs centre-cut of fresh salmon
Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)
Fennel, Chervil or parsley
8 segments of lemon

Choose a saucepan which will barely fit the piece of fish: an oval cast-iron saucepan is usually perfect. Half fill with measured salted water, bring to the boil, put in the piece of fish, cover, bring back to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, allow to sit in the water for 5-6 minutes and serve within 15-20 minutes.

If a small piece of fish is cooked in a large saucepan of water, much of the flavour will escape into the water, so for this reason we use the smallest saucepan possible. Needless to say we never poach a salmon cutlet because in that case one has the maximum surface exposed to the water and therefore maximum loss of flavour. A salmon cutlet is best dipped in a little seasoned flour and cooked slowly in a little butter on a pan, or alternatively pan-grilled with a little butter. Serve with a few pats of Maître d’Hôtel butter and a wedge of lemon.

Hollandaise Sauce

Serves 4-6, depending on what it is to be served with
Hollandaise is the ‘mother’ of all the warm emulsion sauces . The version we use is easy to make and quite delicious with fish. Like mayonnaise it takes less than 5 minutes to make and transforms any fish into a ‘feast’. Once the sauce is made it must be kept warm: the temperature should not go above 350F/180C or the sauce will curdle. A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale, otherwise put the Hollandaise Sauce into a delph or plastic bowl in a saucepan of hot but not simmering water. Hollandaise Sauce cannot be reheated absolutely successfully so it’s best to make just the quantity you need. If however you have a little left over, use it to enrich other sauces.

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range
125 g/4 ozs butter cut into dice
1 dessertspoon cold water
1 teaspoon lemon juice, approx.
Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water. Add water and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece. The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly ‘scrambling’, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add the lemon juice to taste. If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency.

It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm until service either in a bowl over warm water, or in a thermos flask. Hollandaise Sauce should not be reheated. Leftover sauce may be used as an enrichment for cream sauces, or mashed potatoes, or to perk up a fish pie etc

Salmon Carpaccio with Dill Mayonnaise

Serves 4-6

1 lb (450g) very fresh wild salmon
Dill Mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
½ -1 teasp. Dijon mustard
1 dessertsp. wine vinegar
1 teasp. sugar
4 fl ozs (100g) oil, use 3 fl ozs ground nut oil or sunflower and 1 fl oz oz (30ml) olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablesp. freshly chopped dill
2 fl ozs (50ml) olive oil
3 tablesp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Fillet the salmon, do not scale, wash quickly, wrap in cling film and freeze.
Make the sauce by the mayonnaise method.

Put the egg yolk into a bowl, whisk in the mustard and the wine vinegar, then add in the olive oil gradually whisking constantly until the oil has been incorporated then add the dill. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Mix the olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice together.
To serve. Spread a tablespoon of sauce on each plate. Slice the frozen salmon with a very sharp knife into very thin slices and arrange on top. Brush with a little of olive oil and lemon juice. Serve immediately with lots of crusty brown bread.

Seared Fresh Salmon with vine ripened Tomato and Herbs

Serves 8

Fillet of fresh salmon, (scales removed)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil or clarified butter
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil, marjoram,mint
4 large very ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2½ fl (65ml) extra virgin olive oil (approx)
Cut the salmon fillet into strips 2½ inch (6.5cm) wide approximately. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry or pan grill carefully in a little olive oil or clarified butter.
Transfer to a serving dish, skin side up. Mix the herbs and chopped tomatoes, add the olive oil. Spoon over the fish. Serve warm or cold.

Hot Tips
Salmon are the most fascinating fish. If you would like to know more about their lifecycle plan an expedition as soon as possible to the Coomhola Samon Trust, Coomhola, Bantry, Co Cork, where you can learn all about the wonder of the wild salmon and its incredible life cycle. A wonderful family outing. By appointment – Tel Mark Boyden 027-50453 Check out the website – www.streamscapes.org
Fields of Skibbereen – John Field’s Super-Valu supermarket in Main Street, Skibbereen is a mecca for food lovers, stocking a wide range of local food as well as the usual items.
The Local Producers of Good Food in Cork by Myrtle and Cullen Allen, has just been published and is available in Cork from Mercier Bookshop, The Crawford Gallery Café and Bubbles Brothers, price 5 Euro – other counties please copy.
Smoking Box – Available from Kitchen Complements, Chatham St. Dublin 01-6770734, and fishing tackle shops.
The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim will be running courses right through the summer, Tel 072-54338, email:organiccentre@eircom.net www.theorganiccentre.ie
Course Schedule 2003
www.cookingisfun.ie Tel 021-4646785

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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