#356 Salmon in its own Juices

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 oilrather 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 180C (350F) 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 150C (300F) 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.

#337 Eel Pie

This recipe puts me three-quarters of the way through the book! Who’d have thunk I’d still be ploughing through it!?

The fourth and final eel recipe from the book just in time for Good Friday, hopefully it will be better than the third which was a disaster…

Eel pies or pasties are a food that has a very long history in Britain. Sometimes they were just simply unskinned eels, herbs, spices and water covered with a ‘coffin’ of pastry, probably eaten as a stew rather like water-souchy; the pastry simply serving as a vessel within which to cook the fish. The earliest mention of eel pie I have found comes from an article by A. Peripatetic in a 19th Century periodical called London Society:
East-Farleigh lies in the hundred of Maidston, and was given to the prior and monks of Christ-Church in Canterbury, by Ediva the Queen, mother of the two kings Eadred and Edmund in the year 941, and was…to find the convent with eel-pies.
Eels are associated the most with London and there is a great old proverb that I discovered is used in Shakespeare’s King Lear, which I can really relate to:
Lear:     Oh me, my heart, my rising heart! but down.
Fool:     Cry to it, nuncle, as the cockney did to the eels, when she put
Them i’the paste alive; she rapt ‘em o’the coxcombs with a stick,
And cry’d, Down, wantons, down!

In other words, she  was so squeamish about killing the eels for her pie, she tried to bake them alive, making the whole situation worse and much more stressful than it would have been had she killed them. The first time I made eel I had to do away with them myself and it was pretty distressing (see here).

King Lear and Fool

I’m quite glad to have come to the end of the eel recipes to be honest because I was starting to feel rather guilty about eating a fish whose numbers have been in sharp decline. Anyways, if you do come across an eel for sale you may as well purchase it and turn it into a little piece of history as I did:
The first thing you need to make is the pastry – an unusual one using grated butter and cream that is somewhere between a flaky pastry and a shortcrust.
Place a block of butter in the freezer until it is well-chilled, but not frozen. Meanwhile measure out 6 ounces of flour and mix in a good pinch of salt. Next grate the butter over your kitchen scales until you have 3 ounces and add this to the flour.
Add enough cream – use either single or soured – or water to form a good soft dough, stirring in your liquid of choice at first with a knife then bringing it together with your hands. I noticed that the flour required more cream than it would have needed if using water. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. A note to Americans:  Soured cream in the USA is far too thick as an option, so go for something like half-and-half or heavy cream.
Peel and finely chop four shallots and soften them slowly in butter in a wide shallow pan. When cooked, tip them into a shallow pie dish or plate with a capacity of around 2 pints.
Now prepare the eels, you need 1 ½ pounds altogether (if your eels are alive, have a gander at this post and also this one, for the good it’ll do you). The best way to skin them I have found is to cut around the base of the neck, then hold down the head firmly with a dry cloth and pull the skin off in one long piece with a pair of pliers like a slender stocking. Trim the thin ends of the tails and add them to a pan along with the heads to 18 fluid ounces of chicken or fish stock, and simmer them together for around 20 minutes. In the meantime cut the eels into one inch pieces.
Coat the eel pieces in seasoned flour and fry them, in batches if necessary, browning them well. Add more butter if need be. Scatter the eel pieces over the shallots and deglaze the pan with the eel-flavoured stock, and reduce it by about a half, then add 2 tablespoons of medium dry sherry and 5 fluid ounces of double cream. Boil for 2 more minutes before adding ½ teaspoon of thyme and 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add a further tablespoon of sherry if you fancy. Pour the sauce over the eels and allow the whole thing to cool.
Peel and slice two hardboiled eggs and scatter them over the eel, then roll out your pastry, gluing it to the rim of the dish with some more cream. Add a hole or a slit for the steam to escape and decorate with the trimmings – I went with a very complex eel motif of my own design. Glaze with cream and bake at 220C (425F) until the pastry has turned an appetising shade of brown – around 10 or 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180 (350F) for 20 minutes.
Grigson suggests serving the pie with peas or a chicory salad, though I just went with a mixed salad.
#337 Eel Pie. A very good recipe this one – especially if you are a newcomer to eel. The sauce was nice rich, and the eel tender. The good thing about eel is that it has a very simple anatomy so the bones are fairly easy to find and remove. The sauce was a little too thick and overpowered the delicately-flavoured eel a bit. It deserves a healthy 6.5/10.

#328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce

This is a recipe that is inspired by the medieval love of combining fish and candied sweetmeats. Griggers says it is a ‘brave, but entirely successful blend’. We’ll see. Large medieval banquets had to contain dishes with lots of spice; after all how else could you display your vast wealth other than to use that new and exciting new spice, sugar? When first brought to Europe from India, sugar was considered a spice like any other and therefore medicinal. It lost its rank as a spice once it gained popularity as a more general addition to the dinner table; albeit a giant banqueting table.

The addition of the salmon, then, you might feel was also a mark of an ostentatious medieval lord. It is not the case, back in the day, before such things as pollution and overfishing, streams were teeming with fish like salmon. In fact they were so common on the River Mersey that people used to feed them to their pigs! The same, of course, goes for oysters too, and yet we can now buy a pound of sugar for 30 pence. How times have changed.
This dish is very attractive: a nice piece of fish wrapped in pastry with some spices and a nice piquant herb sauce containing some lesser used herbs, and it’s pretty easy to make to boot.
Ask the fishmonger for a 2 ½ pound tail piece of salmon and ask him or her to bone it. If you like, ask them to take off the skin (though I have never seen the point of this). If there isn’t a tail in a single piece, get two filleted tail ends of approximately equal size.
To make the sweet and spicy filling, beat 4 ounces of softened butter with 4 knobs of preserved ginger that have been chopped, a heaped tablespoon of raisins and  a rounded tablespoon of chopped, blanched almonds. Use half of the mixture to sandwich the two pieces of salmon together and then spread the remaining half over the top piece. Season with salt and pepper.
Now you are ready to encase the beast in pastry. Jane suggests using a shortcrust pastry made with 8 ounces of flour and 4 of fat, but I needed a lot more: I used a batch made of 14 ounces of flour and 7 of fat! I must have got a very large 2 ½ pound piece of salmon… Roll out a third of the pastry into a shape larger than the fish and place it on top. Next, roll out the rest and carefully place it over the fish, gluing it together with some beaten egg before trimming the edges and glazing the whole thing. Use the trimmings to ‘make a restrained decoration on top. There were a few small cracks in my pastry, but I hid them most cleverly with some pastry leaves that I placed here and there. I must say, I was quite impressed with my effort. Make 2 or 3 slashes on the top so that steam can escape and bake it for 30 to 35 minutes at 220C (425F).

Whilst the salmon cooks, you can get on with the sauce. Gently fry 2 chopped shallots, a heaped teaspoon of chopped parsley and a teaspoon of mixed chopped tarragon and chervil in 2 ounces of butter. When the shallots have softened, stir in a teaspoon of flour, then ½ pint of single cream (or half single-half double; American readers: heavy whipping cream is the thing to use here). Simmer for around 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Whisk 2 egg yolks with a couple more tablespoons of cream, turn down the heat in the pan and pour in. The sauce will thicken as the yolks start to cook – do not let the sauce boil, or your yolks will scramble. Finally, lift the whole thing by adding a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Place the salmon in its pastry on a hot dish; serve with the sauce in a separate sauceboat.’
#328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce. Another winner from Grigson; the medieval folk of England obviously knew what they were doing, and obviously weren’t all style, no substance. The salmon remained nice and moist and was perfectly cooked and really was complemented by its very sweet and slightly spiced butter basting. My only complaint would be that there wasn’t enough of the filling; I would have added at least an extra half again of the ginger and raisins. The sauce was excellent – creamy, yet light – tarragon and chervil are really delicious herbs that don’t get featured enough. This applies to chervil particularly, which seems to be in season at the moment as it’s cropping all over the place at the minute. A very good dish this one that could be made excellent with some minor changes. 8/10.

#313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce

This is one of the recipes that when I started this project, really made me shudder. However, as I have cooked a couple of eel recipes, I have discovered that I quite like the slippery critter and it no longer seemed such a challenge. Plus all of the weird recipes thus far have turned out pretty good and I have lost all squeamishness; I have a philosophy that in rich countries people eat things because they taste good, not because they need to simply survive.

This recipe is an update of the famous London dish – jellied eels. I have never tried them before and thought it rather a shame that the classic recipe isn’t in the book. Jellied eel is particularly associated with the East End of London though it was eaten throughout the city and appeared sometime in the eighteenth century. At that time, the Thames was crawling with eels and therefore many, many recipes were created. When eel consumption reached a peak during the Victorian era, the Thames had become pretty disgusting with pollution and there were not many eels around, so they had be imported from Ireland. These days, most Irish eels are exported to Holland.

If you wanted to buy jellied eels in London, you would have had to go to an Eel Pie and Mash House. There not many around – they declined in number from over a hundred after the Second World War to just a handful today. The most famous – and London’s oldest – extant Eel and Pie House is Manze’s in Peckham. I have never been to one of these places, but I shall try my best to frequent Manze’s next time I pop down to London. I doubt if they will ever regain popularity, even though eels have now returned to the River Thames.

Inside Menzie’s (photo from The Guardian)

This is an ‘updated’ recipe from chef Guy Mouilleron, who apparently thought of an eel slithering through a bank of watercress and thought the two might might together. The recipe is outdated; fish mousses are certainly a thing of the 1970s and 1980s; when English Food was first published.

Eels are quite difficult to get hold of, but the massive Asian supermarket in St Louis has farmed live ones – luckily I didn’t have to do away with them as I had to for the first time I cooked an eel dish. There is one more eel dish to do in the book, so I suppose I shall be trying that one soon.

To make the mousse, you need to prepare your eels. You’ll need around 2 ½ pounds of eel altogether. If you can get the fishmonger to skin and fillet them for you, all’s the better. I didn’t have such a luxury, but found it quite easy now that I have had certain amount of experience with eel preparation. First of all, give them a wash and wipe away any slime that may remain on the skin. To skin an eel, you first need to cut through the skin all around its neck, behind the gills. Next, either nail the head to a wooden chopping board or grasp the head with a tea-towel. Now you need to pull on the cut skin and peel the skin off like a stocking. It is quite difficult to get a purchase, so sprinkle the neck liberally with salt to create some much-needed friction. Once skinned, it is pretty easy going after that; gut it, cutting from the head-end to an inch or so past the vent so that the kidneys as well as the other internal organs can be removed. Filleting was a bit tricky – but really it was just like filleting any fish really. Use a sharp knife and cut from the head end to the tail end, pressing down on the fish with your other hand, which creates pressure and makes the cut much easier to make.

Cut away about a third of the messy parts and use trimmings to make the mousse itself.
To do this, you need to liquidise them in a blender along with three egg whites. You will produce a rather bad-looking blob of grey matter.
Place it in a bowl that is sitting in iced water. Whip ¾ of a pint of double cream until it is thick, but not stiff, and fold it into the eel mixture slowly. Season the purée and the neat eel pieces with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
All is prepared now for the construction of the mousse: you need to use a terrine for this, or failing that, a small loaf tin. If you want to turn out the mousse onto a serving dish, it is best to line it with cling film (don’t worry, it won’t melt). Now spread a third of the mixture over the bottom of the terrine and then add half of the eel fillets, then more mixture and so on, until all is used up.

Cover the terrine or tin with a double-layer of foil and then steam it for 1 ¼ hours. I used a fish kettle for this, but if you don’t have something appropriate, you can pop it in a roasting tin containing boiling water and bake it at 160-180C (325-350F). When cold, put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, make the sauce. You need a good-sized bunch of watercress. From the bunch, pick and reserve enough leaves to make around a tablespoon when chopped. The rest, liquidise in the blender, using the smallest amount of water possible. Pass the watercress slurry through a sieve and add ¼ pint of double cream and whisk it until it thickens. Season and stir through the reserved, chopped leaves. Serve a slice of the mousse with a generous spoonful of the sauce.

#313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce. My God, what a sight that one was! It looked like a massive chunk of cat food and the sauce was so garish. The taste of the mousse wasn’t too bad, but the texture seemed so wrong. If it had been eaten warm as a creamy stew, it probably would have been delicious. The mild fish and the grassy watercress did not go together in my opinion. A big shame because was waiting to be surprised by its loveliness. I think I would have been happier with some proper jellied eels. Keep the fish mousse where it belongs: in the past! 2/10

#304 Water-Souchy

“And lo, Jesus said,
‘Hurry up lads, I am champing at the bit here.'”

There have been plenty of recipes in English Food that have seemed so unappealing on paper, but have turned out good. This one certainly didn’t sound good – a fish stew made from freshwater fish, a few basic vegetables and water. I think it’s the name that did it for me I think – I imagined a thin, watery, muddy-tasting soup. However, every recipe must be cooked and freshwater fish is a bit of a speciality in America, seeing as most of it is far away from the oceans. It would have been a tricky one to do in England without spending a fortune getting a variety of freshwater fish from the fishmonger, or going out and fishing for the buggers yourself. Here, you can just go to the supermarket and choose from a range.

So, water-souchy is a very rustic fish stew made from whatever the angler in the family brought home after a session in his or her waders in an idyllic stream in rural England. Obviously, I am not in England anymore, so I wanted the fish to reflect what I might have caught here on the Mississippi River if I could be arsed to fish there. I had a look in Seafood City, an Asian supermarket on Olive Boulevard in St Louis and bought myself some good fresh carp and catfish. Five pounds of fish are required, and cost me the princely sum of $7.50. Pretty good, I reckon, seeing as I’m rather poor at the moment.

Water-souchy became popular in the seventeenth century and remains so, at least in fishing circles. The word comes from the Dutch waterzootje, and has been described as the bouillabaisse of the Northern Latitudes. According to certain George Augustus Sala, writing in 1895 in Thorough Good Cook, ‘You rarely get it good, save at Greenwich. Why I cannot say‘. Well, it may be to do with the freshness of the fish, says Griggers, the quality of your water-souchy will be diminished if your fish is not perfectly fresh.

To make this simple stew, start off with five pounds of very fresh scaled and cleaned freshwater fish and cut them up into big chunks – no need to bone or fillet, for it is the bones that produce the stock and flavour the dish. Jane suggests perch or a mixture of fish such as perch, carp, eel &c. In a large saucepan, spread three ounces of butter over the base and cover that with the vegetables and herbs: two cleaned and chopped leeks, two chopped celery sticks, two tablespoons of chopped parsley and a bouquet garni. My bouquet garni was made up of a bay leaf, some parsley stalks, three fronds of dill and a crushed garlic clove all tied up in a bunch.

Season these well with salt and pepper and then place the chunks of fish on top. Season those too. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for about twenty minutes until the fish is cooked.

Serve in bowls, sprinkled with some croutons of bread fried in butter. I used stale sourdough bread for this, and they were very good, even if I do say so myself. ‘One eats water souchy with spoon and fork’, according to Mr Robert Pierpoint, writing in 1908. It’s the only way you can eat it really.

#304 Water-Souchy. Well as per usual the bad sounding recipe turns out to not be a dud at all. The stew was well-flavoured with the vegetables, herbs and the fish itself. It is really important to choose a pungent and tart herb like dill for something very simple like this I think as it livens things up no end. The fish was very moist, but the thing we all found a little off-putting was the bones. We are too used to eating neat steaks and filleted pieces of fish, I think; so the best way to improve this recipe, we decided, would be to fillet the fish and use the bones, and herbs to make a stock first, drain it, and then cook the vegetables and fish in the clear broth. Indeed, Eliza Acton suggests the same method in Modern cookery, in all its branches (1845). A good stew scoring 6/10 from me, but I think it could easily upped with some minor changes.

#251 Fried Eel with Fried Parsley

I was very impressed when I discovered that The Fish Society sold freshwater eels that they had caught and killed themselves, before freezing them for my convenience. Regular readers will know the stress trauma faced the last time I cooked eels (in both delivery and preparation). The eel population in the UK and Ireland has dropped in recent years, but nowhere near as much as the elver population. I have blogged about this before, but it is becoming increasing clear, especially for Britain that it’s not a good idea to eat adult freshwater eel either now. However, it is not illegal to fish for them, so if taken in small numbers (and who eats eels these days!?) they should be okay. I don’t know what the situation is in the USA though. Are both eels and elvers available here..?

Anyway, enough of my rantings here is the recipe:

This recipe serves four people.

First, you need to prepare your eel; a two-pounder is required here. It needs to be skinned and then cut into three inch pieces. If it has been portioned already, but not skinned, you can either leave it on or fry the pieces skin-side-down in very hot oil for a few seconds. This makes the skin easy to peel off without cooking the eel itself. Next, coat the eel in seasoned flour and fry gently in 4 ounces of clarified butter until browned and the meat comes away from the bones easily. This took me about 7 minutes, but this will depend upon thickness. Next, prepare a lemon-butter sauce by melting 6 ounces of slightly salted butter in a saucepan and adding lemon juice to taste (I used a whole one). Put the eel onto a serving dish and keep warm. Now fry the parsley stalks. Start by heating up oil in a saucepan and fry around 12 parsley sprigs for a few seconds until crisp. Be careful here: the oil will splatter so just fry 3 or 4 at a time. Serve with some lemon-butter sauce poured over the eel, with extra in a jug, and the parsley sprinkled over it.


#251 Fried Eel with Fried Parsley. I have to admit, eel is a tasty fish and cooked this way really shows off it mild, yet delicious flavour. The fried parsley too was very good; like a grassy version of crispy seaweed you get from the Chinese take away! The only problem was the lemon butter – it just made the eel taste greasy. I think tastes have changed somewhat these days, and I think that a lemon mayonnaise would suit it better. However, still a pretty good recipe. 7.5/10.

#246 Pike

The Freshwater Fish chapter of English Food has been the most difficult part of the book to source ingredients for. You can’t just walk into a fishmonger and ask for a fillet of pike or whatever. Fish are sold by the crate and no-one eats enough these days for it to be worth the fishmonger buying it, salmon and trout excepted. It’s probably not a bad idea – the fish in our rivers and lakes seem so finite compared to sea fish, so if folks got a taste for them they would be fished into extinction. That said, there are shit-loads of pike in our rivers, so why not pop down to one and fish one of the buggers out.


Who would have thought pike vs. cormorant would have turned out like this?

Jane Grigson was a fan of pike, as were the French who used to farm the scary fanged fish. Actually they’re quite beautiful with their green tiger stripes. I got two fine fillets from The Fish Society, and I suggest you have a look there if you fancy having a go at trying pike, or any other difficult-to-get-hold-of fish. This is what Griggers reckons you should do with it:

Fillet the fish and remove the pin bones (of which there are many) before marinating in some sherry and Madeira wine. After an hour or so, drain the fillets and coat them in seasoned flour and fry in oil and butter until golden and crisp. Serve with a lightly-curried velouté flavoured with the marinade juices. I used, half an ounces each of flour and butter for the roux and then half a pint of fish stock plus half a teaspoon of mild curry powder. Add some cream too if you like.


#246 Pike. This was really delicious – a firm, meaty and mildly sweet fish. Also, it wasn’t in the least ‘muddy’ tasting as we keep getting told freshwater fish tastes like. I would definitely recommend this if you can get hold of it. The sauce was pretty good too. If you see it in a restaurant, order it. 7.5/10