#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.

#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.

#323 Salmi of Game (or Duck, or Fish)

A salmi, also known as salmis, salomine and salomene is essentially a posh game stew and is an abbreviation of salmagundi which started life in France as a meat ragoût. A salmi, rather than being any meat, should be made using game birds that are partly-cooked, and then finished off in a rich sauce made from their bones, though domesticated birds like capon and Guinea fowl are commonly used. Jane Grigson complains that more often than not, salmi is made from leftover game meat and then offered at high prices in high-end restaurants. ‘Don’t be deceived’, she says, ‘[i]t is exactly what would have been eaten by Chaucer, or his son, at the court of Henry IV, or by that granddaughter of his, Alice, Duchess of Suffolk, at her manor at Ewelme.’ Grigson mentions the food eaten at the court of Henry IV a few times in English Food: giving recipes for quince comfits and ‘a coronation doucet’.

The dish originally came from medieval France and game wasn’t necessary, as this recipe shows that Grigson found dating from 1430 that uses fish:
Salomene:
Take good wine, and good powder, and bread crumpled, and sugar and boil it together; then take trout, roach, perch, or carp, or all these together, and make them clean, and after roast them on a griddle; then hew them in gobbets [chunks]; when they be cooked, dry them in oil a little, then cast them in the bruet [the sauce] and when you dress it, take mace, cloves, cubebs, gilliflowers; and cast them on top, and serve forth.

Cubebs are a type of pepper (latin name: Piper cubeba) that you can still buy from specialists, gilliflowers are a very fragrant species of carnation and ‘powder’ refers to a mixture of ground spices.

I have been eager to cook a couple of game recipes whilst I am over in England for Christmas, and seeing as I was in London, I thought I would visit the very excellent butcher Allen’s of Mayfair – an amazing place that consists of a central circular butcher’s block surrounded by the meat hanging up around it. I felt as though I had walked into a scene from a Dickens novel. I bought a couple of mallards and used those for the salmi.

Roast your game birds rare, cut the meat from the carcass into neat ‘gobbets’.

Use the carcasses to make ¾ pint of game stock. Melt 2 ounces of butter in a pan and cook 3 chopped shallots until soft and golden. Now stir in a heaped tablespoon of flour and whisk in the hot stock a third at a time to prevent lumps forming.

Add a bouquet garni and a pared strip of orange peel (Seville oranges would be great if you can get them) and simmer for 20 minutes, to make a thick sauce. Pass the sauce through a sieve and add ¼ pint of red or white wine and 4 ounces of mushrooms that have been fried in butter. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Simmer for a further 5 minutes, then add the game and simmer very gently again for 10 more minutes. Add a little cayenne pepper. Serve with orange wedges and croûtons fried in butter.

#323 Salmi of Game (or Duck, or Fish). I must admit that I was a little worried about eating mallard – the last time I cooked them it was pretty grim (see here). I needn’t have worried though, it seems that the previous mallards had been overhung because this salmi of mallard was delicious. The meat was beautifully tender and surprisingly mild in its gaminess considering how dark the flesh was. The sauce too was wonderfully rich and silky. Plus the inclusion of orange wedges for squeezing was inspired. Tres bon! 9/10.

#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

#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

#234 Smoked Eel

If you have a nice little independent butcher or fishmonger it’s always worth having a quick nosey to see if they have anything different in. I did this at Out of the Blue – probably the best fishmonger in the North-West, at least when it comes to getting hold of weird and wonderful ingredients like the freshwater eel from a few months ago. Well, this time there was freshwater eel on the shelves in abundance, at least in its smoked form.

There are a few smokehouses that smoke eels in Britain, though the eels themselves are usually brought over from Holland and the surrounding countries due to the fact that are fewer of the beasties to found in British rivers.


This is not a recipe, but really a suggestion by Griggers as to the best way to appreciate smoked eel. As a starter, give each person a three inch section of eel fillet along with some good brown or rye bread and butter, a lemon wedge and perhaps some horseradish sauce. That’s it. Enjoy.

#234 Smoked Eel. A true delicacy; and the best way to treat a delicacy is to eat it in the simplest way possible. The flesh was sweet, succulent and firm, not the soft and slightly gelatinous consistency of smoked salmon which I can find rather off-putting. Don’t be squeamish and get it down yer. Fab stuff 8/10.