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Issue 21 - Head for the Shetlands

Scotland Magazine Issue 21
July 2005


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Head for the Shetlands

Salmon's not only good for you, it's surprisingly versatile. Sue Lawrence looks at some recipe ideas

In these days of concern (bordering on obsession) with health, I often wonder why more people are not eating salmon more regularly.

It is packed full of Omega 3 fatty acids which are known to have a whole raft of health benefits. And to ensure the farmed salmon you buy (outwith the wild season) is the very best, I recommend you ask for Shetland salmon. For Shetland is different from anywhere else in Scotland; hardly surprising when you consider that to reach this stunningly beautiful set of islands, there is a 14-hour ferry trip from Aberdeen. And once you get there you are struck by the differences: Shetlanders enjoy speciality foods such as reestit (cured) mutton and sassermeat (spiced sausagemeat) not found anywhere else in Britain.

There is a definite air of Scandinavia about the scenery, and when the locals speak, they often sound more Norwegian than English. It also has a unique marine environment which results in the most superb quality of salmon; using a wine analogy, it is often referred to as the ‘Grand Cru’ of salmon.

With its location in the fast-running currents of the North Atlantic, there is natural ebb and flow of ocean-driven water (which does not occur in some inshore sea lochs), causing the fish to swim vigorously – and in crystal clear water.

In the voes (Shetland’s small fjords) there is very little fresh water run-off since there are no rivers in Shetland, so the chances of farmed salmon escaping up the rivers, as has happened elsewhere, are negligible.

And it is this perfect environment in our most northerly of islands that makes Shetland the ideal place for salmon. I was shown the salmon pens out in the wild seas west of Weisdale by Karl Scott, son of the first Shetland salmon farmer, back in 1984; as I watched Karl feed the fish their pellets from a pipe on the boat, it was difficult not to compare with wild fish as they leapt out of the water in anticipation.

Then Karl showed me what was going on deep down in the pen, by camera. The reason is to check if they are still feeding: the minute they stop, the feed supply ceases.

This is to counteract criticism of waste food contaminating the sea bed. But what I also found interesting was to see that deep down in the waters, they had plenty of room to swim about (bearing in mind fish naturally move in shoals) and anyone who has witnessed battery chickens will confirm that not only do salmon live far longer, they also have more room to do what comes naturally: in their case, swim. This unique natural environment that generations of Shetlanders have cared for produces firm-textured fish (unlike some farmed fish that move less and so tend to be flabby) which is superhealthy and also infinitely versatile.

But above all, the taste is superb. With the ‘king of fish’ there are a multitude of dishes it can be used in.

And as well as cooking fresh fillets, steaks or the whole fish, I recommend cooking with some of the smoked salmon products from the Shetland Smokehouse; its hot-smoked salmon is wonderfully moist and succulent and flakes beautifully into salads, risottos, hashes or omelettes.

Its (regular) cold-smoked salmon is equally good and just as versatile, whether with rye bread and dill or simply a glass of Chablis – Grand Cru of course.

3 salmon fillets, skinned, pin bones removed
75g / 3oz oatmeal
The zest of 1 small lemon
2 heaped tbsp freshly chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Brush the salmon all over with oil.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper and place on a plate.
3. Dip the (rounded) surface of each fillet into the mixture, then place on an oiled baking sheet.
4. Place on the top shelf of a preheated oven (220ºC / 425ºF / gas mark 7) for about 10 minutes or until just done ). Test by inserting the tip of a sharp knife into the centre).
5. Serve with couscous and salad.

Serve with new potatoes and some asparagus or broccoli, 6 middle-cut salmon fillets, skinned, pin-bones removed by your fishmonger, approx.
175g / 6oz each
olive oil
100g / 31/2oz watercress
4 heaped tbsp mayonnaise

1. Place the salmon baking sheet and brush with oil. Leave for half an hour or so.
2. Place the watercress in a food processor with the mayonnaise and whizz until combined then season to taste.
3. Just before cooking, sprinkle sea salt and grind black pepper over the salmon. Bake at 220ºC / 425ºF / gas mark 7 for about 15 minutes or until just cooked. (Test with the tip of a knife.)
4. Rest for a couple of minutes then serve on warm serving plates with a spoonful of the mayonnaise, new potatoes and green vegetables.

Use hot-smoked salmon fillets, available from Shetland Smokehouse on +44 (0)1595 860 251 or
750g / 1lb 10oz potatoes
200g / 7oz parsnips
2 tbsp olive oil
25g / 1oz butter
1 large onion, peeled, sliced
200g / 7oz hot-smoked salmon, flaked ( or roughly chopped cold-smoked)
2 heaped tbsp chopped flat parsley

1. Peel the potatoes and parsnips and boil them, whole, until tender to the point of a knife (about 10 minutes for parsnips, 15 for potatoes). Drain well and pat dry.
2. When cool enough to handle, cut into 1cm cubes.
3. Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy frying pan then fry the onion for about 10 minutes until softened and golden brown.
4. Add the potatoes and parsnips and fry over a fairly high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, until the base begins to become golden brown and crusty.
5. Season generously with salt and pepper, stir in the smoked salmon.
6. After a few minutes add the parsley and continue cooking for a further three to four minutes until piping hot and crusty.
7. Taste for seasoning then serve straight from the pan.