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Issue 45 - Smoked Salmon

Scotland Magazine Issue 45
June 2009


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Smoked Salmon

Sue Lawrence visits Shetland to find out why Scottish salmon is the best in the world.

When you want to celebrate something, whether it’s a birthday, wedding or just the arrival of the weekend, the best accompaniment to bubbly (or indeed any good crisp white wine) has to be smoked salmon. And if it’s Scottish smoked salmon then all the better.

I went to Shetland to view the salmon sea sites, and to understand why the salmon from these, our most northerly isles, is some of the best in the world. Here, with its fastflowing waters and an average optimum temperature of 6-15°C, there are the most ideal conditions for salmon. And so a visit to Grieg Seafood Hjaltland in Lerwick, the capital, reinforces just why the fresh product is so consistently excellent.

Immediately after the harvest the salmon goes through for ‘primary processing’ (cleaning, gutting). Then, after the ‘secondary processing’ (trimming, filleting, removing pin bones) it is ready for curing.

Interestingly during this process, all trimmings are sent off to become pet-food, apart from the trimmings from the belly flap which are destined for the Japanese market where they are deemed a delicacy.

For us westerners, these are too fatty and pale; we prefer the lean, firm-textured pink salmon flesh.

During the curing – which takes place a mere 24 hours after the fish has been in the sea, the salmon is salted and a marinade is rubbed all over the fillets by hand. Grieg’s new range of marinades include Pastrami flavour, Sandalwood and Orange Pepper.

These are then cold-smoked at 25-28°C, the smoke emanating from fires of beech or oak wood chips, sometimes with the addition of juniper too.

The new range is aptly called Wild Waters as the Shetland salmon swim in the fast-running currents of the north Atlantic where there is natural ebb and flow of ocean-driven water. This causes the fish to swim vigorously – and in some of the most unpolluted water in the world. Since there is no heavy industry on the islands, it is probably the cleanest seawater in Europe.

These new types of smoked salmon with more unusual flavours (they also have a Caipirinha flavoured one) are of course all suitable for serving on rye bread or blinis with drinks. But they are also versatile in the kitchen – tossed into pasta with cream and lemon zest or chopped into savoury tarts, bound with a herby egg custard.

To see smoked salmon being made on a smaller scale, I went along to my fishmonger in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, to see how salmon is smoked in the oldfashioned way. The smoked salmon we know and love is invariably cold-smoked, unlike, say, Arbroath Smokies or smoked mackerel which are hot-smoked. Although good-quality hot-smoked salmon, with its chunky, moist texture is increasingly available these days.

The first stage fishmonger Gavin Borthwick showed me was a whole side of Shetland salmon, all pin-boned, having fine salt rubbed in before being left for 10-12 hours. Then it is rinsed off and soaked in fresh water for 20 minutes and finally left on racks to thoroughly dry – overnight or for at least 10 hours.

Then the shop’s own traditional marinade is rubbed in and the side is smoked above oak chips for a minimum of two nights and maximum of thee days: the drier it becomes, the easier it is to slice. And freshly smoked salmon is a true gourmet feast, whether plain or flavoured with a spiced marinade.

The main thing is to buy top-quality and the best way to do that is to buy smoked salmon that is not only reared in Scottish waters but preferably from Shetland. The quality of smoked salmon varies so much, many varieties are too oily or salty. Stick with a quality product and you wont go wrong. Don’t forget to chill the bubbly first though!

CROSTINI WITH PEAS, MINT AND SMOKED SALMON 900g / 2 lb pea pods (or 300g / 10 1/2 oz frozen petit pois) the juice of half a large lemon extra-virgin olive oil 50g / 13/4oz grated parmesan 15g/ 1/2 oz fresh mint + extra to garnish 1 Italian sfilatino (or thin french stick), cut into about 30 rounds approx. 200g / 7 oz smoked salmon 1. Pod the peas if fresh and boil until just tender (or cook from frozen). Drain and run immediately under the cold tap to arrest cooking. Pat dry on kitchen paper.

2. Tip the peas into a food processor with the lemon juice, three tbsp oil, cheese and mint leaves. Whizz then taste and add salt and pepper accordingly.

3. Place the bread on a baking sheet, brush lightly with olive oil and bake at 180ºC / 350°F / Gas 4 for 10-15 minutes, until pale golden.

4. To serve, place the crostini on a platter, spread each with pea purée and top with a sliver of smoked salmon. Garnish with mint if you like.

ROAST NEW POTATOES AND SMOKED SALMON SALAD WITH DILL 500g / 1 lb 2 oz small new potatoes, scrubbed 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 1 tbsp white wine vinegar 1 tbsp horseradish sauce 2 tbsp freshly chopped dill approx. 75g / 2 3/4oz smoked salmon, slivered 1. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet with two tablespoons of oil. Toss well to coat. Season with pepper and sea salt and roast at 200ºC / 400ºF / Gas 6 for about 35 minutes, until tender then tip into a large bowl with the oil.

2. Mix the remaining oil with the vinegar and horseradish then pour into the bowl. Toss gently to coat. Allow to cool then add the dill and smoked salmon. Eat at room temperature.