As a chef, I could pick so many great ingredients to talk about, but as a Scottish chef, there’s one that stands above the rest – Scottish salmon.
This fine fish, which is Scotland’s number one food export, is known for its distinct flavour, firm texture, and high quality. It’s one of my favourite foods to cook, and recently I had the opportunity to learn even more about it.
For me, the best thing about salmon is that it doesn’t taste like any other fish.
Some people compare trout to salmon, but that’s like comparing turmeric to saffron. Both may give you the colour you’re looking for, but in terms of taste and superiority, there’s no competition.
Salmon is also one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods you can find, full of omega 3s and high in protein. It is in such high demand there are regulations in place to ensure its sustainability in Scotland and the world.
At the farm and in the water
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to visit The Scottish Salmon Company, where they kindly took me to visit one of their marine sites at Loch Fyne.
Having never been to a fish farm before, I had no idea what to expect.
The drive to the loch is beautiful, especially coming from the city, and I got so caught up in the scenery that I almost drove straight past the little farm.
There were only a handful of cars and about 6 men on the site in a little portacabin, along with a couple of old sea boats and the smell of salt from the loch. It wasn’t glamorous by any means, but it’s not meant to be.
I asked one of the managers why he believed Scottish salmon is superior to others, and he told me that it comes down to our rich waters. I have to agree (not that I’m biased or anything).
I got to witness all the latest techniques used in salmon farming – everything from supporting the life cycle to monitoring the daily feed. They even took me and my friend out on a boat to one of the nets and let us feed some of the salmon.
The Scottish Salmon Company has also developed its own “native strain” of salmon.
This unique Native Hebridean salmon is heir to an ancestral bloodline stretching back millennia. Only salmon that share this pure Scottish island lineage and are born, reared, and harvested on the Hebrides qualify as Native Hebridean. Having something so distinctive and unique makes this salmon superior to others.
It was truly amazing to see how involved every process is to ensure that only the best salmon reaches the plate. I’m still learning about wild and farmed fish, but this was a valuable first step toward exploring more about the industry.
On the menu and in the kitchen
After seeing where many of these fish are raised, I wanted to visit the other side – where they’re served.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit many coastal areas of Scotland, but one of my favourites is the small coastal town of Portpatrick, where my good friend Rory lives.
As a great chef and avid fisherman, he is extremely knowledgeable about fish and has a deep appreciation for how important sustainability is. His family runs a seafood restaurant called Campbell’s that has been open nearly 20 years, and fresh-caught salmon is one of the most popular dishes they serve.
You can literally look out into the sea and see where your dinner most likely came from. This restaurant’s longevity is a real testament to the owners’ hard work and philosophy of letting the fish be the star of the plate.
There are so many great ways to prepare salmon, but the most popular methods in Scotland are smoking or curing. Salmon that has been cured with a mix of salt and sugar and perhaps fresh herbs is called “gravlax,” and you’ll find it on most fine-dining restaurant menus. There are many variations out there that can alter the texture of the salmon and enhance the depth of flavor.
Hot- and cold-smoked salmon are also widely popular, but I prefer the hot-smoked style for its lighter flavour and more delicate texture. It flakes away rather nicely and is great for canape-style dishes or paired with a nice salad. Cold-smoked salmon has a firmer, slightly chewy texture, but many of my friends like nothing more than a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel.
Another option is to simply pan fry a bit of salmon and then finish it off with a little butter.
But if I had to choose, my favourite method of preparing salmon would be ceviche style, which is not Scottish by any means. Ceviche is originally from Peru, but now most countries have adopted their own style of it.
Ceviche involves curing fresh, raw fish in citrus juice. Here is a recipe which I feel works great and brings out a unique flavour and texture in the salmon. Because salmon is an oily fish, I feel that curing it in the citrus juice freshens it up and takes away the fishiness while maintaining the delicate, flaky texture.
SALMON CEVICHE WITH FENNEL SALAD
Serves 4 people
- 350g fresh salmon
- Juice of 10 limes
- 1 pomegranate
- 1/2 fennel bulb
- 1 orange
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Maldon rock salt
- Remove the skin from the salmon as well as any of the brown meat that lies close to the skin. Remove any pin bones, which run down the middle of the fish.
- Slice the salmon as thinly as possible.
- Squeeze the limes into a bowl, segment the orange, then squeeze any remaining juice into the lime juice. Add the olive oil to the mixture.
- Place the salmon into the bowl of citrus juice, making sure the salmon is completely covered. Give it a stir after a couple of minutes, and after about 5 minutes you will see a significant change in the colour and texture.
- Deseed the pomegranate and thinly slice the fennel.
- Remove salmon from the cure, keeping a spoonful aside for the dressing.
- To plate, place a little fennel on base of plate and put a few orange segments around. Remove fish and place on top of salad. Sprinkle over pomegranate seeds and rock salt. Drizzle with the remaining dressing. Serve immediately.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think!