Those of a pescetarian persuasion may have noticed an absence of fish recipes in this blog so far. It is a distressing fact that my other half, although practically perfect in every other way, is allergic to fish and seafood. Therefore, in the last ten years, my fish consumption is limited to when I eat out or when he is away on business. Then I can cook fish without the implication that whatever I have made for him as an alternative still tastes of fish and that he will have to go get a takeaway. This is a source of great sorrow to me as I have always loved all fish and seafood-if it lives in the water, I’ll eat it.
Like many of us, I am aware that fish selection has to be made with care and consideration; so many of our world stocks are depleted that eating some types of fish seems a selfish act. A few years ago, I went on a fish cookery course, which involved getting up at the most ludicrous time to venture to the fish mecca that is Billingsgate Fish Market. If you are in the area, I would urge you to visit; not many people seem to know that it is open to the public and it is the most amazing spectacle 13 acres of every kind of fish, piled high and sold more cheaply than you could ever imagine. We bought a huge sea bass for £15; this was then portioned up into 8 and sold for £16.50 each. Not hard to see how this works out well for restaurants.
Anyway, this trip was something which would make me change how I thought about and shopped for fish forever. Up until this point, I had been content to buy my fish from the fish counter at the supermarket; after all, you can choose your fish and have it cleaned and filleted in front of you, just like in a fishmongers. This is still the case and supermarkets have made great progress in recent years with the quality of their fish supplies, but the main difference is that all fish that British supermarkets have on their shelves and fish counters will be at least a few days old. This is because supermarkets have to adhere to rules of supplying fish that has gone through a number of tests, including ones for mercury. Fishmongers do not have to do this; if they say the fish was caught that morning, it was. I now buy all my fish from my local fishmongers for this very reason. They can also tell me if a fish is wild or farmed, so you can make an informed choice, which contrasts with the murky labelling of supermarket fish.
I am all too aware that very few of us now have a ‘local’ fishmongers. Unfortunately, these were one of the first independent shops to succumb to the might of the supermarkets, so, if you have one, support them!
Salmon is one of my favourite fish; it is wonderful softly poached or pan fried with a crispy skin. However, it is a contentious fish in many ways; we are all advised to eat more as part of our oily fish intake, with all it’s powerful Omega 3 benefits. But should we eat farmed or wild? 80% of what we eat in this country is Atlantic, or, in other words, farmed. But it has been researched and proven that wild salmon is better for you. Indeed, US Department of Agriculture research bears out that the fat content of farmed salmon is 30-35 percent by weight while wild salmons’ fat content is some 20 percent lower, with a protein content about 20 percent higher. In addition, farm-raised fish contain higher amounts of pro-inflammatory Omega 6 fats instead of the preponderance of healthier Omega 3s found in wild fish. This is very similar to a report by the London Metropolitan University, flagged up a few years ago by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which found that battery, or factory farmed chicken has a much higher fat content and is lower in Omega 3 than free range and organic birds.
So Alaskan, or wild, is better from a nutritional perspective, but, as with free range and organic chicken, it is much more expensive. From my personal perspective, I buy wild because I prefer the flavour; it is rich, oily and robust with a beautiful dark coral colour, but I do not buy it often. Like organic meat, I believe that fish should be a treat rather than an everyday dinner.
I found myself alone the other day, with only a half slice of poached salmon in the fridge and no inclination to out to the shops in the cold and wet. I remembered the packet of smoked salmon lurking in the freezer (it freezes incredibly well) and so a feast beckoned. The addition of the poached salmon works wonderfully here, bringing a softness and delicacy to the dish. This pâté is so easy to make, it scarcely needs a recipe, it also makes what is expensive produce go a long way. It seems there must be a catch for being able to produce such a luxurious and unctuous plate so fast, but let me assure you there isn’t!
Smoked Wild Alaskan Salmon Pâté
Serves 6 as a starter. You can also serve this as a canape on mini oat cakes.
200g smoked wild Alaskan salmon
100g poached salmon, flaked
200g cream cheese
75g creme fraiche
juice of 1/2 lemon
Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until quite smooth. I like a little texture in mine, but it is a personal thing. Taste and add more lemon and pepper if necessary.
Chill in a bowl and serve with sourdough or rye bread and a mustardy dressed salad. If you toast the bread, allow it to cool a little before adding the pâté, or it will melt on contact.