If ever there was a food symbol of Ireland it’s the salmon, the king of fish. There was a time when Irish rivers were so populated that it was a staple of the diet here and back even further it was held up as sacred and worshipped by the Celts giving rise to one of our most famous legends still celebrated to this day and regaled to children and visitors alike.
This feisty fish was on coins and stamps, it’s still on Irish passports, used in art, jewellery and advertisements and even has a festival in its honour held here in Meath, the home of its said legend, the salmon of knowledge story. It was believed anyone ever drowning was reincarnated as a salmon in Celtic Ireland.
The irony is that we know now salmon really is brain food with its rich oils now being acknowledged as helping us perform better mentally so the ancients were not far off knowing there was something special about our fishy friend. These days most salmon come from farms dotted up and down the west coast or from ones abroad.
The wild salmon are only available in summer and not so easy to attain for catching or eating. You can buy a fillet of the farmed stuff in the supermarket for a couple of Euros now so the days of it being an exclusive food are long gone. If you can get organic salmon it is worth the extra euro for the small improvement in the ethics, the slight flavour and the better feeding. Nothing beats the wild though and you will pay handsomely for that privilege.
As a food it is very versatile and so easy to cook. It will poach steam, bake and fry equally well and raw of course it is so adored by the Japanese never mind our own smoking of it and even the eggs make decent caviar. Nordic countries cure it beautifully and some like the French will cook it in pastry and eat it raw as a tartare or ceviche. It’s delicious just cooked and served cold too and then also mixed in salads and as a sandwich filling it is excellent. The salmon available in tins does not do it justice really. I also was amazed when first working in France that customers would order their fillet of salmon like meat, rare or medium but never well done. I recall one being sent back as I had overcooked it to medium.
My favourite recipes are the simple ones, like just gently poaching it in some white wine, shallots and herbs, only half cooking it though and then leaving it rest for a few minutes as it will keep cooking away by itself off the heat and it will be still slightly undercooked when eating it but retaining all its moisture and flavour. I like serving it with a nice butter or cream sauce made from the reduced cooking liquor or a separate tangy citrus based sauce using lemon or lime. A Hollandaise sauce is one of the best to go with it.
My favourite of the more prominent all time classic recipes though would be with sorrel sauce created by one of the big three star French chefs back in the seventies. It really goes so well with so many potato and vegetable accompaniments too and is great in pasta and rice dishes also. It gives endless options to eat it.
We certainly need to eat more fish now and if you have not made it to salmon yet then it is never too late. Try it when out next time for a meal and see how it goes and if it wins you over then don’t hesitate in trying to cook it at home. You now have the knowledge about salmon.