The core elements of this recipe are a suite of delicious things considered inferior, discarded or overlooked. I wanted to champion three very deserving ingredients: pollack, scallop coral and samphire, by combining them in a luxuriant recipe to celebrate these, some of my favourite local ingredients. Each of the 3 elements of this dish can be collected sustainably by hand here at the right time of year.
Pollack (or pollock) is a Gadoid fish in the same family as cod. Despite having a similar texture, flavour and smell as cod, pollack is often considered to be inferior, by both shoppers and sea anglers and is consequently cheaper, being used as a substitute for cod, including illegally. A recent article in The Guardian highlighted that cod and chips could indeed be ‘a load of pollack’ as Trading Standards identified that it was being used as a cheap substitute for cod in shops, restaurants and fish and chip shops. There is also the question of sustainability.
Despite the pressure on our fragile cod stocks, as a nation, we are still generally pretty conservative and traditional about what fish we think we prefer. Most people, tasting both anecdotally and in blind taste tests cannot tell the difference between pollack and cod. However, the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF), representing UK fish and chip shops expects cod to remain the most popular choice for its members and the public. Anyhow, I’m not about to preach the virtues of sustainability any further as HFW manages this more than adequately with his well-oiled media machine.
Pollack is one of the most common seafish that can be caught with rod and line around our Hebridean coasts and is one of our favourite white fish. It does need to be well seasoned, appropriately cooked and served with carefully selected ingredients to bring out the best of its flavour, such as this recipe with a rich, flavoursome sauce.
Scallop coral, the orange roe attached to the prized white scallop muscle is also a deserving ingredient routinely (and inexplicably to my mind) discarded, or at least not served with the white muscle in many high end UK restaurants. It has a rich, sweet and intense and yes, some people consider strong, perhaps overpoweringly distinctive flavour, but that robust flavour can be turned to ones advantage. The coral does cook at a slightly different rate from the white adductor muscle, but I still don’t see a need to discard it entirely. Why not just cook it separately?
These big fat healthy corals were discarded from hand-dived North Uist scallops, and were given to us by our seafood wholesaler friend as they were not wanted by the customer. I snapped up several bags of them, freezing them in small batches for use later.
If there is any ingredient that perhaps signifies the height of summer for the coastal forager it is samphire. Ever associated with fresh summer breezes and sea air, the salt marsh indicator genus Salicornia has become a hip restaurant favourite over the last few years. Yet it is almost overlooked along our coasts being ubiquitous in shallow, slack water inlets, bays and lagoons, wherever you see the cushions of pink thrift, a month of so later one can almost predictably find marsh samphire.
I say marsh because it should not be confused with rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum), an edible umbelliferae and the lonely, sole species of its genus. Marsh samphire (Salicornia spp.) comprise a genus that can be difficult to separate into individual species, especially earlier in the season, and are also known as glassworts. Marsh samphire ashes were historically used to make soap and glass, hence the common name.
Salicornia spp. are just becoming apparent here and a couple of weeks ago I found the first nascent plants emerging from the estuarine mud a stones throw from my house. Now is the time to harvest this seasonal beauty.
The sun is out!
I left Uist on Monday on the ferry, the mist was hanging low over The Minch, a bit of a pea-souper requiring the ferry to sound its foghorn. When I got to the other side, the Isle of Skye appeared to be a different continent – balmy, sunny and hot. I had meetings in Argyll and it was delightful to drive through wonderful west coast scenery (I saw trees!) on the warmest day of the year so far in Scotland. The tourist hotspots around Skye, Fort William and Loch Lomond were buzzing with masses of holiday makers and day trippers soaking up the bewilderingly hot and sunny holiday weather.
I endured spectacular views over Loch Fyne from my hotel and had breakfast in the sun before getting down to the day’s work.
Having wrapped up my work after 2 days, I headed north up the west side of Loch Fyne and could not resist taking a short break at the famous Loch Fyne Oyster Bar at the head of the loch, a place I had not visited for about 20 years and my goodness, it had changed, and was no longer just the shed serving fine seafood that I remember. It looked particularly plush following a recent renovation.
Even near the end of the afternoon service, the establishment was heaving with coaches, people mostly browsing in the shop filled with tasty shellfish produce and more. However, I had only one thing on my mind. On such a hot day, there could be nothing more refreshing than indulging in 6 oysters nestled on a bed of ice with a squeeze of lemon and a hint of Tabasco. These slid down all too easily, but were very good value at under £2 each for high quality large, super-fresh oysters. I opted for the rock oysters as I have eaten native oysters but had not tried these non-invasive Pacific imports. These were utterly delicious and I had a pang of yearning for more.
I found it somewhat baffling that no one else in the bar appeared to be eating the signature Loch Fyne oysters but had settled for fish and chips, although these looked pretty tasty too.
Joined by The Man Named Sous who had business in Edinburgh, we wound our way home on another stunning day. Glencoe was, as ever, beautifully intimidating, the rock amphitheatres of the triple ‘Sister’ buttresses that form part of the complex Bidean nam Bian mountain massif almost overhanging the road, completely exposed without their usual shroud of cloud.
We had a particularly unsettling walk in mist many years ago trying to locate the summit of this mountain, having ascended from The Lost (Hidden) Valley. It has many false summits. We found out next day, which was crystal clear, looking across while tackling the razor-edged Aonach Eagach (Scotland’s narrowest mainland ridge with a Munro at either end) on the other side of the valley that we had in fact been on a false summit of Bidean, but did not want to risk a slip near the edge of the precipitous Church Door buttress where we made a judgement call to turn back. It was the right call that day.
We made sure that we left enough time for an essential coffee stop at the recently opened Isle of Skye Coffee Roastery at Kyleakin on the Skye. A must stop en route from ferry and back through Skye from now on. Check out their Facebook page here. The Man Named Sous indulged in some coffee geekery, including making his first espresso on a lever operated machine. We left with sound advice and some great freshly roasted beans that we are very much looking forward to trying in our own machine. Thank you and keep up the good work!
Despite leaving bags of time, a line of campervans on the road across Skye held up progress quite seriously, all driving on the fast side of slow (as Julian Cope would say). This included one that pulled out from a layby in front of the queue of white boxes in front of us at the breakneck pace of a dehydrated slug. As a result, we just made it Uig in time to drive straight onto the ferry. Phew! It did, however, give us time to reflect on the ridiculous and ironically inappropriate names for some of these most un-aerodynamic of road-clogging objects such as ‘Swift’ and ‘Rapide’.
How pleasant it was to arrive back to hazy sunshine on North Uist, an almost balmy evening, no less, which means only one thing – midges. I retreated inside after watering the veg as no matter how I try, I have never developed a coping mechanism for these irritating biting females of the species.
The Man Named Sous persevered, trying to catch the wily grey mullet that tease us, splashing about in the bay at the bottom of the garden at this time of year. The stale (pitta) bread trick has continually failed, maybe a bacon lure is next on the agenda, however, they are not getting any of our Old Spot bacon, for sure!
Pan-fried pollack with pastis, samphire and scallop coral sauce
So, what do you choose to accompany an allegedly dowdy fish to persuade one otherwise? I added pastis (Pernod) to the sauce to complement the subtle yet meaty pollack and the salty samphire and robust scallop coral.
The pollack fillets, (one per person) were seasoned and simply pan-fried, skin side down initially for a maximum of 5 minutes, turned briefly then rested in a low oven (80C) for 5 minutes so it was perfectly cooked, being crispy on the skin side, flaky and just translucent in the centre.
Pastis, samphire and scallop coral sauce
A very simple sauce where the balance of ingredients complements the delicate white pollack flesh. Serves 4.
1 tbsp. butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
8-10 scallop corals (depending on size)
1 tbsp. pastis
60g marsh samphire, washed thoroughly
50 ml vegetable stock
70ml double cream
salt and pepper
- Melt the butter gently and add the chopped shallot, cook gently for a few minutes until soft and translucent, but not colouring.
- Turn the heat up to medium and add the pastis, reduce by half then add the corals, stir for a few minutes until they cook and begin to break down.
- With the heat medium to high, add the stock and cream and reduce by about 1/3.
- Blitz the sauce in a food processor and pass through a chinois / fine sieve, back into a clean saucepan.
- Add the washed marsh samphire and cook very gently for 4-5 minutes. Season to taste and spoon the rich sauce over the pollack . We accompanied this with garlic bread, a ciabatta, courtesy of The Man Named Sous and some salad from the garden.