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.
Lovely as usual Tracey and I am away to my bed, chortling at your camper-van banter. Last night, two ENORMOUS vans camped over night by this expensive pad http://www.hebhide.co.uk.. if I had been renting it, I would have been a tad irritated.x
Thanks Fi, the thing that pulled out in front or us on Skye was about the size of Moby Dick, all traffic ahead screeching to a halt to allow its faltering passage. I would have been fuming if I was renting the Hobbit house, especially if the deckchairs (with cup holders, of course) came out!
There should be a LOVE button, not just a LIKE. We love scallop roe, and you’re absolutely right: most people have no idea what it is or how delicious it is. Several bags to take home and freeze!!!??? Major score! I wish my seafood lady were so profligate. It really is a distinctive flavor, but one that people who like some of their senses to live in the briny world truly savor, live having the sea packed into your mouth. Really like the idea of adding fresh samphire (we know it as salpicornes) at the end to flavor the sauce. Most of my experience with it has been in its pickled form. A really delicious meal. Finally, as if the food you eat weren’t enough (and I happen to like pollack, although it’s considered inferior here too), I can’t believe where you get to hike. Lovely post. Ken
P.S. Your throwaway line about the necessity of properly seasoning pollock also applies to cod, as far as I’m concerned. I much prefer the salted version to fresh, unless you take the trouble to do something special with it, as you do here.
Thank you so much Ken. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be given so many corals. Interestingly, I’ve never eaten pickled samphire, so one to seek out in future – and you are so right about cod, I have no idea why it is favoured except tradition / culture and salted is a lot better, in fact I have some I have been meaning to use, must do that soon!
Beautiful recipe. Wil have to wait until we are back in the UK as our local fishmonger there sells scallops (local Rye Bay when in season, if not they come from Scotland) with the coral and also samphire! And you bought back memories of a lovely lunch (with oysters) in the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar!
Thank you! At least in your fishmongers you have a chance to get the corals. The Oyster Bar was different but still great. The refurbishment does not appear to have diminished the quality of the food or service.
These posts are getting so good, they could form the basis of an excellent TV series! If the weather was always like that in the Islands, I think we would all try to live there. (Although I am with you on those midges, they would trap me inside. ) Great Post Tracey, an excellent read.
Regards from Norfolk, Pete. x
Thanks Pete, I found your comment in my spam, another WordPress curveball for you to try and sort out! Sadly, the islands have been shrouded in low cloud and mist and it has been pretty cold for the last week (in fact since the day I got back). To be honest, if you don’t get reasonable weather here, it’s a struggle and must spoil some visitors holidays. I see a lot of tourists wandering about forlornly, clearly out of their comfort zone and not at all outdoors people (hoods up in what I would consider reasonable weather, walking with handbags clutched to chest, tiny silly shoes on rough ground) – this place is fine as long as you are used to the outdoors and the elements. Umbrellas don’t do here, as one tourist I saw trying to use one found out. I’ve heard quite a few tales (and seen some surprising sights) this summer that testify that the islands are attracting a new wave of tourists that perhaps are not expecting the wildness of the place or are not used to following the general rules of the countryside, especially around livestock. I hope they enjoy being here more than they look like they do 🙂
Tremendous photos, took me back to my childhood and holidays in Scotland, I seem to remember scaling a few of the peaks in the area with my father, who was a keen walker. Scotland and the Lake District must surely be the destination of choice for anyone who want’s to visit the UK.
Glad you cleared up the Pollock spelling, the second offering fits my Yorkshire accent better; although it tastes great either way 🙂
Thanks, Glencoe is certainly a mecca for walkers and climbers, one of my favourite Scottish ranges and I’ve had a few hair-raising ascents there, especially in winter, but it’s so beautiful and accessible, hard to resist!
Oh, I so want to visit Scotland! Your photos make my feet itch to move, Tracey!
Wanna hear something sad? Here, most of our scallops are caught on Trip Boats, that are out for a week at a time, rather than Day Boats…the roe is useless by the time they get to port. 😦
Thanks Marie, I’d encourage you to visit, but I’d see how you get on with midges before you consider re-locating – they make me want to sometimes! How awful your scallops sit about for so long. We have scallop dredgers here, but I don’t eat scallops harvested this way as dredging can damage the seabed, but there is strong market for premium hand-dived scallops from here, so we are very lucky.
That sounds delicious – it’s always amazed me that people discard the coral, because it looks so good alongside the white scallop meat, let alone tasting good. I particularly like scallops with chorizo 😉
Thanks, I love scallops with chorizo too. We got some very good quality chorizo when in Edinburgh last week, so I’m thinking along these lines now 🙂
Your beautiful photos of the Highlands have me looking forward to our summer trip to Scotland even more now… although it’s Edinburgh and Islay, not the hills of the mainland this time. You’ve also reminded me that we should allow extra time en route to the ferry – just in case the campervans are out on the roads again!
Thanks Sarah, I found your message in my spam folder along with a few from other people! Certainly if you are going to Islay, I would leave extra time to allow for slow camper vans, etc. Few drivers seem to pull over these days to let queues clear or perhaps even consider someone is looking impatient in the car behind them because they are driving slowly along a road leading to a ferry! Of course, I should leave more time to account for this in the summer too! Hope you enjoy your holiday and get good weather.
For some reason, my comments seem to be disappearing somewhere between clicking ‘Post Comment’ and the comment actually being posted… so I’ll try again. Great photos of your trip to the Highlands – it really is a beautiful part of the world.
Thanks Sarah, that has happened to me too before, but mainly on the app. on my phone, not a problem at the mo as my new phone completely died today when I tried to install the new Android upgrade! At least the photos I took with it in Glencoe came out well!
Your photos are gorgeous, and you write so beautifully as well!
Thanks you Shari, very kind words, Tracey
I love your photos and I really need to plan a holiday over there. The scenery is too beautiful!
Thanks Danny, you should. Pack your sun cream and your water proofs and expect to need both in one day!
Wow! I’m sure it’s going to be worth the effort.
It’s a true testament to a good cook who can keep and (refuse) from food and turn it into something palatable. The pollock isn’t a fish I’m familiar with in the Southern Hemisphere, however I love your use of the samphire and scallop coral sauce. Adds such a vibrancy and pop of colour and I’ve no doubt it tastes fresh like the sea!
Thank you, although great produce speaks for itself and the sauce really did taste so sea fresh.
There’s something so wonderful about the fresh burst of samphire tough, definitely in there as one of my new favourite’s to explore. I’m devising menu’s at culinary school for 60pax lunches and I’ve no doubt it’ll make an appearance soon!
Was just thinking the nearest I ever get to Loch Fyne is the chain restaurant – somehow I doubt it’s as good as your original! Amazing scenery.
Thanks, I’ve never been to any but the original, and then only twice in the last 20 years. It certainly looks like it caters for a much bigger market these days but the oysters were still great. BTW, not sure why I found you comment in my spam folder,(along with some others!).
Your photos are so beautiful! You really should make them bigger on the blog you know, so I don’t have to click into them to get a better look…
Thanks and sorry, I should give photos more of a priority, especially since I only usually check them on my phone where they look OK, thanks to responsive width. My photos are usually not that good 🙂 I’ll work on these things at the end of the summer when I have more time. BTW, not sure why, but your comment ended up in my spam folder along with those of several others!
Your photos are amazing as they are – I don’t think they need working on. Just make them bigger so they shine! And I keep finding comments in my spam folder too. Not really sure why…
You may have rocks in your garden but the country side is remarkably beautiful. I’m a fan of pollack but it’s not found very often in the fish markets or on menus. Maybe if they gave it a more exotic name …
As Marie mentioned, little scallop roe makes it to our coast. Living here, 1600km from the nearest coast, there’s no chance of sourcing any. I’m lucky to find fresh scallops. 🙂
Thanks John, the supermarkets have tried to sex up pollack here by calling it other things like ‘colin’, French for hake, but I can’t imagine ordering a colin and chips 🙂 What a shame you can’t get coral. I feel very lucky to have scallops on my doorstep.
I didn’t realise that the coral was usually discarded – I’ll have to see if the fish stall where I have to buy mine will give me them at a knock down price; I’d always assumed that they’d be more expensive as they’re the best part. And I do buy pollack quite a bit. But your recipe sounds mouthwatering. As usual a wonderful meander before the recipe. By the way, those clumsy white boxes are ‘motorhomes’ not campervans. We go even more slowly (though idiot celebrity chefs have been known to have Porsche engines fitted) and break for tea – regularly.
Thanks, I think in good restaurants they are probably used for other things e.g. dried or used to intensify sauces and bisques, but this customer did not want them! I stand corrected, I should know the distinction between a motorhome and a campervan – and motorhomes take up x2 the space on the ferry!
This is such an interesting post, and your dish looks incredible. As many others have mentioned here, your photographs really are stunning – and I particularly like the one of the samphire emerging from the ground, Beautiful.
Thank you very much. My nose was about an inch from the mud when I took that samphire shot!