It was a privilege and proud day indeed when The Man Named Sous caught his first wild salmon on a trip over the Sound of Harris to the Obbe Fishery, Leverburgh, Harris. This fishery has a number of lochs and pools around the village. The one which yielded the salmon ‘The Mill Pool’ sits in an incongruous setting, right next to the Co-op car park. In fact, it is so close to the car park that you have to cast pretty carefully or risk snagging a vehicle, or worse still, the ear of an unwary shopper. Pretty surreal, considering almost all the fishing we do is in wilderness areas of North Uist!
Given the conservation status and fragility of wild salmon populations, good fishery management means at the Obbe, you can only keep one salmon and one sea trout in any outing, all others caught must be safely returned. So it was that The Man Named Sous carefully landed his 4 lb 5 oz salmon next to inquisitive shoppers and to the whoops and cheers of his Swiss fishing companions.
There were whoops and cheers in our kitchen too when the catch of a salmon was revealed to me – plus a sea trout as well. The question is how to you honour such a wonderful fish? It has such delicate flesh and flavour that is unrecognisable from that of farmed Scottish salmon, which I admit I have very mixed feelings about.
No Scottish food blog would be complete without a salmon recipe, would it? Simple is best. Although a bit decadent for a Monday night, last week we enjoyed the last pair of six fillets from the fish. It was a moment to reflect on what an honour it was to enjoy eating genuinely wild Scottish salmon these days, especially in the Outer Hebrides where catching one is no mean feat. It was also important to relish the moment. It will most likely be a very long time before the experience comes round again.
Wild Hebridean salmon with lemon nasturtium ‘caper’ butter sauce
Like many people, I always have a super-abundance of nasturtiums at the end of the summer. The leaves are used to make pesto and are added to salads with the flowers. Still, there is always more than enough to collect all the seed I need for the next year and lots left over. The quandary of what to do with the seeds was solved when, while flicking through the River Cottage Handbook No 2: Preserves, I found a novel way to preserve the seeds, and just at the right time of year. It is remarkable how similar preserved nasturtiums taste to the flower buds of the genuine Capparis plant and all but lose their peppery power.
Take the green seed pods from your nasturtium plants at the end of the growing season, while they are in optimal condition and before they start to yellow. Some seeds have a reddish tinge and they are fine to use. The recipe in the Handbook calls for 100g, but this is a lot to aim for, so if you have less, cut ingredients proportionately rather than miss out.
100g nasturtium seed pods
A few peppercorns
200ml white wine vinegar
A few seasonal herb sprigs (optional)
- Dissolve the salt in 300ml water to make a light brine and leave the seeds in the brine for 24 hours.
- Drain and dry the seeds, pack into small sterilised jars with a few peppercorns and herb sprig of your choice. Leave 1cm at the top for the vinegar.
- Cover the pods with the vinegar and seal with a vinegar-proof jar lid.
- Store for a few weeks before using.
Cooking the salmon
Use farmed if wild is unobtainable – check the quality/credentials of your source for environmental and welfare standards. The fish should be cooked only for a short period and rested to retain a soft, translucent centre.
Salmon fillets -1 per person
Salt and pepper
ground nut or other flavourless oil
Heat oven to 80C
- Heat a griddle pan until hot, but not smoking – you are aiming for crisp, seared but not burnt skin.
- Put a small splash of oil in the pan, score the skin a few times and season with salt and pepper.
- Add the fillets to the pan, skin side down. Leave without interference for 3 to 4 minutes until the skin has crisped. Moving them around before this will most likely result in soggy/broken skin.
- Carefully turn the fillets over and cook the flesh side for around 30 seconds then place the pan containing the fillets in the oven at 80oC.
- The fillets will continue to cook through while resting in the pan for a maximum of 5 minutes. This will give you time to make the sauce.
Nasturtium ‘caper’ lemon butter sauce
This sauce is very simple and is just about instinct and using your palate to balance the few ingredients, to your taste. The butter makes it rich and thick. The lemon adds zing and the nasturtium brings piquancy. I would normally add a splash of Noilly Prat at the beginning and let the alcohol cook off, but I have ran out at the moment. In this case, I used approximately these amounts:
1 tblsp. nasturtium ‘capers’
juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon
30g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
generous handful of parsley
salt and pepper
- Add the lemon juice and zest to a small pan, heated to medium/hot.
- Add the capers, as the contents start to fizz slightly, add the cubes of butter a few at a time, whisking them into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
- Throw in the parsley, stir gently and serve immediately over the fish.
I served the salmon with a warm salad of Anya potatoes with caramelised shallots, sherry vinegar and rapeseed oil. The carrots were shredded and tossed in Dijon mustard, orange juice with a splash of cider vinegar, rapeseed oil and pepper.