Despite Wednesday's column, I'm not advocating a boycott of farmed salmon, just urging everyone to be careful about what they buy. It must be said that many chefs are now in the former category, as reported in a fairly recent edition of The National.
Just after I went to press, I heard from my pal Campbell Mickel of Eddie's Seafood Market in Edinburgh's Marchmont. He trades approximately two tonnes a week, collecting it from a central depot in West Lothian which handles 30 tonnes daily. His thoughts on the matter?
Can it be improved? ABSOFKNLUTELY! But, he continues, I can testify that there is amazing quality available.
So for today, a salmon recipe. What screams festive more loudly than a great big pie? That, in case you didn't know, is what Salmon Coulibiac is, a pescetarian alternative to Beef Wellington. The dish is originally Russian, kulebyaka, a favourite of the Tsars. It was enthusiastically taken over by the great French chefs, who francified the name.
The original version featured salmon or pike or, on state occasions, sturgeon. In Russia the fish would be layered with herbs and duxelles over buckwheat. As the dish moved west, rice replaced the buckwheat.
I've never made it, but I've seen it being cooked on TV. Easy enough to find a recipe, or so I thought. The result? Total bewilderment.
You need a chunk of fish. All agreed? No, not Delia, who flakes hers. Leave the top intact? Again, Delia demurs, preferring a lattice top. Do you have the salmon in two sections forming a sandwich (Hairy Bikers)? Do you make it posh by adding prawns (HB again)? Egg on top or not? Spinach or not?
James Martin doesn't use rice at all. I have to say that the idea of having a pie with rice in it doesn't exactly float my boat either. So I did the only sensible thing. When in doubt, see what Claire Macdonald has to say. She agrees. This recipe comes from Fish: Inspiring Recipes for Creative Cooks. Thanks once again to Lady Claire for permission to reproduce her recipes. The only thing I would say is that in the absence of rice I'm really not sure it can justify the name, hence today's title. But hey, what do I know?
Claire Macdonald's Coulibiac of Salmon
Ingredients (serves 6)
900 g filleted, organically farmed salmon; 50g butter; 4 banana shallots, finely sliced; ½ cucumber, peeled, cut lengthwise in half, seeded, and diced into thumbnail size pieces; ½ teaspoon salt; good grinding of black pepper; 675 g puff pastry; 1 egg, beaten.
For the sauce
3 shallots, very finely sliced; 300 ml dry white wine; finely grated rind of 1 lemon; 300 ml double cream; ½ teaspoon salt; good grinding of black pepper.
To prepare the salmon, lay it on a board, feel it carefully and remove any bones.
Melt the butter in a wide saucepan, or sauté pan, and sauté the diced shallot and the diced cucumber together for several minutes until the shallots are very soft. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool.
Roll out two thirds of the pastry so that it is bigger than the filleted piece of fish by a margin of about 4 cm. Put the salmon on this. Spoon over the cold shallot and cucumber mixture. Roll out the remaining pastry to a rectangle to cover the salmon. Brush around the edges with beaten egg, put the remaining pastry over the fish and crimp the edges firmly together. Put your salmon which is now en croȗte onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Slash the top in four or five places, and garnish, if you like, with pastry fish. Brush the whole thing with the rest of the beaten egg. Cover with clingfilm and put in a cool place, until you're ready to cook. Remove from the fridge at least half an hour before cooking. Bake it in a fairly hot oven, 200°C/Mark 6 for 30 to 35 minutes or until well puffed up and deeply golden brown.
For the sauce, put the diced shallot into a saucepan with the white wine. Over a moderate heat, simmer, the wine till it is almost reduced away. Then add the lemon rind and cream, salt, and pepper, and simmer, stirring, until it is as thick, as you would like – about two minutes' simmering is usually enough.
Fish: Inspiring Recipes for Creative Cooks by Claire Macdonald is published by Birlinn Press
ISBN 978 1 78027 080 7