Food: Success is sweet

There's something a bit fruity about Germain Schwab's fish dishes. The rising Michelin star explained all to Michael Bateman when he visited his remote Lincolnshire restaurant
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The Independent Culture
RICK STEIN, Britain's best-known seafood chef, chews dried sweet fish in a Thai market. It's a snack, he explains on his television series, Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey, the tough pieces of squid having been cured with sugar, not salt. "I'm not really into this kind of thing," he admits, "but they are rather good."

Stein had never come across sugared fish before. And neither had I, until last November when I visited Vancouver Island on a Gourmet Trail holiday. Delicacies on offer included sweet salmon jerky, ribbons of hard, dry salmon, and thick sticks of salmon candy. This truly resembles candy, having been drenched in sugar syrup long enough to replace the natural juices of the salmon before it is smoked. It is cut into bite- sized pieces to eat as a snack with drinks. Very tasty, too.

But sweet salmon? I asked Lance Forman, who runs London's oldest family salmon smokery, Forman & Son, if he liked the idea. He'd never heard of salmon candy. Why mess with salmon when you already have such a delicious savoury as British smoked salmon, was his response. What next - sweet and sour raw salmon, marinated in pineapple juice, perhaps?

Well, yes. This is just what I encountered last week on a pilgrimage to meet the newest star in the Michelin firmament, Germain Schwab of Winteringham Fields in north Lincolnshire.

Until this award, most people will not have heard of Germain Schwab or his restaurant, a 16th-century country house in the remote and tiny village of Winteringham, some seven miles short of the Humber bridge. This whole area - a nowhere-land of puddled fields and riverbank reeds - makes the Carmargue look like a built-up area.

Schwab is serving delicate, fine pink slices of salmon marinated in brown sugar and pineapple juice. The dish really is quite exquisite - just as one might expect, since the Michelin Guide is not in the business of rewarding gimmickry. By awarding him a second rosette this year, it rates him among the best 15 cooks in the country.

Schwab, being from Switzerland, is accustomed to giving fruity twists to savoury meat dishes. And, based so close to the major fishing port of Grimsby, it was only natural that he should try the same trick with fish.

But the salmon isn't the only fruity dish on his inventive menu. One of his most delicious fish dishes is smoked skate with a sweetened apple juice and cider sauce, and caramelised apple slices. It is a brilliantly conceived recipe: a raw fillet cut from the bone, smoked for one minute, wrapped around a mousse of pike (the classic French quenelles de brochet), then steamed for 12 minutes. It's ethereally light and fluffy.

Winteringham Fields is an unlikely success story, a tale of two grandparents. The inspiration for Schwab's cooking is his grandmother, who ran a restaurant in the Jura region of Switzerland. Germain's wife, Annie, who comes from York, had a grandfather in the antique business; perhaps it was he who inspired the restaurant's rather grandiose decor.

Annie met Schwab in Zermatt, Switzerland, when she was managing a cafe on the ski slopes and he was the new head chef of the Bristol hotel, having completed an intense apprenticeship in the kitchens of Germany, France and London. They married and moved to York. When Schwab found he couldn't get the kind of job he wanted, they spent pounds 1,000 converting their home, Beck's Farm, into a small restaurant. Although it was full every day for four years, they made no money at all, which is why they sought out the present location, where they have been for 10 years.

But it's so remote. "Why would you open a restaurant here?" marvelled the taxi driver who drove me the 10 miles from the steel town of Scunthorpe (gateway to Winteringham). I asked Annie: who comes all this way to eat? The restaurant was full, and the company all male: "That's Marks & Spencer, there's Sainsbury's, that's Waitrose," she said, waving her hand like a wand across the dining-room.

Hey, is this some gastronomic goldmine? Yes. This area is a magnet for the British food industry, and Schwab's restaurant attracts buyers attached to the many food processing factories around Grimsby. Winteringham Fields is the best restaurant for 300 miles, small wonder then that it's the hub of local corporate entertaining.

I go into the kitchen and meet the young staff, who are mostly local. His sous chef is only 26 years old. Here Schwab is proud to demonstrate the art of making bresaola, "the easiest thing in the world".

A 5lb piece of rump steak is cut into a long sausage shape, marinated for seven days in red wine, red-wine vinegar, salt, sugar, bay leaves, juniper berries and dried red chillies, and turned every day. Then it's wiped, wrapped in muslin cloth, tied and hung in a draughty place - Winteringham has excellent draughts - for 10 days. It is then sliced thinly and served.

Finally, Schwab unravels the mystery of the pineapple salmon. It bears a certain resemblance to Swedish gravadlax, but it's made with far less salt, and is in no way dense and oily. The secret is that pineapple juice (like papaya juice) is a tenderiser: leave the fish in it too long and the flesh will "overcook". Schwab's salmon is light, fresh and juicy, having been marinated for no more than eight hours.

Winteringham Fields, Winteringham, north Lincolnshire (01724 733 096). The Gourmet Trail (001 800 970 7722), six autumn days eating your way round Vancouver Island's best hotels (and you can see the salmon spawning too).

PINEAPPLE SWEET-CURED SALMON

Serves 20

approx 1.5kg/3lb side of salmon, scaled, pin bones removed

1 large pineapple to make 340ml/12floz juice

(or canned pineapple juice)

40g/112oz demerara sugar

20g/34oz salt

20g/34oz fresh dill

Peel and chop pineapple, put through a food processor and strain the juice.

Blend with the sugar, salt and chopped dill and pour into a flat dish large enough to hold the salmon.

Lay the salmon flesh side down, cover with clingfilm, and put in the fridge to marinate for no more than eight hours.

If you lift it out of its marinade and lay it skin side down it will keep for a few days.

Serve sliced thinly, with some juice and a sprig of fresh dill.

Schwab also uses gooseberry juice, when in season.

And even more startling, cooked beetroot juice sharpened with lemon juice.

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