Wild thing: Hix's salmon and trout surprises

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Salmon and sea trout – preferably non-farmed – are healthy and versatile. And all they need is a gentle poach, says Mark Hix.

I've yet to cast a fly in the water this year and it's not that I've been short of offers. Wild sea trout and salmon are a real treat, especially when you've landed them yourself. It's a shame that with intensive salmon farming these days, it's now perceived as a cheap fish – for though cheaper than cod, farm salmon doesn't do much justice to what was once regarded as the king of fish. But if you can't get your hands on wild salmon or sea trout, there are some good quality farmed fish on the market, like the Loch Duart Freedom Food salmon that is available from Loch Fyne.

The great thing about wild salmon and sea trout is that you really don't need to do very much to them, a simple roasting or flash in a frying pan or on a griddle is pretty much all the treatment they need – oh and, of course, poaching. A nice, simple poached salmon is hard to beat with hollandaise or a good, homemade mayonnaise.

Sea trout is not so common on fishmongers' slabs but is equally as good as salmon and a bit cheaper. It's a bit of a puzzle why these fish that start their lives as brown trout end up going to sea; I reckon they just end up socialising with their cousins, the salmon, when they are juvenile and follow them down river.

These recipes can be made with salmon or sea trout.



Sea trout and samphire salad

Serves 4

You can make this using leftover sea trout or salmon from the recipe below or simply poach a whole one or use fillets. You can vary the ingredients and leaves in the salad but personally I love the freshness of lightly blanched samphire with some freshly picked, home-grown salad leaves like nasturtiums and silver sorrel. I also added some girolle mushrooms – but it's up to you.

350-400g lightly poached sea trout fillet or double if on the bone
A couple of handfuls of small salad and herb leaves, washed and dried
Quarter cucumber, halved lengthways and seeds scooped out
A good handful of samphire with woody ends removed
30g girolle mushrooms (optional)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the dressing

Juice of half a lemon
3-4tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil



Slice the cucumber on the bias then blanch with the samphire in lightly salted water for 20 seconds; drain and refresh briefly under cold water and drain again. Mix the lemon juice and rapeseed oil together, then toss with the leaves, samphire, cucumber and mushrooms (if using). Season lightly and arrange on plates, then break the sea trout into pieces on to the salad.

Vichyssoise with poached salmon

Serves 4

If you have a whole salmon or sea trout, or you've bought a fillet, there are always leftover trimmings – and adding a few flakes to a chilled vichyssoise is a great way to use them up. You can also add chunks of cooked leek and potato to the soup if you wish.

2 medium leeks, roughly chopped
1tbsp olive oil
250g good-quality potatoes, such as desirée or maris pipers, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre vegetable stock (or a good quality cube)
A couple of spring onions, roughly chopped
1tbsp chopped chives
120-150g lightly poached salmon
2tbsp crème fraîche or sour cream

In a covered pan gently cook the leeks in the olive oil without colouring for 4-5 minutes. Add the potatoes and vegetable stock, bring to the boil, lightly season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are just cooked. Add the spring onions and simmer for another 2 minutes.

Blend until smooth in a liquidiser, then strain through a fine meshed sieve. Check the seasoning and add a little more salt and pepper if necessary. Cool the soup down in a bowl over some iced or cold water, stirring occasionally. When the soup is cold it will thicken so you may need to adjust with a little more stock, or milk as you prefer.

To serve, pour the soup into large, chilled soup bowls or soup plates then arrange the salmon in the centre with a half-spoonful of crème fraîche on top and scatter the chopped chives.



Poached sea trout with wild fennel hollandaise

Serves 4-6

Wild fennel is prolific along our coastlines; you can't miss its tall, fern-like leaves and you won't be able to resist foraging for it once you've identified it. Its slightly aniseed-like flavour is the perfect accompaniment to fish and if you gather enough you can chop it and keep it in the freezer for future use.

1 whole sea trout weighing about 2kg, gutted and scaled
For the court bouillon
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
10 peppercorns
1tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
100ml white wine
1tbsp sea salt

For the hollandaise

40ml white wine vinegar
40ml water
1 small shallot, chopped
5 peppercorns
The thick stalks from the fennel or 1tsp fennel seeds
3 small egg yolks
200g unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1tbsp chopped wild fennel

First make the sauce: put the vinegar, water, shallot, peppercorns and fennel stalks in a saucepan and reduce the liquid by boiling for a few minutes until there is no more than a dessertspoonful. Strain through a sieve and leave to cool.

Melt the butter and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool a little, then pour off the pure butter where it has separated from the milk solids – discard the milk solids. This helps to keep the sauce thick. Put the egg yolks into a small bowl (or double boiler if you have one) with half of the vinegar reduction and whisk over a pan of gently simmering water until the mixture begins to thicken and become frothy. Slowly trickle in the butter, whisking continuously – an electric hand whisk will help. If the butter is added too quickly the sauce will separate.

When you have added two-thirds of the butter, taste the sauce and add a little more, or all, of the remaining vinegar reduction. Then add the rest of the butter. The sauce should not be too vinegary, but the vinegar should just cut the oiliness of the butter. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the chopped wild fennel, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm – not hot – place until needed. The sauce can be reheated over a bowl of hot water and lightly whisked again.

Put all of the ingredients for the court bouillon in a fish kettle or large saucepan – whatever you choose, it needs to be big enough to put the fish in; alternatively, you may want to cut the fish in half. Add about 2 litres of water, or enough to cover the fish, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Place the sea trout in the court bouillon and simmer for 6-7 minutes and turn off the heat; leave in the court bouillon for another 6-7 minutes, checking that the fish stays slightly pink.

Remove the fish from the court bouillon and transfer to a warmed serving dish.



Salmon escalope with tomatoes and basil

Serves 4

There are all sorts of ways of preparing a fish to go to the table. This is a great cut for flash frying and it literally takes a couple of minutes to cook. What's more, if you're on a bit of a health mission, then this is most certainly the dish for you.

Ask your fishmonger to cut you 150g slices from the fillet on the angle about 1cm thick, or buy a fillet and try yourself with a sharp knife.

4 x 150g salmon or sea trout escalopes as described above
1 large or 2 medium shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
100ml white wine
4 ripe plum or round tomatoes, skinned, seeded and finely diced
A handful of Greek or bush basil leaves, torn
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
5-6tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Chardonnay or good white wine vinegar to taste

Simmer the shallots in the wine until it has reduced by two thirds then add the tomatoes, basil and about 4-5tbsp olive oil. Season and add a little chardonnay vinegar to taste.

Heat a heavy, non-stick frying pan and rub with a little olive oil.

Cook the salmon for a minute or so on each side leaving it as pink in the middle as you like. Transfer to a warmed plate and spoon the dressing over the top. Serve with a simple green leaf or green bean salad.

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