Food: Do you mind if I smoke?

WE TEND to eat more fish in summer than at other times of the year because it is light and easily digestible. For those who take their summer holidays by the sea, it is also - theoretically, at least - more readily available and fresher. Each day the fish spend travelling inland in vast refrigerated lorries to the wholesaler, and then on to the local fishmonger, makes a big difference to their taste, delicacy and firmness.

I say 'theoretically' because living by the sea all year round as I do, I should always be able to have fresh fish. But my local fishermen on both sides of the Atlantic have an astute prejudice in favour of selling their catches wholesale; what is left over, they consume themselves; and what they don't want they will graciously dispense at retail prices. The four o'clock haggle in Sete is a sight worth watching; the fish goes for very little but is also of very little worth. Which is why every quay I can see from my window is filled with nocturnal fishermen, on the off chance.

The perfect solution to the problem, and a great delicacy in itself, is smoked fish. While the British are considerable consumers of smoked salmon and less so of smoked trout, the lack of variety is surprising. One of the great joys of my life as a boy was eating rich, buttery smoked eel. It is still obtainable but by no means common. About the only good thing I can say about the World Cup of 1982 in Spain was that while there I discovered angullas, the tiny elvers which madrilenos serve up in pannikins, smothered in olive oil with garlic and peppercorns.

Smoking is the third of the four ways of eating fish: live (as in oysters), raw (as in Japan, for which your fish had better be really fresh), smoked and cooked. I adore oysters, especially those in Sydney, and I've put down my share of sashimi; but smoked fish I especially prize, for the variety of its texture and flavours, for its appetite-enhancing properties and for the fact that it requires almost no preparation to please even the most discriminating tastes.

Almost any fish can be smoked, and almost all smoked fish is a delicacy. I have friends who own smokers and this year our local fish wholesaler intelligently opened a retail shop devoted exclusively to smoked fish: anchovies, sardines, eel, a carpaccio of tuna, mullets of several kinds, trout and - a great delicacy - angler-fish. All of them are vacuum-packed and therefore practical, if not exactly cheap.

Smoked fish need not, of course, be eaten on its own, just with bread and butter. It may also be used in interesting ways in cooked dishes, the fish lending its inimitable flavour even when used in small quantities.

With a little invention, there is almost nothing in the summer cooking repertory that cannot be illuminated with smoked fish. The finer, more delicate fish may be best eaten solo (if you can find any tuna carpaccio, just trickle the slices with oil, fresh black pepper and some chopped basil), but the coarser ones are delectable in cooking.

Tuna makes an excellent accompaniment to pasta, but smoked tuna is even more delicious (smoked mackerel is good also, but needs more careful boning). Cook your pasta and add sliced smoked tuna, together with about 200g/7oz of creme fraiche and a little fresh grated nutmeg.

As Alan Davidson points out in his recipe for a Georgian dish, Satsivi iz riby, walnuts make an excellent accompaniment to fish; they are even more successful with a solid smoked fish. An appetising salad can be made of smoked salmon cut into strips, almost any white cheese such as feta, some boiled new potatoes, a sweet onion thinly sliced, a dozen crumbled walnuts and cayenne pepper, the whole sprinkled with walnut oil. This is best left to 'cook' for an hour or two so the onion blends with the flavour of the salmon.

Here is a recipe for a wonderful dish using smoked trout:

Tarte au cresson et aux

filets de truite

(Serves 6)

350g/12oz shortcrust pastry

2 bunches of watercress

3 eggs

150g/5oz fresh goat cheese

200g/7oz smoked trout

Roll out your shortcrust pastry and line a shallow pie tin with it, then cook it blind (weighed down with dried beans or equivalent with foil between the weights and the pastry) for 10 to 15 minutes. Wash the cress, remove the stalks and coarsely chop. Separate the eggs and crumble the cheese in with the yolks, mix thoroughly, then add cress and the smoked trout cut into thin strips. Stir the mixture well and season to taste. Beat egg whites until stiff and add. Pour the whole into the pastry tin and bake in a hot oven (200C/400F/Gas 6) for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Suggested Topics
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links