Food: Call of the wild

Rich sauce, plain potatoes - the perfect way to serve late-season sea trout and salmon. Photograph by Jason Lowe

Each year, around about mid-to-late June, the sea trout (sewin, as I knew it when living in west Wales) seems to just appear, unheralded, totally without fanfare. One early summer day, it is not on the fishmonger's slab; the next morning, there are four or five of them there. Glory! Senior wild salmon has been lurking around off and on for a few months previously, but the genial sea trout, when it first emerges, seems a good buy compared with its illustrious and magnificent, larger and richer cousin.

Young salmon, (grilse), is also now the fish to buy. As master fish man William Black says in Fish (Headline, pounds 20), his exhaustive thesis with his wife Sophie Grigson, "Grilse - fish that are returning to their home river for the first time - are good value if there's only one or two of you, and tend to weigh between 1-1.35kg." I would say that a fish of this size might easily feed more. They are every bit as delicious as sea trout, with more of the "salmon" about them. Farmed salmon are the couch potato of the fish world: a boring, fatty thing. I will defend the wild fish, long after the final wedding buffet trestle has been cleared and folded up for the very last time.

I have dallied with all sorts of cookery folly over the years - turning tired turnip dice in truffled butter; processing perfect red mullet fillets into unnecessary little mousses; and messing scallops up with a scandalous mix of sliced endive, diced salami, peppers, garlic, sherry and cream - my mother never really forgave me after I blithely ruined 10 beautiful fresh Pembrokeshire scallops, dived for that very day, one bewildered, experimental evening, circa 1974. But when it comes to eating salmon, sea trout, grilse etc, I return, time and time again, to the hollandaises, the mayonnaises, the beurre blancs, with which to dress and lubricate their pink flesh.

It is curious that rich sauces such as these marry so well with equally rich meat. Mind you, when served with mayonnaise and hollandaise, I would not be entirely happy unless there is also a little heap of pickled cucumber alongside, to cut through all the silken protein and ointment-like cholesterol. A steamed potato is all that is needed for the softening element, particularly when served with the butter sauce.

Whole poached sea trout or grilse, pickled cucumber and hollandaise sauce, serves 3-4

The cooking liquid for the salmon

(court-bouillon)

1 litre water

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 leek, split in half, trimmed and washed

2 sticks celery, sliced

2 cloves

6 peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp salt

Splash white wine vinegar

1 sea trout or grilse (about 1.3kg to 1.5kg)

Put all the ingredients for the court-bouillon in a fish kettle or deep oval pot. Bring to the boil, simmer for 30 minutes, covered. Put in the fish, bring back to a simmer for five minutes and then switch off. Leave in the liquid for 20 minutes or so. This timing is not so crucial; a few minutes here or there is not going to spoil the fish. Lift the fish out of the court- bouillon, drain well, and skin. Prise the fillets off the bone and serve with:

Hollandaise sauce

1 packet of unsalted butter

3 egg yolks

juice of half a lemon

salt and white pepper

To make a good hollandaise, it is worth investing in a medium-sized stainless-steel pan that has a deep-ish bowl hape to it. This makes it easier to whisk the egg yolks without them getting stuck where the whisk can't reach. The thick base of the pans is also important, as it helps insulate the yolks from too much direct heat. Never use an aluminium pan to make hollandaise as it will turn the sauce green.

Gently melt a packet of unsalted butter in one of those small milk pans (with pouring lips) if you have one. Once the butter has melted, remove from the heat. Allow to settle for a few minutes and then lift off the froth from the surface with a tablespoon and discard, making sure that the clear butter remains undisturbed underneath. Place on the side of the stove to keep warm.

Put three large egg yolks in the stainless-steel pan and add a dessertspoonful of cold water. Using a thin and whippy wire whisk (avoid ones with thick unwieldy wires) beat the yolks and water together briefly before placing over a very low light. Continue whisking in a fluid circular motion until the mixture starts to lighten and become frothy. As you continue to beat, watch carefully as the egg yolks lose some air and actually start to cook, thickening and becoming creamy and pale. It is a good idea to move the pan on and off the heat occasionally at this stage to prevent over-cooking. The egg yolks are ready to receive the butter when they are thick enough to keep the marks of the whisk quite distinctly. Remove from the heat and place on a work surface with a damp dishcloth under the pan; this simple trick keeps the pan steady as you pour in the butter with your other hand.

Continue whisking the egg yolks as you gradually add the clear butter in a thin stream. You can speed this up a bit as the sauce starts to gain body and become glossy and voluptuous. At the same moment that you start to see the milky residue in the bottom of the pan about to join the last of the clear butter, you will also notice that the sauce has become very thick indeed. This is the time to add a touch of that milky residue, just to loosen the sauce a little - a couple of dessertspoonfuls, no more. Add the juice of about half a lemon, according to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Pour into a warmed sauce boat.

Pickled cucumber

1 small cucumber, peeled

salt

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tsp caster sugar

white pepper

Slice the cucumber fairly thickly (pounds 1 coin thickness) and spread over a tea-towel. Sprinkle with enough salt just to lightly season them. Gather up the towel and tip the cucumber into a colander, shake out the excess salt from the towel. Leave the cucumber to drain in the sink for 30 minutes. Tip the slices back into the tea towel and squeeze lightly to remove excess water. Put into a bowl and mix with the vinegar, sugar and pepper. Leave for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Steamed potatoes

Now then, who really knows how to steam a potato? Oh, come on, you may say, with some indignation. But it is only those who consider a steamed potato to be as important as what it accompanies who will achieve perfection in this controversial field. And a carelessly cooked potato, when essential to an assembly, will spoil all.

I recently ate a beautifully cooked veal chop in a favourite restaurant (again, I know, but I do love a veal chop). I ordered some creamed potatoes to go with it. They were awful: gluey, sloppy, bland and - as we say in the North - "clarty" (something that sticks to the roof of your mouth, like peanut butter). I am convinced a food processor was to blame.

So, to steam the perfect potato, it is important to find the right potato in the first place, and then cook with skins intact. One of my favourite spuds for this is the smaller, red-skinned desiree. It is important to pick out the tinies, as full-grown ones have a tendency to burst through their skins before being fully ready. Give them a good wash, drain them well and, while still damp, roll in a modicum of Maldon sea salt. Put them in a single layer in your chosen steamer and cook over gently simmering water; too fast a boil will cause the tuber to burst. I like the floury qualities of this type of potato. However, if you wish for a more waxy texture, choose pink fir apple, the French la ratte or charlotte. The method is the same for these. Jerseys I always boil with mint, but, my, they have been a sorry tasteless bunch this year, don't you think?

The only way to check and see whether a potato is done, is to pierce with a small sharp knife which should puncture the flesh with smooth ease. Do it at regular intervals as, more often than not, an under-cooked potato is an over-cooked potato before you can say Yeoman. Carefully lift out the potatoes with a slotted spoon and put on to a plate. Leave to cool for about five minutes, not much longer. It is important to peel them while they are just about capable of scalding your fingers, as the skins are so much easier to remove at this temperature. Use the same small knife that you used to test them, peeling off their skins a flimsy papery pink parchment. Return to the steamer to re-heat. Turn in copious amounts of best butter and chopped parsley, when not serving with rich buttery sauces

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
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 General

    Primary Teachers needed in Ely

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

    Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

    £60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

    KS2 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

    SEN Learning Support Assistant

    £70 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Learning Support Assistants n...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain