Salmon stuffer is a good skin

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The Independent Online
MY eternal thanks to Crowood Press, whose book The Salmon Cook has just got me out of a hole for a further year. Written by Hannah Sykes, it gives 99 ways to cook the fish, and my friend Chris the Stuffer will be overjoyed when he opens it on his birthday.

You may wonder why a professional taxidermist should get excited by a cook book, but you need only to look in his deep-freezes to discover the answer. These three industrial-size ice boxes are stuffed to the gills with salmon. There isn't room to slip in a gudgeon. With the salmon-fishing season now under way (it opened last week on most Scottish rivers), he's in for another influx very shortly.

The trouble is that he doesn't get those handy-size 7-10lb fish you see in supermarkets. Anglers who fish for salmon rarely want these comparative tiddlers preserved for posterity. The minimum size is usually 20lb, though it's often 30lb and those who travel to Norway, Russia or Alaska sometimes capture huge things that are too long to fit into a suitcase. (The traditional name for these giant salmon is portmanteaux.) The largest Chris has ever mounted was a 72-pounder.

Now it doesn't take many four-feet fish to fill up a deep-freeze. Then there are lots of big trout clamouring for a space, too. The trend towards breeding huge trout and putting them into a water with no inbuilt caution has, not surprisingly, resulted in a lot of enormous trout being captured. I won't clamber into that little swamp, nor criticise their appearance (though they look like balloons with fins). Unquestionably, though, it's now possible for a relative duffer to land a 10lb trout.

This week, I was reading an oldish book called Wade the Water, Drift the Loch, written in 1948. lt features sentences such as: "Good-size fish up to 12oz can be taken in numbers," and "I understand that huge trout up to 5lb are sometimes caught here." In fact, the inside cover has a pen- written inscription: "Off Lewis: 1 fish 2lb 10oz (Loch squiggle, na Craig squiggle)." You see, the book's owner felt such a fish so spectacular that he had to record it. Nowadays, they're used for bait.

Back to the story. So Chris has these huge deep-freezes, full of salmon and trout. (There are a few other fish, such as roach, perch, pike and so on, but the so-called coarse fishermen rarely kill their captures.) Though he never advertises, he's so busy that when another customer comes along with a huge salmon or trout, Chris often has to take a few fish out and work on them, merely to make space. The result is that he has better supplies of salmon than a seal in the Tweed.

Now, salmon is a delicious fish. But when you have 30lb to eat, its rich flavour suddenly becomes a tad less attractive. Chris, you see, only uses the skin for his work. Anglers could have all that flesh back if they wanted. (Chris would be delighted if they would take it away.) But almost always, he has to get rid of it. That means eating it; after all, you can't throw salmon away.

His wife Tina won't eat it now. Nor will their two children. Chris can't face another chunk. Even their cat turns his nose up at it, and would much prefer a tin of Kattomeat. If you visit their house, the first thing he will ask is: "Would you like some salmon?" whereupon he hands you a huge block that keeps even my hungry family going for days. They've tried the fish all sorts of ways (even in shepherd's pie) but they've run out of recipes. I think my gift will be very timely.

The book is just perfect. It gives recipes to use salmon for breakfast, lunch and supper, even for dinner parties. Something simple? Try Salmon Pojarski, a Polish breakfast dish. Something exotic? What about salmon cooked in champagne, or Salmon Alexander, where it's mixed with oysters? You can even dine on salmon steaks cooked in newspaper. Hannah Sykes recommends the Financial Times, as its pink pages match the fish's flesh, but I would always go for the Independent.

Strangely, the book doesn't give my favourite recipe, which is to dip the fish in batter. Fry it and serve with loads of chips,salt and vinegar. But I suppose that when you're limited to 99 recipes, you can't got them all in.

`The Salmon Cook', by Hannah Sykes, published by Crowood Press, £9.99

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