I write this from exile, canal side in Amsterdam, displaced by the ‘Great Ash’, trapped on the continent by what I have been told is a plume of filthy smoke hovering over Europe, to the peril of all aircraft engines, though I see no evidence of it in the cornflower blue skies above Holland other than the notable absence of planes. I have now had five flights cancelled on me; all ferries are sold out for the coming days; and the Eurostar is crammed to its Frankish gills. Seemingly the best chance I have of fleeing the Netherlands, failing a balloon rescue Wizard of Oz style, is via Cherbourg, a seventeen hour ferry crossing to Dublin departing Tuesday evening at the earliest. I wouldn’t be surprised to be required to meet a dubious gent in a trilby hat in the cloak of night and exchange a secret password simply to get across the Flemish border. ‘The dimpled ostrich flies by night’. Notwithstanding my otherwise subjugated status as a refugee, all is well, I have to date refrained from reciting maudlin poems of the ‘old country’ and weeping into my gin, though there is time yet.
I have been remiss in posting much lately and volcano eruptions aside the scarcity is due to the imposition of some hideously overdue college papers, and travelling an inordinate amount for work. To add insult to injury, I am slinking back to posting without so much as a recipe to share, though it is with no small amount of irony that I am instead posting about smoked fish. The instructions below are less of a recipe more of a preparation method, but the result is so perfect, so unctuous that once a morsel of the fragrantly smoked salmon passes your lips, all with be forgiven. I promise too to later this week post the recipe for the tiny Swedish pancakes that I made to accompany the fish which is meticulously detailed in a notebook back in the ‘old country’ (sniffle): a tangle of egg beating, sour cream folding and hours of resting time. In the meantime, there is a great version here, but leave out the sugar.
I made this while the solitary rack in my kitchen was otherwise engaged in the process of making candied orange peel, so I improvised with a sushi mat, string and some knot tying (and cussing) that would make a sailor weep with pride. I don’t really recommend the sushi mat method, though it worked there was a moment of pure panic when one piece of string caught fire, and I feared the entire contraption would incinerate. The idea, inspired by the method for tea-smoked duck, is to keep the fish away from the direct heat so that the smouldering tea, rice and sugar suffuse the flesh with the earthy aroma while also gently cooking it. You could also use a disposable tray for this, as the direct heat on the bottom of the roasting tray can leave unsightly scorch marks.
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons of black tea (I used Guv’nor’s blend, which I was given when the Pashley was delivered, but any black tea would suit. It would be interesting to see the result of the more fragrant blends)
Crushed rock or sea salt
A rack with ‘legs’ that fits neatly into the roasting tray, or suspends over it
Serves two as a starter or one as a main along with some vegetables or salad.
Line the roasting tray entirely with foil.
Rub one side of the salmon fillet lightly with salt, about half a teaspoon.
At this point you could leave the salmon to for an hour or so, which will have the effect of creating a sort of ‘skin’ once smoked. It is up to you.
Mix sugar, rice and tea together and place in the bottom of the lined tray in an even layer.
Suspend rack over top of the sugar, rice and tea and place salmon in centre of rack, salted side up.
Cover the entire tray with tin foil, this make take several layers, making sure there are no gaps.
Fire up the BBQ or stove top and place on high direct heat for 7-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon. My salmon was less than 5cm thick and I did 8 minutes.
Remove from heat using oven mitts and take to a well-aerated space for the next (fantastically fun) step.
Remove foil, letting smoke escape in a dramatic fashion and gently remove smoked salmon from the rack.
Either serve immediately or let cool and use as you would regular smoked salmon.