Salmon in pastry with currants and ginger
This is one of my favourite recipes ever - made famous by the late, great George Perry-Smith and faithfully reproduced by one of his most talented protegés Stephen Markwick.
Aware that he thinking of stepping down back in 2009, I persuaded Stephen to share his best-loved recipes in two small books 'A Very Honest Cook' and 'A Well-Run Kitchen'. The first has unfortunately sold out but you can still buy the second which also contains Stephen's Scallops with Shellfish Risotto, Roast Chicken with Cream and Tarragon and Summer Pudding from the Culinaria website.
Stephen says: "The marrying of sweet ginger and currants with fish must go back to medieval times. George’s unique twist was to serve it with a light herby sauce, (sauce messine, below) which lifts what could be thought of as a slightly heavy dish to one that is so pleasurable to eat. We had customers who asked to be phoned up when we had it on the menu!
Although the recipe is incredibly simple the trick is to wrap the salmon in the thinnest of pastry and cook it in a sufficiently hot oven to keep the pastry crisp while keeping the salmon slightly pink in the middle.
The salmon should be wild or organic farmed if possible (Glenarm, Clare Island or Loch Duart I find the best of the farmed). I remember when we started at Bistro 21, late February always brought the first of the wild Wye salmon at a price you would laugh at now. It is best to use the middle or thick part of the fish - if you have a whole side of fish you can cut off the tail end and use it for another dish like fishcakes. It needs to be filleted, skinned and pin boned.
375g (13 oz) shortcrust pastry (Stephen's own recipe is on p. 61 of A Very Honest Cook)
110g (4 oz) butter, at room temperature
3-4 pieces stem ginger in syrup
2 tbsp currants
A thick piece of wild or top quality farmed salmon (at least 700g/1 1/2 lbs) filleted, skinned and pin-boned
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
You will also need a thin baking tray with slightly raised sides so that any leaking butter doesn’t go all over your oven!
First make your shortcrust pastry and rest it.
Cut up the butter and put into a bowl to soften. Chop the stem ginger finely and add to the butter with the currants and some salt and pepper and mix well. (I find the easiest way to do this is by hand so it is well mixed and soft enough to spread over the salmon but you can obviously use a wooden spoon.)
Cut the salmon fillet in half lengthways so you have two pieces. (There is even a natural line marked on the fish indicating where to cut!) Season one piece with salt and pepper and spread half the butter mix onto the side that was next to the bone. Now make a sandwich with the other piece by putting it top-to-tail so the salmon is an even thickness. Season the outer top half and spread the remaining half of the seasoned butter on it.
Now roll your pastry as thinly as you can into a rectangle. (I usually roll a piece slightly larger than I need, then cut it to size and discard the edges which are usually thicker.)
Place the salmon at one end of the rectangle leaving an edge of just over 1 cm (1/2 inch) for the seal. Brush all around the four edges with the beaten egg. Now lift the pastry over the salmon and press the edges firmly together to seal. A very slight overlap is OK because you can trim it. (The ends do not have to look pretty as they will be cut off too. Mind you, they do taste pretty good as the butter and salmon juices tend to leak into them!).
Your salmon parcel is now ready but needs time to rest in the fridge - at least an hour but preferably longer. It is best to put it on a double thickness of well buttered tinfoil. (A useful tip that works like magic to stop the salmon from sticking to the foil while it is cooking: When you bring it out of the fridge peel the salmon off the foil, then, with your hand just smooth the foil before replacing the salmon - it sounds a bit far-fetched but it does work!)
Place the salmon and foil on a thin baking tray. Brush the surface of the pastry with egg wash and cook in a preheated oven at 220°C/425°F/Gas 7 for 20 minutes (slightly longer if there is anything else in the oven though it’s best to cook the salmon on its own to keep the pastry crisp). You’ll need to turn the baking tray round half way through to cook the pastry evenly unless you have a fan oven. Rest the baked salmon for 5-10 minutes on top on the stove so that the residual heat will finish cooking it. If you cut it straight away without resting it the middle might still be too pink.
To serve: Carefully peel off the tinfoil and trim the excess pastry off the ends of your salmon parcel. Divide the salmon into six thick slices (a bread knife is good for this). Serve with sauce messine (below), new potatoes and a cucumber salad (thinly sliced, salted and pressed then rinsed and dressed with dill vinegar and oil).
A really fresh and vibrant herb sauce.
25g (1 oz) parsley
25g (1 oz) chervil
20g (3/4 oz) tarragon
2 small shallots or 1 large shallot, chopped
1 egg yolk
300ml (1/2 pint) double cream
1 dsp Dijon mustard
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
Wash the herbs and pick the leaves off the stalks then put them into a blender with the other ingredients and blend well. Check the seasoning then tip into a heatproof bowl. Stand the bowl in a pan of boiling water and heat the sauce gently to avoid curdling it. (This should take about 10 minutes.) Serve with salmon or other fish.
What to drink: The butteriness of the salmon and the slight sweetness of the currants and ginger means you want a want a wine of some weight. Personally I think it's a great excuse to crack open a good white burgundy or other top class chardonnay but Viognier would work well too. If you wanted to drink a red I'd go for a Pinot Noir, probably burgundy again.
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