Tag Archive for: Salmon

I was blackberrying the other day in the fields above our house. The gleamingly ripe berries were destined for a crumble, but I was reminded of alternative uses. Maybe to make the perfect seasonal sauce to accompany grouse. Alas, that’s now a great gustatory treat forsworn. This particular game bird is off my menu. For ethical reasons.

According to Chris Packham, since 2018 in the UK there have been 101 illegally killed hen harriers, plus tens of thousands of eagles, kites, buzzards, hundreds of thousands of foxes, stoats, corvids all killed, and vast swathes of upland have been ecologically damaged by burning. And all the while, I understand, grouse moor owners have been granted tax concessions.

I’ve been equally wobbly about that other traditional emblem of the hunting, shooting and fishing lobby – salmon. Except wild with its remarkable story is very much the exception these days. It is the industrial scale horror of fish faming that fuels my concerns.

The conservation charity Wildfish claims (and I have no reason to doubt them) that a reported 900,000 Scottish farmed salmon died between June 1 and 30 2023, bringing the total for the year so far to an estimated 5.6 million. That’s 1.6 million more fish compared with the same period last year.

It’s a wake-up call about the environmental, sustainability, and welfare issues connected with open-net farmed salmon. And since Wildfish launched its Off the table campaign encouraging restaurants to take such produce off its menus there has been a strong support from the likes of Fergus Henderson’s St John Restaurant in London and Michelin-starred Old Stamp House in Ambleside, The Palmerston and Fhior in Edinburgh and  Silo in Hackney. More than 100 destinations are now listed on an international directory of ‘refuseniks’.

Tim Maddams, former Head Chef of River Cottage says of the farmed salmon industry: “It’s inefficient, misleading in its advertising, it’s polluting, and it endangers the already massively threatened wild salmon. There are plenty of better, tastier, and far more sustainable options.”

In brief Wildfish’s damning claims about the Scottish farmed salmon industry

Mass production: intensive salmon farming creates a breeding ground for diseases and parasites. According to a WildFish report, in 2022, a single Scottish salmon farm can be infested with as many as 5 million parasitic sea lice at any one time – juvenile lice spread out from the farms, risking potentially fatal infestations in wild salmon and sea trout.

Impact on wild fish: it’s estimated that 440 wild fish are required as feed to produce one farmed salmon OR around 2.5kg (wild-caught fish as feed) per 1kg (farmed salmon). The industry relies on wild fish such as wild herring, anchovies, and mackerel for this feed; 90 per cent of which could be directly eaten by people.

 • Contamination: despite farmed salmon often being labelled as “responsibly produced”, the Scottish salmon farming industry is the only UK livestock industry to report increasing antibiotic usage trends), according to the UK Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance Report published in 2022. The industry also continues to use chemical pesticides, toxic to marine life, that can spread as far as 39km away from the farms. According to an analysis by Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlots, Scottish salmon farm waste is equivalent to the volume of sewage produced by half of Scotland – approximately 35,000 tonnes per year.

Making a decision on what salmon you’ll buy. Go Faroe!

I accept the fact that most supermarkets and even traditional fishmongers don’t have access (or don’t seek access) to ethically reared fish, while punters may not care to splash out the big bucks for the wild stuff when it’s available, but, as with free range chicken, it is worth going the extra mile in your quest for salmon.

You can find wild salmon on occasions on the slab at one of the UK’s finest fishmongers, Out of the Blue in Chorlton, Manchester. They also regularly stock what many would claim is the king of sustainably farmed salmon from the pure waters off the spectacular Faroe Islands (above, out in the North Atlantic between Norway and Greenland,).

Faroes’ surroundings are the natural feeding ground of wild Atlantic salmon, which travel out from the rivers of Europe before heading back to spawn. Perfect environment also for fish farming with a conscience. No antibiotics to treat disease have been used for 20 years. Resulting product, off the back of a couple of OTB purchases, offers a rich buttery taste with a firm texture, the roseate colour the result of naturally occurring carotenoids, not dye. These come primarily from the healthy pigment astaxanthin, derived from a diet of microalgae and shrimp. And it has a high omega-3 content. Herring and eel are also part of the diet, helping build up that healthy fat content and his protein levels.

One obvious benchmark – it is sushi-graded, so can be safely consumed raw. Whatever you do with such quality salmon don’t over cook it. My personal preference is to smoke it gently with beech or cherry wood chips in my Cameron’s stovetop smoker.

Or maybe head down the Iceland route (and I don’t mean the supermarket)

We had to pass through the Cotswold town of Burford en route for Oxford recently, which meant visiting its glorious church to pay our respects to the three Levellers leaders executed there on Cromwell’s orders in May, 1649. His troops had first penned them inside St John The Baptist along with 340 other rebels who shared their ‘socialist’ beliefs. There’s a plaque to the trio in the churchyard.

Two miles away was the other object of our pilgrimage – The Upton Smokery, which has featured in the Financial Times top 50 places to shop in the world. We dropped in to purchase smoked eel. As with the great Jeremy ‘Quo Vadis’ Lee, who created his signature sandwich to showcase its delights, it is a passion of mine. And Upton smoke it on site.

They also stock arguably the world’s most sustainable land-reared fish sourced from Icelandic aquaculturists Silverscale.

Upton founder Chris Mills says: “I have been caught in a trap of supporting an industry (salmon farming) which I simply don’t believe in. Open cage salmon farming at sea is an environmental tragedy with such a low level of husbandry that, if people really knew what happened below water, they would never eat salmon again.

“Silverscale is changing that so I am thrilled to be part of this new initiative. Only good husbandry, pure water and zero chemicals can produce an end product to match its wild cousin. Wild Atlantic salmon is an incredible species in terrible trouble. Open caged salmon farming at sea is having a dire effect on their very existence and the only responsible and sustainable form of salmon farming has to be done in a controlled environment on land. Iceland is the obvious place to achieve this.”

Still in development, Silverscale expect to harvest  500-1000 tons this year increasing to 30,000 tons plus from salmon brood stock entirely raised in Iceland from egg.

You can buy smoked Icelandic salmon and char online from Upton.

What links the sprightliest greenery in my vernal garden with a dish created in 1962 at a railroad halt at the head of the navigable Loire? L’oseille is what the French call sorrel and in the unassuming industrial town of Roanne two chefs created culinary magic by marrying this acidic, zesty herb to a salmon escalope.

I first read about it in 1978 in remarkable book called Great Chefs of France, essentially a handsomely illustrated roll call of all the figures who created ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’. Roanne-based Les Freres Troigros, Jean and Pierre, sounded the most fun. Asked to create a dish for Paul Bocuse’s Legion d’Honneur lunch for Giscard d’Estaing, they came up with Escalope de saumon  a l’oseille and the rest is history. I have been slavishly following the recipe for this delicate, almost Zen-like dish since 1980 when the brothers published their own cookbook, Nouvelle Cuisine, part of a series translated into English that included Cuisine Minceur by Michel Guerard, the only one of that groundbreaking kitchen generation still alive.

By 1968 the brothers had gained a third Michelin star for the restaurant, which it has held ever since, while morphing from the station’s Hotel Moderne, prospering from the Route Nationale 7 running past, via a more sophisticated makeover in 1976, to its current incarnation after a switch to a rural site in 2007. Jean died of a heart attack in 1983, Pierre in 2020 at the age of 92, the Troigros legacy long since consolidated in the hands of Pierre’s son Michel (and now a new generation). Influences on the menu in recent times have been Japanese, a logical extension of the pared down intensity of the original Nouvelle Cuisine movement.

Alas, I’ve never eaten in the restaurant proper. On a press trip to explore the wines of the Roannaise region a Troigros lunch was organised for us. A lovely prix fixe three courses yes, but it was in a spin-off down the street, the Cafe Epicerie Le Central. It cost just 23 euros, quarter of the price of a main at the big place, where the other day I struggled to find salmon with sorrel on the website menu.

My own sorrel crop has mostly been perennial. When one year it failed we were rescued by a cutting from the unlikeliest of sources, the Michelin-starred Mr Underhills in Ludlow. 

Chris Bradley was virtually a one-man band at the stove (hence a no choice five course menu) with his wife Judy front of house. Quite a team, both now retired, the building down by Dinham Weir sold on as a private house. 

The no choice dinner we had in the garden was utterly memorable with salmon and sorrel as a starter. Which led to our lament about our own lost herb. Not only did Judy come up with a replacement from her own garden, she even volunteered Chris to drive us back to our hotel in the absence of Ludlow taxis. Now that was Michelin star service. Here’s my take on the original Troisgros recipe…

Salmon in a creamy sorrel sauce – a dish that has stood the test of time


1kg fresh middle cut of salmon, skinned; 80g fresh sorrel leaves; 2 shallots;  500ml fish fumet; 4tbsp dry white wine; 2tbsp Noilly Prat; 400ml double cream; 40g butter; juice of ½ lemon; salt and freshly ground pepper; small amount of arachide or other light oil.


Divide the salmon into four fillets and put them between two sheets of lightly oiled wax paper and flatten the fish evenly, using a mallet. Remove the stems from the sorrel by stripping the central veins from each leaf.

To prepare the fish sauce put the fish fumet, white wine, Noilly Prat and shallots into a saucepan and cook over high heat until a near glaze is reached. Add the cream and reduce until the sauce is slightly thickened. Add the sorrel for around 20 seconds while stirring. Then incorporate the butter off the heat.  Before serving add a few drops of lemon juice

To cook the fillets, sprinkle salt and pepper on the least presentable side. Heat up the oil (or use a non-stick pan), then add the salmon with the seasoned side down for 25 seconds. then turn to the second side for another 25 seconds. The salmon should be undercooked since it will continue to cook after plating. Add the sorrel sauce, enlivened with a squeeze of lemon, to each warmed plate then add the salmon. Voilà!

Some cookbooks have a longer shelf life than others. Well-thumbed, splattered indelibly with ingredient stains, they’ve stayed the course. Many courses, if you forgive the culinary jeu de mot. One such tome is The Carved Angel Cookbook by Joyce Molyneux, a bastion of my recipe collection since it was published in 1990. It sold 50,000 copies despite the chef’s lack of TV exposure or reluctance to self-publicise. Unlike a certain Mr Floyd, who ran a gastropub upriver from Joyce’s Dartmouth, Devon base. Until bankruptcy.

Her  book celebrates the very special restaurant on the riverfront, where she made her name. I mention it now because this groundbreaking female chef turns 90 this month after being retired for well over two decades. 

Happy Birthday, Joyce (and fellow legend Shaun Hill, 75 this week and still at the stove in his Michelin-starred Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny). 

An appropriate dish to cook in Joyce’s honour might well be the famous Salmon in Puff Pastry with Stem Ginger and Currants, invented by her mentor George Perry-Smith when she worked for him at The Hole in The Wall, Bath in the Sixties. It accompanied her to Dartmouth when in the early Seventies he set up her and his stepson, Tom Jaine, to run the Carved Angel.

One hitch, though. It’s not in the The Carved Angel Cookbook. I’d got it in my head that  it was. An easy enough mistake to make. You’ll certainly find it in two Jane Grigson books, her Fish Book (1993) and The Observer Guide to British Food (1984),where this great food scholar/cook writes: “I’d gathered that the source of the idea was a medieval recipe, but then I found something almost identical in the Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary by John Nott (1726, reprinted in 1980). In that more fanciful time, the pastry was scored to look like a fish; inside were mace, butter and ginger in slices, along with the salmon.”

For the salmon Perry-Smith insisted on best Wye, then Tamar when he moved his own restaurant to Cornwall; for Joyce definitely Dart?

There was an obvious affinity between Joyce and Jane (who died of cancer in 1990). Tom recalled Jane and her irascible poet/critic husband Geoffrey coming for dinner to the Angel once. Joyce was apprehensive because at least one recipe had come straight from one of Jane’s books. Fortunately all went swimmingly.

Years later, Joyce would hang a grand Jane Bown portrait of Jane at the threshold of her kitchen and, one further link, Jane’s daughter Sophie was co-author of The Carved Angel Cookbook.

All of which I find fascinating but it still leaves me adrift of a birthday dish. Easy really. Let’s keep the puff pastry. Joyce provides a recipe: you could buy it in but insist on butter. It provides the light casing for a very springlike dish – A Pastry of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce. Wild cepes would be a luxury addition but are not essential. Check out the recipe at the end of this article. As for that definitive salmon and ginger en croute dish Google and ye will find. Versions are all over the Public Domain.

So what makes Joyce Molyneux and the Carved Angel so special 30 years on?

I happened to be in Bath this year for International Women/s Day. By odd coincidence that city has been Jan’s home since she retired in 1999, having taken ownership of the Angel years before. I called her groundbreaking before. That she certainly was, as was evident during the infrequent dinners we booked there. Joyce was always there in the properly open kitchen – an innovation in those times – with a larger quotient of female sous chefs than you’d normally encounter. And a sense of calm.

It’s seen as cool these days for kitchen staff, not just servers, to bring out  plate to table. That was the norm there. Local sourcing? Farm to fork? In the book there’s a shot of the chef patron harvesting from her own lofty allotment above the winding River Dart. She made exemplary use of the seafood on her doorstep and first introduced me to samphire plucked from the foreshore.

The menu, invariably just a few dishes, no plate overcrowded, avoided the Froglification of ‘fine dining’ at that time. Still I couldn’t resist substituting feuilleté for puff. The true French influences are obvious, yet they are filtered through the acutely Gallic sensibilities of Perry-Smith, Grigson and, inevitably, Elizabeth David. I can’t recall how many covers there were. Not many. Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. We certainly did.

The story of how Joyce achieved such eminence, even for a while keeping a Michelin star,  is striking. Read Rachel Cooke’s tribute as The Observer Food Monthly gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

It traces her journey from domestic science classes designed to equip a gal for marriage (Joyce never wed) via a revelation what gastronomy could be during an eight stint in a Stratford restaurant to the Hole in The Wall epiphany.

How The Carved Angel soared and then, post Joyce, began its descent

When the Good Food Guide named The Carved Angel the Best Real Food Restaurant of 1984 it was a remarkable reward for Joyce Molyneux’s persistence in following her culinary vision. She took over completely when Tom left the following year. In his memoir of that time he quotes a poem about the Carved Angel written by adopted Devonian and regular customer Poet Laureate Ted Hughes: 

‘The Angel carved in wood

Resisted all temptation.

She fasted and withstood

Libidinous immolation

And anointings of breasts

Of birds and thighs of beasts.

She did not bat an eye

When those two loose-mouthed harlots

Claret and Burgundy

Turned glass and drinker scarlet.

She barely coloured – say

Chassagne Montrachet.

She only cracked when Tom

Plucked Sally from the shrine as

A cork out of the Dom.

This bomb among the diners

Shattered the Angel – left

Her not so carved as cleft.’

Joyce continued to run The Carved Angel until 1999. Since her retirement it’s had highs and lows under several ownerships. As The New Angel under turbulent celebrity chef John Burton Race it briefly regained its Michelin star. Nowadays, rebranded The Angel, the kitchen is in the hands of 2018 Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Elly Wentworth. Along the quay the big chef name in town now is Mitch Tonks at The Seahorse. His culinary hero? Joyce Molyneux.

A Feuilleté of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce (serves 4)


100g puff pastry; 8 quail’s eggs; 225g green asparagus tips; 1 egg, beaten; sesame or poppy seeds; Messine herb sauce; chervil or watercress, to garnish.


Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to form a 20cm square, 4mm thick. Trim edges and divide into four 10cm squares. Place on a baking sheet; rest in fridge for at last 30 minutes. Boil  pan of water. Add egg for one and half minutes drain, rinse with cold water and place in a bowl of cold water to rest. Tie the asparagus in a bundle, cook in boiling, salted water until tender (5 mins). Drain and keep warm.

Brush pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds. Bake in a pre-heated oven, gas mark 9 for 5-7 minutes until golden brown and risen. Out of he oven cut each so there’s a lid. Store the lids in a warm place for use later.

Re-heat the eggs in hot water for a minute and heat the sauce thoroughly. Drain eggs and place two in each pastry case with asparagus and coat with sauce. Cover with pastry lids and garnish.