"What did you get for dinner, then?" I asked Mr A&N when he returned from the food shopping.
"Salmon. Can you pop it in the fridge while I unload the car?"
The salmon didn't take much hunting around for, since it wasn't just salmon, but a credit-crunch-busting, half-price whole salmon, head et al. Popping it in the fridge wasn't possible since this beast was strapped to a heavy piece of cardboard and more than spanned the width of the fridge. Freezer bags and carving knife would have to come out before we could think of putting this salmon away, as did our Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall book on Fish to help us figure out the appropriate way to honor the beastie.
As Mr A&N did his best to carve away with a dull knife and pick bones out with my best tweezers (no wonder proper sushi chefs aren't allowed to touch a blade for their first 2 years of study), I flipped through and read out recipes. It might have been the Japanese frame of mind we were in, but we settled on the slow-cooked Japanese style salmon, which (Hugh assured us) could be prepared with whole mackerel, trout, sea bass, or scad as well. The fish is slowly cooked in a sweet-and-sour sauce, which then has the flexibility of being adjusted for taste at the end, so that you can get the right combination of sweet and sour to set your taste buds pinging in the right direction.
Although the clue was in the name (SLOW-cooked fish), I didn't let the cooking time sink into me until it was 7pm and I just started the fish on its 3 hour journey. Hugh told me 'not to be tempted to move the fish until the 3 hours are up' but hunger got the better of us at 8.30 and he wasn't there to slap our wrists for our disobedience. Even with the shortened cooking time, the flavors had worked their way into the fish and making it tender (though not so much so that it fell apart, as Mr A&N feared) and authentically Japanese in flavor. We tried to balance the sweet with sour for the sauce so that none of the individual flavors stood out, and once reduced it made the perfect topping for the rice and veg we served the fish with.
A surprisingly professional taste for relatively little effort and (if such things matter to you) a very healthy meal. I can only imagine what heights the meal would have been taken to if we had listened to Hugh and left it cooking for the full 3 hours.
Japanese slow-cooked fish, from The River Cottage Fish Book
poaching liquid can cover 6-8 mackerel, or equivalent amount of other fish. I recommend making the whole amount and using any left over sauce for pouring over other items in the same or a later meal.
- 2 large, hot, dried whole red chillies
- 1/2 fist-sized piece of fresh ginger, cut into very thin slices
- 3-4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 75ml soy sauce
- 40ml / 2 1/2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
- 20g / 1 1/4 Tbs soft brown sugar
- about 400ml apple juice
- 3-4 salmon fillets or 6-8 whole mackerel, or equivalent
- Combine the chilli, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and half the apple juice in a small pot. Simmer gently until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.
- Pack the fish into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan so there's not much room left in the pot, and pour the sauce mixture over the fish. The fish should be fully covered (though only just) so if it's not the case, add more apple juice and stir.
- Bring to a very gentle simmer, then turn the heat down so it's only just bubbling but not boiling.
- Cover and cook for 3 hours, adding more apple juice at times if the level gets low. Hugh says: "Don't let it boil and don't be tempted to move the fish until the 3 hours are up". It's his recipe so it's probably best to listen to him.
- Remove the fish and keep warm, and reduce the sauce by 1/3 to 1/2. Taste and adjust the seasoning - it should be nicely spicy with a balance of sweet and sour flavors. So add a touch more apple juice if too salty, a touch more vinegar if too sweet, etc.