Think pink

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Peter of Furness Fish Markets on the oh-so short wild salmon season—and why this superlative fish should be pride of place on kitchen tables

“Our wild salmon is caught by independent fishermen local to Whitby,” says Peter from Furness Fish Markets, pointing to the large salmon glistening beautifully on the stall. “It is sent down on the day it has been caught so at the most it is about 24 hours old when it gets to us. It is some of the best salmon you can get—Whitby is famous in the UK for its high quality wild fish.”

The main season in the UK is July and August and it generally lasts for about two months—“though it does often go a couple of weeks either side of that,” Peter continues. “They are a world apart from farmed salmon. You can get some really good farmed salmon these days, but wild salmon is a completely different thing. They are jam packed with really deep, intense flavour. The flesh isn’t as fatty and has a firmer texture because the fish have been out swimming freely, having a good life.”

A wild salmon spends most of its life at sea. It feeds off crustaceans such as shrimp or krill, which is what gives its flesh a pink hue—unlike farmed salmon, the natural colour of which is naturally much paler, though often treated with coloured dye. After around four years, it will swim back up to the river to breed. This is when it’s usually caught. The fishermen that supply Furness very rarely go out into the deep seas to catch salmon, so they are essentially left alone—which is why most independent wild salmon fisheries are seasonal.

Something special
“With something this special you shouldn’t treat it the way you would usually treat farmed salmon,” Peter implores. “I wouldn’t infuse or smother it with too many other flavours—you really want to allow the flavour of the salmon to shine through.” Though pan frying is a very common way of cooking salmon, for Peter this is not the way to get the best of this exceptional fish.

“I would suggest poaching it,” Peter continues. “A whole poached salmon makes for a wonderful centrepiece for a dinner party. You can use water, but I think a really good fish stock is best. Add a slice of lemon and a bay leaf or two and that’s pretty much all you need.”

Another way Peter suggests cooking it is by wrapping the fish in foil and steam roasting it in the oven to ensure all those flavours are locked inside and the fish is kept moist—delicious served with dill and cucumber sauce. Demo chef Luke Robinson, meanwhile, suggests pairing it with star anise, celery, fennel and citrus fruits.

“You hear this a lot, but keeping it simple is really the key here,” Peter enthuses. “You really want the salmon flavours to do the talking. That is what you are paying the money for. I won’t lie, it is pricier than farmed salmon, but it is thoroughly worth it.”