Politeness is the flower of humanity.
I know, I know, I should have walked around the corner and bought my salmon from The Fishery on the High Street like I usually do. Not only would I have got a lovely piece of fish rather than the scraggy tail-end bits I ended up with, I also might have got a smile from Danny who owns the joint and shared a joke with his dad, Johnny, who seems to have been put upon this earth to increase the jollity of the masses. But what can I say? I was in a hurry, so I popped into Wholefoods on Church Street instead.
I just got Maggie Beer’s new book, Maggie’s Kitchen, and I was oh so keen to try her Salmon with Pea Salsa. All I needed were the salmon steaks and there they were in the chiller cabinet, not as thick as I’d like but hey, ho. I couldn’t tell if they had the skin on or not, so I asked a nearby assistant if they did.
Is that the merest suggestion of an eye roll, or is it just me being hypersensitive? Erm, no, I’m not. Apparently, I’m very stupid. ‘Well it doesn’t matter does it, as it only takes a second to take the skin off.’ She’s looking at me like I’m probably not to be trusted with sharp objects. ‘But I need it with the skin on,’ I explain meekly. More eye rolling (honey, you’ll get wrinkles) and much prodding of the packaging to try and flip the fish over. ‘There, it’s got skin, you can see it,’ she thrusts it at me and I’m sure she’s speaking a little slower to compensate for my dimness. ‘Perhaps they should put whether it’s skinned or not on the label,’ I brave. At this point, I am obviously a complete moron. ‘Why do you need that? When. You. Can. See. It.’ Hmmm.
I’d love to stay and explain that - in my 20 years of working around food, reading about it, writing about it, cooking it – encouraging customers to poke and prod at something as delicate as fish is probably not a good idea. But if I am to continue to enjoy the Wholefoods experience, I really need to get back to work to pay for it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great people filling the shelves there. The produce guy is lovely and you couldn’t buy shampoo from a more charming person than the German woman who’s queen of the natural remedies section. Forget the lavender oil, she makes me feel calmer just looking at her. But some of the others … As my friend Virginia would say, ‘I see we’re going to have to build an extension on that charm school’.
P.S. Danny, Johnny, please forgive my cheating heart, or wallet. I promise I won’t make the same mistake again.
Maggie Beer’s Salmon with Pea Salsa
Maggie Beer’s my Aussie food heroine. I love her bold flavours, passion for eating seasonally and must-make-it-right-now recipes. This salmon’s a winner – simple enough for a midweek dinner, elegant enough to place it in front of fussy guests without fear.
I came home to find my chervil had withered away and died - and in the recent combination of sweltering heat followed by torrential rain, even hailstones, who can blame it? So I hacked away at my seemingly invincible parsley instead and it tasted great. I think the salsa would also be good with mint in place of the chervil, a sort of posh mushy peas, but then I’m Northern.
4x140g salmon steaks, skin-on (Got that, skin on!)
Flaky sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil for trickling over the top
10g unsalted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
Chervil sprigs and lemon wedges to serve
FROZEN PEA SALSA
30g unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil, for cooking
2 golden shallots, finely chopped
¾ cup chicken stock
1 ½ cups frozen peas
1 sprig chervil
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
You know how sometimes you say things aloud which should probably have remained in your head? I once announced on a radio show that ‘A day without peas is like a day without sunshine,’ something my friends tease me about to this day. I don’t mind really. Because it’s true.
For the salsa, melt the butter in a deep frying pan with a little olive oil over a medium heat, then add the shallots and sauté for 10 minutes or until translucent. Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock to the boil in a small saucepan.
Add the peas and chervil (or parsley, or even mint) to the shallots, then, when the peas have thawed, add the hot chicken stock and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Puree the pea mixture in a blender (or use a mouli if you have one), then season with salt and pepper if you like.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat. Season the skin-sides of the steaks with salt. Add a splash of olive oil to the hot pan, then cook the fish, skin-side down, for two minutes or until the skin is crisp and you can see from the side that they are cooked at least halfway through.
Season the other side of the fish with salt, then quickly wipe the pan with a paper towel, drop in the butter and, when melted, gently turn the salmon over, using either a palette knife or spatula. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, then leave the steaks to sit in the hot pan for five minutes. The centre of the fish should be just set or a little rare.
Place the salmon steak on each plate, then top each with a spoonful of pea salsa. Squeeze over the lemon juice, sprinkle with chervil and drizzle with a little olive oil, then serve with lemon wedges on the side.
TIP To get a nice, crisp skin on fish, warm the pan over a medium-high heat, add a tiny splash of oil, and then put the fish into the pan, skin-side-down. Then wait. Don’t poke and prod at it. When it moves easily, the skin is seared and crisp and you can turn it over easily.