Recipe: Summer cured salmon with foraged herbs and leaves
- Credit: PA
Rosemary, lavender, bay and tender young fig leaves can all be found on a morning walk in Hampstead.
Hanging over walls and poking through fences in abundance, this fragrant greenery seems to say, go on, take a sprig, I won't tell. And so I do.
I use the lavender and rosemary in flavoured vinegars, bay leaves go into minestrone and on top of meatloaf and moussaka before roasting. Fig leaves are a relatively new ingredient for me. Just as I love fig perfume, so I delight in the haunting fragrance added to my cooking by the soft green leaves.
And it is, of course the leaves, not the flowers, which contribute their scented essences to fig perfume. Olive oil infused with finely chopped fig leaves makes a surprisingly good dressing for warm potato salad or tomato salad with a dash of sherry vinegar.
Brush the oil on lamb or chicken before seasoning and grilling. But my favourite way of using fig leaves is in a summery gravad lax. In winter I cure the fish with black treacle, thyme and malt whisky. At this time of the year, those foraged leaves make a delicious cure for salmon; plenty of fig leaves and bay, a generous sprig of rosemary, and no more than three or four stems of lavender.
Other summer herbs to look out for: angelica, which is most likely to be found in someone's garden; lovage, with its yeasty, celery-like aroma, I use with shellfish, with tomato salads, fish cakes and any dish that likes a hint of celery; borage's, tiny, star-like blue flowers are found in the wild, and add a hint of summer to green salads and long cooling drinks.
The colour blue is not usually associated with food, and so to find it as part of a dish is something of a shock. I like a little culinary shock from time to time, and created a startling blue oil with borage flowers, to spoon onto creamy pale soups like vichyssoise. I make one with peeled cucumbers gently cooked in olive oil, chives and potatoes, blended to a palest green creamy smoothness, faintly flecked with green.
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To make the oil, pick off the blue petals and discard the rest of the flower head. Put them in a mortar with a pinch of sea salt, which helps to ‘grip’ the pestle, and pound the petals to a paste. Gradually add a neutral oil such as grape seed or groundnut, making sure that the mixture is well amalgamated. Mix it again before serving. You can either spoon it onto the soup, or squeeze it through a plastic bottle depending on the effect you want to produce.
The most unusual dish I ever had with angelica, at a restaurant in Soliera, near Modena, was a fresh pasta which also included hyssop and borage, a little prosciutto and some fresh tomato sauce. To make it, shred the prosciutto, and put in a frying pan with a nut of butter. Add some chopped hyssop, and warm it through. Just before serving, add the angelica, the borage flowers and the tomato, and then stir into freshly cooked drained pasta. Add the angelica and borage at the last minute, or their elusive essences will evaporate. Serve in warm bowls for a taste of summer.
For a herb-scented summer dessert, I suggest a bowl of English strawberries, halved or quartered, with a thread of real balsamico woven over them, scattered with edible flowers; lavender, myrtle, elderflower, wild roses, borage and marigold petals.
Summer cured salmon (serves 4 to 6)
1 centre loin fillet of salmon, 400-500 g
5 tablespoons coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons light muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons gin or vodka
6 to 8 fresh fig leaves
6 to 8 fresh bay leaves
2 or 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 stems fresh lavender
Remove as many bones from the fillet as possible. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and gin or vodka to make the marinade.
Arrange half of the leaves and all of the herbs in the bottom of a rectangular dish, large enough to take the piece of fish. Spoon five tablespoons of marinade over the leaves, and lay the piece of salmon on top, skin side upper-most.
Spread the rest of the marinade mixture on the skin side of the salmon, and cover with the remaining fig leaves. Cover with cling film, weigh down and refrigerate for 2 days.
To serve, scrape off the curing ingredients, drain off the liquid, and slice the fish. As an accompaniment, I suggest a home-made mayonnaise flavoured with lime juice and zest and a little horseradish or mustard. In Scandinavia, the sauce is sweetened slightly; you can use honey or brown sugar.
© Frances Bissell 2022. All rights reserved.