Salmon en croûte

Something a bit different for Christmas week. Light the fire, put on Ski Trails* and imagine you are holed up in a little Alaskan cabin with snow to the door, Arcturis in the sky and plenty of this season’s salmon in the cache.

  • Ingredients: Ilb/450g wild salmon. Half a large cucumber, one lemon, fennel, white wine, pepper, salt.
  • Pastry: 6oz/150g plain white flour, half the amount of very cold butter, one egg, wine, a little dried thyme, milk, pepper, salt.
  • Alternatives: Other salmon-like fish, dill, courgettes,
  • Method: If using a frozen piece of salmon, make sure it has defrosted. Wash (peel) and thinly slice the cucumber and let it sit with the finely sliced fennel in a marinade of lemon juice and a tablespoonful of white wine to which you have added plenty of black pepper.

Then make flaky pastry dough: In a large bowl, grate the butter into most of the flour, add a sprinkle of salt, pepper and dried thyme, then half a beaten egg. Stir around, and continue by rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Stop before it resembles breadcrumbs, when you can still see flakes of butter. Using a tiny bit of cold water/wine, press into a ball and put in the freezer for 30 minutes.

While you are waiting for the dough, cut the flattish edge off the salmon fillet, as shown. Place both pieces in a little very hot olive oil and sear on both sides. You should be able to remove the skin after this, by scraping the back of a knife across the fillet. Leave to cool off.

Remove the pastry from the freezer and break into two. Roll out the first one, folding up and rolling again at least twice until finally rolling to a rectangle which will comfortably fit the salmon. Place this dough sheet on some baking parchment. Put the smaller of the two salmon slices on the baking sheet. Cover it with cucumber and fennel. Spoon over a little marinade. Then place the larger piece of fillet on top, followed by more cucumber, fennel and marinade. Paint some egg wash (the rest of the egg plus a little milk) around the edge. Roll out the second ball of dough as before and tuck it around the salmon. Press the top and bottom edges together firmly. Trim the edges for a neater look. Use the last of the egg wash to paint the top, adding pastry shapes made from leftover dough. Lift the pastry with paper onto a baking sheet or sheet of foil and place on the middle shelf of a pre-warmed oven.

Bake at 200oC for about 30 minutes. You might want to apply a second egg wash half way through. When cooked, the pastry will be hard to the touch. If still soft underneath, remove the paper and place the whole thing straight on the oven shelf for a minute or two.

Serve hot or cold, with some of the leftover cucumber and fennel, or a little watercress salad, prawns and home made mayonnaise stirred into some natural yoghurt.

*Ski Trails Jo Stafford, Columbia 1956

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