Today and tomorrow the town of Bushmills celebrates two iconic products from the town with their annual Salmon and Whiskey Festival.
The River Bush that pulses through the village has provided the water for the world’s oldest licensed distillery since 1608. Within the ebb and flow of the river, salmon course on their way out to sea. The agri-food and bioscience institute have a monitoring station on the banks of the river where data is collated and stocks monitored. Their work has been recognised internationally for the contribution made to conserving the fish.
When I was growing up fishermen would often arrive at the door with a glistening sliver scaled salmon wrapped in newspaper. My mum would have poached it in her specially purchased fish kettle and it would have been adorned with cucumber “scales” and elaborately carved lily like lemons. This would all have occurred in the early eighties when embellishment was de rigeur. Nowadays when it comes to fish cooking, the simpler the better is the way to go.
While the work of AFBI is ensuring salmon stocks for future generations, over fishing and pollution now means that wild salmon is a very rare delicacy.
I’ll be at the Salmon and Whiskey today cooking salmon dishes one of which is a salmon yakitori. Soy sauce, honey, whiskey and ginger are whizzed into a glaze to coat the salmon during cooking. The whiskey adds a bit of spice to the dish which works well with the sweetness of the honey and the saltiness of the soy. I’ve added some grilled potatoes and scallions to bring the Japanese dish back down to earth.
The name Bushmills has global fame and recognition because of the whiskey that’s been distilled there for over 400 years. From Tokyo to Texas, bartenders know exactly what a bush on the rocks is. Mexican tequila producer Jose Cuervo took over the business in 2014 and are concentrating on making really good aged whiskeys with no gimmicky drinks. The back to basics approach is proving successful with investment planned and ensuring the preservation of the “water of life” for future generations.
There’s been a recent surge in popularity for old school whiskey based cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan and chefs both locally and abroad are incorporating this spicy amber liquor in dessert and savoury dishes. Whiskey and chocolate go particularly well. The warm notes in the liquor cutting through the rich chocolate.
Whiskey cured salmon pops up on menus more and more often. Mix 75g of brown sugar, 50g of seasalt, 50ml Bushmills whiskey, 1 teaspoon crushed juniper berries and a teaspoon of crushed peppercorns. Rub all over a 750g piece of salmon. Wrap up in cling and chill for 24 hours. Run over cold water, pat dry with kitchen paper and slice thinly. This works well with finely sliced beetroot, radish and fresh dill.
My other recipe is a take on the original Whiskey Sour cocktail which comprised of whiskey, fresh lemon juice and cherry. I’ve used these ingredients to make an almond cake, topped with a lemon and orange syrup, whiskey custard cream, lemon gel and cherries soaked in Bushmills.
I’ll be cooking different recipes all day today at the festival and local chefs will be demonstrating tomorrow. Naturally North Coast and Glens market will be there with fantastic local food producers and crafters.
There’ll be a few drams of the iconic drink on the go too and lots of events around the town.