Growing up close to the Agivey River in Aghadowey, wild salmon was a common place food on our table during its limited season.
Fishermen would arrive at the front door of the house with a glistening silver, sharp beaked fish, wrapped in newspaper. Last week, in Belfast, St George’s market had this now rare delicacy on sale, but this time from a Scottish river. It had a considerably larger price tag than the money that would have passed hands 30 years ago, even taking inflation into consideration.
Over fishing and pollution are among the reasons that have contributed to a major decline in these once prolific kings and queens of the river.
The Agri-food and Bioscience Institute have a base beside the River Bush in the town of Bushmills. Its experimental facilities allow for the trapping and counting of wild salmon smolts (juveniles) migrating to sea and adults returning to freshwater to spawn. They tag and research salmon to create a picture of the levels and sources of mortality throughout the creature’s lifespan. These salmon enhancement techniques are now internationally recognised as a benchmark for conservation and management of this wonderful product.
Today in Bushmills the fourth annual Salmon and Whiskey Festival takes place to celebrate the iconic River Bush salmon and the globally recognised Bushmills Whiskey. There’ll be cooking demonstrations by local chefs, showcasing these two fabulous ingredients, a bake-off in Tartine restaurant, fly casting demos, cocktail making and other events and entertainment (See www.causewaycoastandglens.com for details).
When you have a delicious piece of wild salmon, my inclination is always to cook it simply in a pan with some butter, finish with a piece of lemon and serve with buttered new potatoes or some wheaten bread.
But for a show-stopping centre piece, I turn to a seventies favourite, Coulibiac. This Russian recipe involves layering salmon with lightly spiced rice, eggs and spinach and enveloping in a crisp puff pastry. It looks the part and tastes so spicily succulent it’s a wonder why it went out of favour. You don’t have to use wild salmon – in this recipe farmed is perfectly acceptable.
Chocolate and whiskey are a mouthwatering combination – the sultry elements of the whiskey elevating the sweetness of the chocolate.
My other recipe this week is for a gluten free cake that’s rich with chocolate and studded with apricots soaked in Bushmills honey whiskey.
I’ll have some with me at the festival on Saturday afternoon so come and say hello for a slice – while stocks last.