Cream of salmon soup. That’s what was prescribed to start my grandmother’s day-dreamed menu for a summer dinner party in 1937.
The party itself never came to be, but there’s something that makes me think the soup may have made an appearance in on her table. Her original recipe has all the hallmarks of her thriftiness; calling for a scant half tin of salmon submerged in 2 pints of milk.
If I’m honest with everyone, hers was not the soup that graced my table when I re imagined her menu last week.
While the concept of a pale pink hued soup as a summer starter is sound, the recipe was a blousey relic. A starter so thick with dairy would sink a meal that has to later shoulder the burden of duck fat and parfait, way before the evening ever left the dock.
So a lighter solution that kept true to Granny’s seasonal thinking was sought.
I cast my memory back. Years ago at Claudes in Sydney The Hungry One and I ate a tasting menu that commenced with a shot of smoked salmon consomme. It burnt my tongue, but was the first iteration of smoked salmon he ate (his hatred of the texture and smell being long documented).
That was what I was after. A thimble of intense flavour; the colour of sun bleached terra cotta tiles.
My journey continued with a search for salmon heads, bones and tails. I would use them to infuse the soup. Finding these was not the easiest of tasks. My two favoured fishmongers both rejected me; one uses the bones for stock in the adjoining restaurant, the other had none to be found.
It wasn’t until 2pm on the day of the dinner that I finally got a call from the third man in waders I visited. At that point I was up to my elbows in half pitted cherries and the sky was chucking buckets. I already had vegetable stock on the boil. If worst came to worst, I planned to infuse it with smoked salmon and hope for the best.
He called to tell me he had salmon bones, but if I wanted them I had to come now.
On went the gum boots (welcome to a British summer). And off I went.
Yet the flavour it gave off was heavenly. The end result was a product of simmering softened mirepoix; onions, carrots, fennel and celery with salmon bones, a touch of fresh ginger, fennel seed, wine and water.
Another thing I learned through the exercise; straining and squeezing the liquid from the fish bones is not an elegant job.
I served the concentrated burnt orange soup with fennel fronds, a dab of creme fraiche and a few stray wafts of smoked salmon hiding in the bottom of milk-white espresso cups.
While the asparagus toasts were a universal crowd pleaser, this soup is a divider. It deserves a flag in its crest; this is not for those who merely enjoy gentle tiles of raw salmon, eaten out of laquered black boxes so they can up their protein count for the day.
This is a warm jolt for those who like the pink oiled intensity of the cooked fish. A good litmus test of who would eat it would be whether you enjoy the crisp salmon skin that hugs your grilled fillets on a Wednesday night. If the prospect of eating that makes you recoil, then move along, this flavour may not be for you.
If not, go ahead.
As for me; it was one of the only times in our eating career when I inherited left overs from The Hungry One. Lucky for me, I loved every last drop.
1 large dutch oven/ stock pot. Chux for straining. Strainer.
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), rinsed, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
2 celery ribs chopped
1 brown onion, peeled and chopped,
1 carrot chopped
3/4 fennel, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
1.5 litres cold water
Pinch of fennel seeds
1.5 kilograms of salmon bones, heads and tails
1 tablespoon créme fraîche
1 slice of smoked salmon, shredded (you can infuse the rest in the stock if you like)
2 tablespoons of fennel, shaved
Here’s how we roll
1) If your pot can fit both the fish and the vegetables then do everything at once. Otherwise, do the vegetables first, then remove them and then infuse the vegetable stock with the fish.
2) Add a drizzle of olive oil to the bottom of the pot and gently sweat the onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, fennel and fennel seeds until soft. Add the white wine and bring to the boil.
3) Add the cold water, thyme, bay and ginger and simmer with the lid on for 2 hours.
(nb, if your pot is big enough, add the fish after rinsing it under cold water, removing any blood spots and getting rid of the gills. After adding the fish make sure there is enough water to cover, then simmer with the lid off for 3 hours, skimming off scum from the surface from time to time.
4) If your pot is not big enough, after two hours strain the stock into a bowl, and discard the vegetables. Return the stock, ginger, thyme and bay leaf to the pot. Add another pinch of fennel seeds and the salmon pieces. If there is not enough water to cover the fish, top it up. Simmer for an hour and a half with the lid off.
5) Pour the stock into another stock pot through a sieve lined with three brand new chux wipes Squeeze to remove as much of the liquid from the bones and meat. Discard the meat and bones.
6) Boil the stock to reduce until you have 2 cups of amber liquid. You can keep reducing at this stage until you have the concentrated flavour you want and then serve.
7) Pour the stock through another sieve lined with clean chux once. Then pour through another clean one a second time.
8 ) Taste the stock. If it’s not strong enough, keep reducing. Otherwise season with salt and pepper and serve in small shot glasses over slivers of smoked salmon, with some shaved fennel and creme fraiche on the top.
Previously in the June Menu : Asparagus toasts
Next: Duck with roast apple sauce
Cold cherry souffle