• Michael

#0020: Of Forest and Sea

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

I've written before about the balance between the sea and the forest on the Secret Coast. If there's a recipe which best defines this for me, it's spruce gravad lax. The different aspects of the landscape working together to make something simple and delicious.

Cured salmon makes a refreshing change from the smoked stuff. The sugar and salt will draw out the liquid to preserve the flesh, whilst the herbs and spices will add a delicate flavour. The spruce tips used here have a fresh taste of citrus and pepper, which works really well with the salmon.

Spruce tips are the new growth you find at the ends of spruce branches in the spring. They are softer and a paler green than the rest of the branch. You'll only need a couple of handfuls for this recipe, but be careful not to take too much from the same tree, so you don't affect its natural growth.

On the Secret Coast, Norwegian spruce are easy to come by. However, if you can't find a spruce, most conifer tips will do the job well. All coniferous needles are absolutely packed with vitamin C and have long been used to treat coughs and colds, although they're best avoided if you're pregnant. The only species to avoid outright is yew, which can be mistaken for a conifer, but is highly toxic. Foraging is great fun, and there's a sense of real achievement in cooking with ingredients you have brought home from your latest adventure. However, if you're not too familiar with the species you're looking for, it's best to take an identification book or app with you, so you can be sure you're picking the right thing.

So, first things first, get your boots on and go exploring in the woods to find your spruce.

Once you're home, line a large, shallow dish with clingfilm, leaving enough hanging spare over the edges to allow you to fully wrap the salmon once you're done. Evenly spread a bunch of fresh dill on the cling film, and lay a side of salmon on top, skin side down.

In a decent sized bowl, mix 125g of coarse sea salt, 250g of white sugar, 20g of cracked white peppercorns and 5g of crushed coriander seeds. Rub this mixture into the flesh of the salmon, and sprinkle with a couple of handfuls of washed spruce tips.

Fold the edges of the clingfilm over the salmon, and wrap it as tightly as you can. Put a few heavy books on top of the wrapped salmon to force out the liquid, and leave it in a cool spot for about eight hours, then lift off the books and move the salmon to the fridge to cure for about twenty four hours.

Once done, rinse the gravad lax well in cold water, pat it dry with a clean towel and serve it immediately in thin slices on freshly baked rye bread.

And there you have it, from the depths of the sea lochs to the tips of the treetops; the Secret Coast on your plate.

#secretdiaryargyll #argyllsecretcoast #cowal #salmon #spruce #forage #gravadlax

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