Musical Smoked Salmon by Oli Hansen of Hansen & Lydersen:
I love simple food based on extraordinary ingredients and created with love and care. Smoked Salmon comes pretty high on my list so I was fascinated by the latest episode of The Balvenie Craftsmen’s Dinner. If you haven’t come across this mini-series before, the charming Michel Roux Jr. is travelling around the country uncovering the secrets of some of the craftsmen and women who contribute to the success of a great restaurant. Then, having uncovered the unique contribution of each, he brings them all together for a dinner, showcasing their produce throughout the meal. It has something of the feeling of Babette’s Feast to me.
There are chefs who seem instinctively sensitive and acutely aware of the effort of those around. Michel Roux Jr. is an exceptional chef and a craftsman of food in his own right so it is fascinating to see who he picks for the series. Previous episodes include Grierson Organic meat producers – a Scottish organic livestock farm where they raise their cattle in a traditional way, Ridgeway Wines, one of the founding English sparkling vineyards and wineries, North Street Potters and Ferraby Knives. These are the craftsmen and women whose goods and produce are the foundation of Michel Roux Jr.’s own restaurants.
The connection for The Balvenie, hosts of The Craftsmen’s Dinner, is that The Balvenie is the only distillery left in Scotland which still produces malt whisky in the traditional way. They sow and harvest barley on their own farm, before steeping it in spring water from the hills above the distillery. Then the grains are spread across the traditional malting floor and turned by hand up to four times a day until it’s ready for the kiln. It is dried using anthracite and a carefully judged amount of peat before being distilled in traditional copper stills. Ann ancient craft which produces a fine, single malt whisky.
This episode is about Ole Hansen of Hansen & Lydersen, one of the world’s most prolific smoked salmon producers, who regularly supplies like likes of The Dorchester in London and Paris’s Le Meurice with his products. Having just come back from the World Pesto Championships in Genoa, I’m all too aware of the importance of childhood memories. In Genoa it’s that process of standing with your mother or father or grandfather, learning how to use the traditional pestle and mortar to pound the basil, pine nuts, cheese and garlic with olive oil to create the perfect green pesto.
For me, it was learning how to make fudge – something my mother did to perfection, never using condensed milk, measuring the ingredients by eye and cooking the caramel by instinct without the help of a jam thermometer. For Oli Hansen, it was learning how to make smoked salmon with his grandfather.
Oli talks about how he remembers his grandfather smoked salmon in Norway – and how he tries to recreate the flavour he remembers from his childhood. And, about how playing music to his salmon makes a difference. I suspect it is more down to ritual than science – as Oli says, it’s a moment when the salmon is resting in the kiln and when he is resting, that he plays.
Fishing with his grandfather and watching the midnight sun, aged around 4 he remembers how he’d eat thick slices of his mother’s home-made bread, with thick cut strips of smoked salmon.
I love the fact that Oli believes that freezing fish and vacuum packing it makes it taste different. His own salmon is delivered fresh from Norway. He prepares it himself prior to smoking with a combination of beechwood and juniper. Fresh fish DOES taste different to me and, curiously, my own favourite comes from Scotland and is sent to me directly from a third generation Scottish fishing family. I wonder if that has something to do with my Scottish heritage?
The care and attention to detail that he uses to prepare his fish is astonishing, it’s a respect to both the ingredients and the process that makes this a real craft.
The series really is a tribute to some of Michel Roux Jr.’s suppliers. I’m fascinated and subscribing right now to the YouTube Channel to make sure I don’t miss any more episodes. You can catch up on the films which have been broadcast so far, and make sure you don’t miss any more of Michel’s journey at The Balvenie Craftsmen’s Dinner page on YouTube.
Once you’ve done that, read more about my favourite smoked Scottish fish and where it comes from in our feature about Visit Arbroath to find out more about the Arbroath Smokie and the Declaration of Arbroath
With many thanks to Foodies 100 and The Balvenie for introducing me to the concept of #thecraftsmensdinner
Disclosure: This is a commissioned post and I have been compensated for my time in writing it