Fishing for condiments

foodtrav-fishing4TRAVELLING chef Philippa Davis continues her account of her weeks by a salmon river in the Highlands of Scotland. This week she discovers that fishing is fun and shares a recipe for horseradish sauce, the perfect complement to fresh wild Scottish salmon, as it is to perfect roast beef …

There were members of my second group of jolly fishermen and women (“fisherpersons” is probably the PC way forward here) who have been making their seven-hour trip north to the River Findhorn for over 60 years.   Their secret to a successful week of fishing is to stop off on the way and throw a wee dram in the river and obviously have one themselves. Does it work…?

Well, on return to the lodge, a victory toot would be sounded if bringing back a salmon. There were eight that week – one of them signaling the catch of a magnificent 11 lb salmon, so the whisky clearly did its magic.

Having done the week enough times, the group had a slick routine and knew a thing or two about fishing. One of the founding members of the group told me how they always took all their salmon home frozen – my face must have dramatically fallen as he came back later that night after a roast pork dinner with: “The group wondered if you would like to cook one of the salmon for us?”

“Yes !” I said, probably too quickly.

foodtrav-fishing2As per my mantra I cooked the wild salmon simply, pan-fried, achieving a crispy skin and served with some herby mustard lentils and roasted fennel. The guests loved it and all piled into the kitchen afterwards agreeing that fresh salmon (as supposed to have having it frozen then defrosted) really was spectacular.

They then enquired if I myself fished. Teasingly, I mumbled something about not really being sure if trying to stand in a chilly fast flowing river where I may or may not catch a salmon or even old trout was my idea of an entertaining day. Their jaws dropped and then they lurched into lyrical enthusiastic speeches about the joys of fishing (that got them to bite like a trout on a mayfly, I giggled to myself). Within minutes I admitted I was won over and could see by their love and their energy for the subject that it was indeed a sport of skill and even thrill.

You have to read the river, the weather and what you think the salmon might be up to that day all while abiding by certain etiquette.

Some types of hooks, like sharp spinners, and all live bait, are banned as they are deemed unsporting. Once you have chosen the appropriate fly there is the casting bit where you throw your line onto the river trying to gently place it so it sweeps across the river near to where you think a salmon may be lurking. This is done hundreds of times a day and takes many a year to master.

If you are lucky/skilled enough to get a salmon to bite you then have to “play” it, which means attempting to keep it on your line whilst battling the river and the fish until one of you gives up. This can last around 15 minutes or more. If you are planning on returning the fish, remembering there is a 70 per cent return policy to keep stocks healthy, you must think about where to land the fish (grassy banks are much less harmful than stony areas) and that ideally you will use a net to bring it in.

The thrill naturally is the achievement of bringing one back ,which I can easily see the appeal in.  There really is nothing like the taste of the firm orangey pink flesh of a wild salmon. If you want to try one yourself, as it is illegal to buy wild Scottish river-caught ones, it means if you have to befriend a successful fisherman, or go try it for yourself.

foodtrav-fishing3Horseradish sauce

After these few weeks of seeing lots of salmon I still stand firm and believe when cooking it do as little possible. So I will give you the recipe for fresh horseradish sauce, which makes an excellent condiment with simple pan-fried salmon and of course a slab of roast beef!

200ml double cream
300ml yogurt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar
Juice from ½ lemon
1 tbs white wine vinegar
Sprinkle of salt
100-300g of horseradish

Fresh horseradish can vary greatly in heat, so check the taste carefully.

Lightly whip the cream. Stir in the yogurt, Dijon mustard, sugar, lemon juice, white wine vinegar and salt.

Peel the dark skin from the horseradish then finely grate. Add immediately to the cream mixture and stir. Taste to check balance. It is worth leaving for 20 mins. and then tasting, as the flavours will develop.

foodtrav-fishingServe with beef or best of all a piece of wild salmon.

It was certainly an exciting few weeks and I confess the geek-like excitement of getting to cook wild salmon next to the river it was caught on has still not worn off.

For more of Philippa’s postcard recipes, visit