I’m sorry for that rather vague and over-long title. I thought that if I called this ‘salmon confit’ you would switch off, because I’m getting a bit too fancy and, if I mentioned the words star anise and cardamom then, well, I’d have lost you. But, although you could level all of those complaints at me and this recipe to a certain degree, I hope that, if you’re a fish-eater, you will excuse everything because of this technique. Fish, especially salmon, can be difficult to get just right: what I want is that fabled crispy skin and flesh that flakes just so…what I usually get is skin that’s either a bit burnt or soggy and flesh that’s flaky in the sense of failed. Which is why I was intrigued by the idea of cooking it, completely covered, in warm olive oil. I’ve read about the method several times but never dared try it, especially not on guests; how can just warm oil, off the heat, cook a piece of raw flesh? And not make it taste really oily? I don’t know, but it does and the fish is luscious. You don’t get a crispy skin but I’m willing to forego that for the rest.
I would suggest using a plain olive oil, nothing too expensive or precious, because you’ll be using an awful lot and throwing it away (you could probably decant it or use it for fish again, if you’re the patient type). And the spices might seem unnecessary but, although they smell a bit overpowering when you’re heating up the oil, they give the fish an almost dainty flavour. Vanilla with fish? Amazing. All you need with this is some plain steamed new potatoes, or rice, and some slightly wilted (or fresh) greens. I recommend everything I cook, but I really really recommend this.
Salmon ‘Confit’ (adapted from this recipe on foodiesite.com)
For each person you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
Plain olive oil (130ml per piece of salmon, give or take a few ml; you want enough to cover the fish in a shallow pan so the amount might need adjusting)
Whole black peppercorns, about six
180-200g fresh salmon
1 star anise
½ vanilla pod
1 whole cardamom
1. Heat the oil till it’s just simmering, add the star anise, vanilla, cardamom and peppercorns then leave it to simmer for another five minutes. Take it off the heat and leave it to cool, during which time the flavours will seep out of those hard little spice pods.
2. When the oil is cool, remove the spices (either by straining the liquid or lifting them out, as I did, with a slotted spoon) and then put the oil back on the heat again in a pan big enough to hold the fish in a single layer. I used a saucepan but I think a large, shallow frying pan might be better for more than one or two pieces.
3. Bring it up to a gentle simmer again, take it off the heat again, season the fish with some salt then slide it under the surface of the oil. Now leave it, still off the heat, to sit in the oil and ‘cook’ for about ten minutes, until the surface is pale and the flesh is pink but not raw.
4. Lift the fish out of the oil quite carefully, so that it doesn’t break up (I used the mashing side of a potato masher which was brilliant because the excess oil drained off through its holes) and serve.