A whole wild salmon, poached and served cold, is one of the finest British dishes. People who have never cooked a whole fish before think it is going to be difficult but it is, in fact, so simple it sounds too easy to be true. You will need a fish kettle, which is a long narrow pan large enough to hold the fish lying on its side. This is very expensive to buy but many fishmongers lend or rent kettles.
Serve the poached salmon accompanied by freshly made mayonnaise, new potatoes and a lightly dressed leaf salad. Leave garnishing horrors like fake scales made from cucumber to the kind of caterer you have sensibly avoided.
Put the cleaned salmon into the kettle on the rack which comes with it. Pour over the wine, topping up with cold water until the fish is completely submerged. You now have the correct amount of liquid in the kettle.
Remove the fish and put in the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil using two burners, lower the heat and simmer for 20–30 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave until cold. This liquid is now called a court-bouillon.
Put the fish into the court-bouillon and bring to the boil. As soon as the poaching liquid bubbles, turn off the heat, put on the lid and leave until cold. The salmon will be perfectly cooked all the way through, but still remain moist and succulent.
Remove the fish from the court-bouillon, scrape off the skin and place the fish on a large flat dish. To serve, cut and gently lever off portion-sized pieces of salmon.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.