Lemon and Orange Salmon Cooked with Bay Leaves

If your budget is limited, farmed salmon remains an ideal, affordable way of feeding people generously at a large party. But it can taste bland so you must pay attention to added flavour. The combination of bay leaves (which go surprisingly well with fish) and citrus rind and juice is most effective, and makes a delicious sauce with creamy smatana. Creamed smatana is a cultured milk product, similar to rich whole-milk yoghurt. It is available at supermarkets and always makes a good alternative to double cream, with the bonus of being about a third of the price.

Ingredients

  • 3.25-3.75 kg/7½-8½ lb whole salmon, gutted, with the head left on
  • finely grated rind and juice of 3 lemons and 2 oranges
  • cayenne pepper
  • at least 20 bay leaves, fresh if possible
  • a little sunflower oil
  • 900 ml/ pints creamed smatana
  • salt

Method

Using a sharp knife, make deep, slanting cuts across the salmon, about 2.5 cm/1 in apart, on both sides of the fish. Put the grated lemon and orange rind into a bowl, add 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a sprinkling of salt and the juice of 2 of the lemons. Stir around to mix well. Press this mixture right into the cuts in the salmon and then insert a bay leaf into each cut. Put a few more bay leaves in the body cavity of the salmon. Lay a very large piece of foil on a flat surface and smear all over with sunflower oil. Lay the salmon in the middle of the foil, bring up the sides all round and pour the rest of the lemon and orange juice over the fish. Wrap the fish up securely in the foil, then in 2 more layers of foil to ensure the juices don’t escape while cooking.

Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F/gas mark 1. Put the wrapped fish on the centre shelf and cook for 8 minutes per 450 g/1 lb — this should produce lightly cooked moist flesh; overcooking will ruin the texture. When the salmon is cooked, remove from the oven and leave it wrapped in the foil for about 20 minutes. Then open one end of the foil and very carefully tip all the juices out into a saucepan. Open out the rest of the foil and slit the skin below the head of the fish and at the back of the tail before peeling it off on one side. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Then carefully turn over the fish to do the same on the other side. Finally, wrap the fish up again and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, make the smatana sauce. Bring the fish cooking juices to the boil in the saucepan and boil fiercely for a few minutes until reduced by about a third. Cool slightly, then put the creamed smatana into a bowl, gradually stir in the cooking juices and season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper. Cover and leave in the fridge.

To serve, open the foil again and carefully transfer the fish to a large serving dish. Garnish with a border of pretty salad leaves, if liked — you can also garnish the centre of the salmon with thin slices of lemon. Pour the smatana sauce into serving jugs.