A seasonal variation on the classic Loire sandre aux morilles before the curious zander or pike-perch that was such a local delicacy here suddenly disappeared from the scene. On an overnight stop at a well-regarded hotel-restaurant in Vouvray, I was surprised not to see it on the menu, but to be offered instead, Thai-spiced king prawns. At least my half bottle of a mature Huet demi-sec dealt admirably with those. The explanation I was given as to the absence of the zander was 'c'est difficile'. Hm.
My version of a recipe, below, clipped from a copy of Decanter decades ago, is très facile and would make a wonderful Christmas main course for pescivores and carnivores alike. I'm fairly sure its originator of record was Evelyn Rose, and all I've done is to vary the wild mushrooms (she used oysters, exclusively) and to swap tarragon for chives because its' my herb of choice with mushrooms. I balance these by substituting a slightly sweeter chenin blanc for the Champagne in her instructions for the sauce. This sweeter note shouldn't be overpowering though so pick a chenin blanc with a sweetness code of around 3 and remember it intensifies as it reduces. In the glass, you can go to town, with any Vouvray you like, sec, demi-sec or even an older, drier moelleux.
A very good piece of advice I would add is to make sure, before you start, that you have a big enough roasting tray complete with full-sized grille or trivet, and that the whole thing will fit into your oven. Otherwise, you may have to indulge in a spot of decapitation and roast the head alongside though, as Charles I might have said, the biggest ruff in the world never manages to make it look quite right afterwards.
Festive Roasted Salmon With Wild Mushrooms and Chenin Blanc Sauce
- 1 tsp oil
- 25g butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
- 275g mixed fresh wild mushrooms - oysters, shitakes, pieds de mouton, even ceps if you can find them - wiped and roughly torn
salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a few sprigs of fresh tarragon, leaves only, chopped
- 1.6kg whole salmon, scaled and gutted by your friendly fishmonger
- oil for brushing
Heat the oil and butter in a pan and fry the shallots until softened. Add the garlic and cook briefly, then add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper, Cook gently until mushrooms soften. Add the tarragon chives and cook for a further 30 seconds. Leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
Pat your fish dry and trim the fins. Make slashes 5cm apart along the length of the fish. Season well, inside and out, and place on the trivet in the roasting tray. Brush with oil and fill the cavity with mushroom stuffing. Put into the preheated oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Check after 30-35 minutes.
Transfer the roasting tin to the hob. Lift the trivet with the fish on it, and keep it warm in the switched-off oven with the door open while you make the sauce.
Chenin Blanc (or Champagne) Sauce
- 1 wine glass chenin blanc or Champagne
- 300ml home-made fish stock
- 6 tbsp crème fraîche or double cream
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp snipped tarragon (or chives with Champagne)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start this in the roasting tray in which you cooked the salmon. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil over a high heat, scraping up any cooking residues. Let it bubble for a few minutes, than strain into a clean pan. Add the fish stock and bring back to the boil, simmering to reduce the volume slightly, and tasting as you go. Beat the cream with the egg yolk and whisk into the sauce, off the heat. Add the herbs and season. Pour into a warmed sauce boat.
Serve on a warmed platter, decorated with watercress and hand around the sauce separately. Mrs Rose recommends anchovy rolls and olive-stuffed potatoes without telling us how to make them. I think herb-roasted baby spuds and simple seasonal greens are fine.