Cured

Cured

By
Nathan Outlaw
Contains
6 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849493727
Photographer
David Loftus

The term ‘cured’ is generally applied to fish that has been fermented, pickled or smoked to preserve it, but in my kitchen it describes fish that has been cured in a wet or dry salt cure mixture. (We think of fermenting, pickling and smoking as processes that we can apply to our cured fish.) Our aim isn’t for an extended shelf life, although of course that is an advantage. For me, it’s the change in texture that is magical and makes our cured dishes unique.

Salting is an effective way of preserving food because it draws out moisture and inhibits the action of bacteria and other potentially harmful micro-organisms, which are unable to function in a salty environment. Table salt is commonly employed for curing but we use Cornish sea salt or rock salt because I think you can taste the anti-caking agents in table salt on the finished cured product. Nitrates are also used in industrial food curing to prevent botulism in fish and help to kill bacteria; they also give the fish a pinkish colour. As we are not producing for the mass market we don’t need nitrates – we just stick to the salt!

There are, however, a few traditional cured fish that I buy – notably salt cod, salt herring and tinned anchovies – as they are convenient standby ingredients.

The earliest of the curing techniques – dehydration, salt cure and smoking – date back as far as 3000 BC. The Greeks are thought to have been the first to produce salt in a farmed way. They would use their salt to cure meats and fish, then trade with the resulting cured products. The Romans moved the salting process on further, pickling meat and fish using brines. Interestingly, the term ‘cure’ comes from the Latin curare, which means to take care of. I quite like that! Maybe I’ll write it like that on my menus: ‘Bream that has been taken care of’ has a certain charm.

And we do take care over curing our fish, often flavouring the salt with citrus zests and selected spices, as well as sugar or sometimes honey, to balance out the flavour so the salt isn’t as harsh.

Curing also allows us to make some of the less flavourful species taste special – by reducing the water content, which intensifies the flavour, and enhancing the cure with other flavourings. For example, pouting and coley are relatively bland fish but a salt cure flavoured with citrus zests takes them to another level. In general, I find the oilier fish tend to be better for curing, but the whiter varieties seem to take on more of the additional flavours.

Currently, my favourite fish to cure are bream, mackerel and the cod family, but we are constantly developing new cured dishes and these could change tomorrow! That’s why I love curing: the adventure is endless.

Best fish for curing

Bream, mackerel, pollack, ling, hake, bass, brill, sea trout, salmon, cod, coley, grey mullet, haddock, farmed halibut, herring, pouting, prawns, horse mackerel, sardines, sprat, trout, whiting.

Accompaniments and garnishes

Pickled vegetables, vegetable marmalades, citrus fruits, herbs, vinegars, oils, mustards, horseradish.

Recipes in this Chapter

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