Graeme Pallister, chef proprietor of 63 Tay Street in Perth, serves up gastro heaven on a plate using haddock
I was asked to join the local chef brigade cooking at the Solheim Cup welcome dinner in Perth for 400 American and European guests. The remit was to dazzle them with seasonal flavours of Scotland and my course was cold fish starter. No pressure there then.
The obvious and very leading choice would have been salmon but, never one to follow cooking convention, I wanted to do something different, something that would have everyone talking. People, my choice was smoked haddock.
Now, before you go thinking I served a roomful of VIPs scrawny, yellow-dyed haddock fillets, I’ll explain myself! The starter was late harvest tomatoes done two ways – cold and as a roast compote – with fermented barley crowdie and smoked haddock tartar. The result, even if I do say so myself, was outstanding.
Because like everything nature has to offer, if you cook and prepare your ingredients with care, then you will produce wonderful food. Smoked fish is a Scottish staple, started centuries ago to preserve the catch for a few days longer. For reasons unknown, salmon has been elevated to the lofty heights of the queen of Scottish fish, leaving poor old haddock behind as the house servant.
When I brought it forward as the star of my course, the tasting panel were fidgeting nervously – I could see the raised eyebrows silently whispering “Really?” to one another. But once that seaweed, vinegar and oil hit the smooth, firm texture of the fish, those eyebrows raised to “Wow!”
Cast your mind back to your childhood: I’m willing to bet smoked haddock is in there amongst your favourite teas. Your mum probably poached it in a pan with a wee bit of milk, and smothered it in white sauce. I am particularly fond of a smoked haddock toastie – strong Scottish cheddar and white bread please. In fact, smoked haddock has to be the best fish for eating with cheese, hands down.
We often serve it in the restaurant. Fat, meaty fillets that have been smoked in whisky barrel chips, pan fried in butter and oil – no batter, no breadcrumbs, no matter. This is gastro heaven.
At home I like to stick a fillet in a cold ovenproof dish (have you ever noticed one fillet of smoked haddock is a perfect portion size?) with milk and two eggs. Bake in a medium oven, and add pre-cooked rice after about 10 minutes. Fold it all together for an instant kedgeree and perfect mid-week supper. Sublime.
I do think that smoked haddock is one of those ingredients you forget about, until someone reminds you just how good it is and all you can think of is a slice of Finnan Haddie, poached in milk and served with cauliflower cheese. Lang may it reek!
Chef’s tip: Bake the haddock in an oven with milk and butter, and just before the end throw in some peas, and a slice of bread to soak up the juices. Place the haddock on top of the bread with some strong cheese and pop back in the oven for another few minutes.