Last weekend in East Suffolk we enjoyed one of the region’s premier gastronomic events, in the shape of the Aldeburgh Food Festival at Snape Maltings on the banks of the massively picturesque, tidal River Alde. Now an eagerly anticipated annual event, it has become the culinary epicentre of the East coast each September and has proved to be an excellent and exciting platform for local, artisan producers to showcase, not only seasonal and sustainable produce, but increasingly eclectic fayre that puts our county firmly on the foodie map of Gt Britain.
For me, this event couldn’t really come at a better time of year, making it a true “Harvest Festival” in every sense. The weather generally, is fair and apart from the odd High Spring Tide to contend with, (which can have a dramatic tendency to inundate part of the site), it’s everything you’d want from an autumnal extravaganza of quality produce.
This year I’d come to Snape with the intention of seeking out a few iconic brands which I hoped would put a smile on my face and having had a prior insight into one notable product, I thought I’d attempt to describe the fantastic new spin that Chris Wightman has put on his home-cured, cold-smoked Salmon.
I’ve tried this product before, on more than one occasion, and I have to say it has consistently delighted me each time and continues to do so. Earlier this year, as a direct result of rather jokey conversation with Jonathan from Deep Mills Suffolk -a local firm of artisan coffee grinders and chocolatiers, Chris hit on the idea of producing a cure for his Salmon using their home-roasted and ground coffees. Quite a leap forward and one might think pushing flavour-combination boundaries to their limits, but, take it from me, it has happened with the most magnificent success.
The flavour is one thing- a gentle smokiness emanating from the oak and then a lush background overtone of Arabica which simply, sensationalises what is, in itself, an already very classy product. The second noticeable thing is the texture.The cure itself, (the ingredients and process of which I would be shot for repeating), brings the texture of the Salmon into amazing definition. The structure of the flesh is noticeably changed, the fat content diminished and the outer surface of the fish left almost polished with a delicious caramel glaze which reflects the dark hue of the meat that the coffee has worked its magic on.
I have always enjoyed Smoked Salmon-Hot or Cold Smoked and those smoking processes all follow the same format really, the differences being in the material left to smoulder away below the fish. What has happened here though is a symbiosis between the ingredients, which manifests itself in a flavour simply beyond belief. Chris just calls it “Alchemy”
After curing, the Salmon is then, very traditionally, cold-smoked along with a host of other wonderful seasonal seafood. Cod at the moment, Cornish Mackerel, Atlantic Prawns and of course the “Silver Darlings” themselves either Kippered or Bloatered.
All done on site using sustainably caught fish, in the true artisan tradition.
Rightly so, Chris won an award for his Coffee- Cured Smoked Salmon at the Festival, in the Best New Product Category. It gets my vote and so does the coffee!
Christmas and canapés will never be the same again.