Weights and measures, temperatures and times; if you speak with any distillery manager, they will tell you that the production of whisky is underpinned with a huge amount of technical knowledge, vital to creating a spirit of consistent quality.
In the same way, weights and measures, temperatures and times are important when it comes to cooking. These days, you can buy any number of brilliant cookbooks, filled to the brim with technical specifications, increasingly bizarre ingredients lists and occasionally the odd piece of equipment which you’d be lucky to find in a local science lab, let alone your local kitchen supply shop, all required to make a dish which might not seem out-of-place in a H. G. Wells or Jules Verne novel.
And, as the world of cooking (and often now cocktails, too) demands this increasingly higher level of concentration and scientific understanding, those of us without chemistry degrees who don’t own a smoking gun/rotovap/thermomix, may find it all a little daunting.
But fear not! For cooking is not a maths exam where you must show your workings; it really isn’t the sum which is important, but the result of all these often mind-boggling calculations. The proof should be literally in the pudding. Similarly, it may be that certain whisky fanatics are enthralled by the parts-per-million in the barley at Bowmore, the size of the mash tun at The Macallan or the spirit cut at Springbank, but for the majority of whisky drinkers it is not these steady calculations, but the result of them, that matters; the liquid in the glass being the true test of the distillery or master blender.
With most distilleries entrenched in rich history, consistency is their key. Both blending companies and the consumer (the two most important buyers of a distillery’s spirit, in that order) require a product they can rely on. However, once the spirit has been produced, those in charge of maturation and wood management do have an opportunity to play.
One only has to look at the recent spate of new releases to see single malts which have played away from their traditions with interesting finishes or maturation. The flag-waving leaders of this current bunch are Talisker’s Port Ruighe and Ardbeg’s annual limited edition release Ardbog, both of which use casks unusual for their respective distilleries (Ruby Port wood in the first develop new creations for both menus and cookery books, Vic Grier has seen whisky being used more and more as a ingredient in the kitchen; not just an accompaniment to food, but part of the integral make-up of different recipes.
When it comes to her own creations, Vic has always used whisky to cook with. Having grown up in Scotland and been surrounded by it from an early age, one of her signature creations is whisky-cured Gravlax:
“I love to indulge in Scandi-style food and this is a great recipe to do ahead of time. The salmon is cured in a delicious mix of salt, sugar and fragrant dill. I like to use soft light brown sugar instead of caster sugar as it gives a lovely caramel hint to the cure. For the whisky, Highland Park 12 Years Old is the perfect choice as the saltiness from this costal distillery complements the fish well, the heather honey tones work brilliantly with the brown sugar, while adding a delicious yet delicate smokiness to the dish. It’s also nice that it’s situated so close to Scandinavia, too!
Curing salmon is a great way to provide plenty of food for a party, or to make little batches to freeze, ensuring you always have something special for that ultimate luxury breakfast, a simple starter course or for an indulgent picnic. It also goes very well in pasta and risotto dishes. Quick and easy, this is absolutely worth the effort!”
RecipeServes 10 - 12INGREDIENTS
- 1 Whole side of fresh Scottish salmon, roughly 1kg in weight, skin left on and pin-boned
- 100g coarse sea salt
- 150g soft light brown sugar
- 50ml Highland Park 12 Years Old Single Malt Whisky
- 10 juniper berries
- the zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon
- 1 large bunch of dill, roughly chopped
Lie the salmon skin-side down on a baking tray. Run your finger along the flesh of the fish to check for pin bones. Use tweezers to remove any you find.2.
Now make the cure. Use a pestle and mortar to pound the juniper berries and add to the salt, sugar, dill, lemon zest and whisky. Mix well and spread evenly over the flesh of the salmon.3.
Wrap the whole baking tray in cling film. Place a chopping board on top and weigh down with tins. Place the salmon in the fridge and leave for 2-3 days.4.
Remove the cling film and brush off excess cure. To slice the salmon lay the fillet skin-side down on a large chopping board. Using a very sharp knife start at the tail end and slice ‘lace thin’ at a shallow angle. Any salmon you don’t slice can be wrapped with cling film and left in the fridge for up to a week. Serve your lovely pink slices of salmon on FlatbrØd (or rye bread) with cracked black pepper and wedges of lemon.