While the 'Inspección Pesquera' and the Guardia Civil continue to fight the fishing of immature fish in Spain - down from 8,027kg in 2010 to 6,800kg this year - it is still clear that Spain is a nation of fishermen. All that coast and all those towns; from the rambling and dainty fishing villages in wind-swept Galicia, to the gloriously greedy Basques and then the legions of Mediterranean settlements, and finally the hungry belly of Madrid; it's a wonder there's anything left in the sea.
Over in the UK, still, I continue my fight to hold onto my Spanish dream. I could be back as early as the beginning of September. In the meantime food, and in this case, fish, has kept the Iberian flame flickering within.
In the Middle Ages, in Spain, the farmers were always getting on the nerves of the monasteries. Monks were the only people with official fishing rights over the Asturian rivers of the North. Farmers are farmers though. If there's good and plentiful fish to be had, no bald, pious bloke in a habit is going to stand in their way. They would fish for salmon without consent, against the clergy, and would then take truckloads of the stuff to market to make a few pesetas. According to some no doubt crusty, historical parchment, the pesky farmers also sometimes added a mysterious green tincture to the water to drug the fish, thus making them easier to catch.
Despite the apparent popularity of the now quite classy salmon, back then it was a fairly 'meh' fish. Not a delicacy by any means. There was too much of it. So ordinary it got boring. During the building of the church of Santa María in the Basque town of Tolosa in the 17th century, the workers apparently started an 'anti-salmon campaign' against the very clergy who were feeding them. With a bit of added violence they succeeded in ensuring that they were not given salmon to eat more than twice a week. They were sick of it.
To me though, salmon is still one of the marine royal family. Maybe a prince. It doesn't have the same fishy smack as sea bass or mackerel. Nor does it have the same gleeful luxuriance of scallops, mussels or fresh prawns. But, like chicken, it is versatile. And, unlike chicken, has a lotof flavour. After reading about this most noble and pink of fish I was hungry and I started to miss Asturias. And then I started to hanker for Spain again. I decided I would cook for my brother and me an old Asturian dish.
Salmón a la Ribereña
This is a very simple but excessively tasty dish. I am writing for two to dine.
First, take two fat salmon steaks, nice and orangey-pink and coat them fairly well with salt, pepper and flour. Heat up a pan to a medium-low heat and add about 1.5tbsp of butter, yes, butter, and 1.5tbsp of olive oil. When they come together and the butter starts to fizz a bit add the fish, skin down, and let them sit for about 5 or 6 minutes. Always cook for longer on the skin side. Flip them over and let them cook there, flesh down, for a further 2-3. Some people like a bit of 'raw' salmon in the middle, some like it all dry. But you're going to take the fish out and leave them to keep warm in an oven after all these minutes so don't cremate them in the the pan. An oven at 130-150 should do to keep them toasty.
After you've removed your fish add about 100g of chopped serrano ham to the pan (parma ham will do, but the Italian is a bit weaker in meatiness). It'll start to curl up and crinkle and crisp. Then add 100ml of farmhouse - not fizzy - cider and 100ml of fish stock. Let it reduce. Taste it.
Serve the fish with simple new potatoes bashed and mixed in a big saucepan with lemon juice, salt and pepper, butter and chopped mint. Pour your sauce over the top and eat.
(An addition to this meal is also chorizo a la sidra, which is just slices of chorizo fried a little and sat to bubble away in about a third of a bottle of the farmhouse. Serve with good, crusty bread as well.)