A Salmon Story
Autumn is well underway at Milne Graden and our minds have turned to all things salmon. Its hard not to though really, as we find ourselves nestled on the banks of what is reputed to be one of the finest salmon rivers in Europe.
The Tweed flows through the heart of Milne Graden, our eight holiday cottages are all situated in close proximity to the river, many with views directly onto the water. Whether fishing our beats or strolling along the banks with a four-legged companion, guests are never far from the water’s edge.
The Milne Graden Upper and Lower fishing beats are situated on Lower Tweed, two miles downstream of Coldstream Bridge. Enveloped by trees and wildlife, visiting at this time of year provides anglers with the opportunity fish amongst autumn’s bounty, immersed in abundance and colour, a day on the river is a feast for the senses.
The Tweed is both beautiful and backed up by some impressive statistics. The river holds the record for both (probably) the largest salmon and the biggest ever day’s catch, its a fact; this is a place where fishing dreams can become a reality. Especially as The Tweed also boasts more ghillies or boatmen, as they are often known here, than any other river. The Milne Graden beats are no exception, with a lifetime of expertise at hand from our very own Head Boatman, affectionately known as Kevin “The Hat” – as you may have guessed, due to his fondness for headwear!
Its no surprise then, that during the autumn salmon run, clusters of eager anglers punctuate the river’s pools and edges, ever hopeful that today will bring the fabled Catch of a Lifetime. So, what might a lucky angler do, once their prize fish is safely on the bank? “Take it to Frank”, I’m told.
Frank Scott runs one of the few remaining traditional salmon and trout smokehouses, and the only one serving the Tweed river area. Sadly, I didn’t have a fish, but I took myself off to see Frank, nonetheless.
When I arrive, Frank has been meticulously pin-boning a line of salmon sides, a job I am familiar with from days in a restaurant kitchen, “try doing eighty at a time” laughs Frank… Perhaps I got off lightly, I think. Frank is a real character (as hoped!) and was more than happy to tell me all about the smoking process – and more besides!
He takes me through the steps, first breaking down the whole fish into neat, boneless sides, then to the salt curing and finally the smoking itself, done in the traditional way with hardwood chips, or as he puts it; “light a fire and shut the door”.
Frank mentioned he wouldn’t be doing any smoking that day, but at the time of my visit, four precious sides of Milne Graden salmon had been entrusted into his care, ready for him to work his magic.
I was by now, extremely eager to sample some of Frank’s handiwork. But all of the fish present are spoken for, so I have to wait patiently until our very own Milne Graden sides are ready.
A few days later, the time has finally come to experience this smokey delicacy first hand. As the knife glides through the salmon, the flesh is firm enough to hold its shape but with a beautifully melt-in-the-mouth-texture. The flavour is both earthy and mineralic, with just the right amount of rich spicy woodsmoke. To compliment these elements, we assemble a simple salad of earthy beetroot, vibrant citrus and, sweet, fragrant honey.
To create a range of textures, some beets are roasted, while others – such as the gloriously striped candy variety can be left raw and cut thinly into discs. Next segment a selection of citrus, such as oranges, tangerines, red and white grapefruit – unfortunately on this occasion we were just slightly too early for blood orange season but this would make a wonderful addition to a festive table. To make the dressing, combine squeezed grapefruit and lemon juice with some rapeseed oil and honey – we used comb honey from local producer W S Robson at The Chain Bridge Honey Farm just along the road in Berwick.
Toss all the beets, citrus and dressing in a bowl and if you can resist the urge, allow to mingle for half an hour in the fridge. But if like us, the colours are just too delicious, simply roll the smoked salmon slices and dive straight in!