I try to eat fish a couple of times a week, not just for health benefits but because I love it, and some fish on my supper menu was definitely overdue. I’ve talked before about the wonderful fishmonger, Sandys, in Twickenham high street and I stopped by there this morning and bought a nice fillet of organic salmon. I fancied something quite fresh tasting yet also salmon is very happy to being matched with fairly strong flavours. I’m not sure where the longing for watercress came from; perhaps some subconscious health inclination but so determined was I to have watercress that when I found Waitrose’s watercress shelf bare, I asked a young assistant stocking shelves nearby whether they had any. He didn’t think so but kindly offered to go in search of some. Some minutes later he returned, a whole tray of bags of watercress in his hands.
Yes it would have been nice to buy some organic watercress from a stall in the farmers’ market – if they had any. But gale force winds were pummelling shoppers outside and, to be honest, it’s not really the season for watercress so a supermarket was my best bet. It is, of course, available all year round, but is best – and in season – between April and November. However, gales aside, the weather has been so mild that I even found a rose in bloom in my garden today. So I’m sure the watercress season must have come early too.
Watercress is a food of my childhood. My mother and my grandmother were very fond of serving it; I can remember piling mounds of it on a plate when we went to my grandparents for high tea on Sunday. I’m not sure if high tea is an English thing; it’s that merging of tea with scones and cakes and pots of tea with sandwiches or some kind of light savoury dish. I loved watercress from a young age despite it’s rather grown-up taste. It’s very strong and peppery. Into adulthood, I now like to sometimes serve it as a salad with slices of orange and a nice zesty dressing. It carries many stories, back as far as the Ancient Greeks and Roman times, of its fabulous health-giving qualities. Packed with vitamins A and C, rich in magnesium, iron, calcium and folic acid, it’s no wonder really that it was considered a good thing to give a child. Obviously only a child who can tolerate a strong peppery taste!
My concession to the winter month was making a warm watercress sauce rather than a cold one (maybe I’ll try that kind come summer!). I followed a fairly traditional route. First of all I gently cooked 1 shallot (finely sliced) in 15g butter in a small pan.
Then I added 200ml light chicken stock (you could add vegetable if you prefer) and 50ml white wine. I boiled it fairly hard until the liquid was reduced by about half. Meanwhile, I tore the leaves from the larger stems of watercress (I’d bought a 100g pack) until I had 50g leaves.
I tipped the watercress into the reduced stock and wine mixture and cooked for just a minute or two until the watercress started to wilt down. But don’t cook too much or it will lose its nice bright green colour – and not taste so good. I removed it from the heat and added 50ml single cream and whisked it all together with a hand blender.
I seasoned with a little salt and pepper then set aside. I made this a little ahead of suppertime and would reheat it gently at the last moment.
I decided to cook my salmon very simply. I just coated it in a little olive oil, seasoned lightly and put a small piece of butter on top.
It only took a few minutes to cook till lightly browned and still slightly pink inside.
I carefully removed the skin for serving then lifted it into a shallow dish. Next I spooned the warmed watercress sauce round it. I was quite generous to myself! But you could easily make this amount of sauce go to at least two or even four servings. I served it with some new potatoes tossed in butter and chopped fresh mint with a green salad on the side.
I loved the salmon with the watercress sauce. The sauce still had that nice peppery, slightly mineral taste from the watercress but it was softened by its slight cooking and the addition of the cream. It was pretty fabulous and although I wasn’t aiming for ‘healthy’ as such, it must have been packed with wonderful nutrients as well as flavour. Come summer I’m going to try a ‘cold’ version of watercress sauce to go with poached salmon, I think.