Growing up in Australia, Christmas was always a slightly odd holiday. Sure, I loved all the presents and the celebrations and food. But something didn't quite seem right. Like why were so many Christmas songs about riding sleighs through snow? And why did Santa always wear a fur lined suit? But the thing that really didn't add up for me was Christmas lunch. My mum was very much a traditionalist. She was also, lucky for me, an amazing cook. Her kitchen was an awesome place to hang around. Except for Christmas Day when the temperatures would be hot and summery outside but even hotter and more steamy in the kitchen with the oven cranked up, a turkey roasting away and a pudding simmering on the stove. Just thinking about it makes me break into a sweat.
These days, like many Australians and Kiwis, our family tends to go for a more modern approach to Christmas. It's all about seafood and salads and possibly some ham, anything that fits the bill of being festive and chilled.
One of my all time favourite Christmas feasts is to serve a whole salmon, baked the night before in the cool of night. Served refreshingly cool from the fridge with some mayonnaise spiked with dill and a couple of salads, it's a very relaxed way to celebrate Christmas. Just the thing for the summer holidays.
Whole Baked Salmon
Serves 16 - 18
There are few things more spectacular than serving a whole fish. And the truth is, with something like salmon, it's a lot less risky (not to mention less time consuming) than roasting a turkey. If you under cook it you're not going to make everyone sick. And most people are OK with eating raw salmon due to the spread of sushi. And the bonus is if it's overcooked it doesn't dry out because of the naturally high levels of oils. Win-win!
The secret to cooking whole fish like this is to score the flesh down to the bone into pre-cut serving sizes. This helps the fish cook more quickly and evenly AND makes it really easy to see when it is cooked or not.
1 x 4.5kg (9lb) salmon
2 lemons, sliced
1 large bunch dill, optional
1. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F).
2. Wipe fish dry then score the fish on both sides (best to watch the video for this).
3. Drizzle with olive oil and season well with sea salt and pepper, rubbing salt into each cut.
4. Place fish diagonally on your largest baking tray. Let the tail end overhang more than the head.
5. Holding the tail curving up and over the body of the fish, ease the fish into the oven tail end first (again video is much better than words).
6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the fish is cooked when you look down each score mark to the bone.
7. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
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(Images: Jules Clancy of stonesoup)