It may be the best-known smoked seafood, but there was no salmon in sight at the Taste Workshop held today at Slow Fish on smoked fish and Italian artisanal beers. “If we do a blind tasting for our customers, between smoked salmon and smoked trout, nine out of ten prefer the trout. But if they know which is which then the number falls to six out of ten,” ruefully recounted Mauro Pighin of Friultrota, as he described the aura of prestige around salmon.
But with salmon farms polluting our seas and wild Atlantic salmon stocks at perilously low levels, it’s time to turn to alternatives, and this workshop offered a selection of deliciously different options.
Biologist and fish-farming expert Mario Pazzaglia started with some useful tips on recognizing quality in smoked fish. “Smoking enhances some sensory features, but also defects, so if the fish isn’t fresh or has been badly farmed, it will not improve. You need good raw material.” The amount of fat in the fish is also important; if the fish have been intensively farmed they will have too high a percentage of fat, and the final product will be of poorer quality.
Then there is the curing method: “The fish can be dry salted, but brine injection is also very common. It’s really a kind of fraud because the brining increases the weight of the fish, and you end up paying more for the extra water.” The fish should never be of a spreadable consistency and there should be no oily liquid pooling in the packaging, advised Pazzaglia.
The first fish tasted was a delicate cold-smoked trout made by Mauro Pighin in Friuli, followed by umbrine from the Orbetello Lagoon in Tuscany. Sea bass from Fonda in Slovenia was presented in a salad with millet, fennel and crispy pork skin, while gray mullet from Orbetello and herring from Friultrota offered stronger flavors.
The fish was paired with a selection of Italian artisanal beers, in a spectrum of colors ranging from the smoky golden of witbier to the dark chocolate of stout. The beers were presented with great enthusiasm by Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove, beer expert and Master of Food teacher, who explained how Italian artisanal brewing had exploded in the past 15 years.
“In 1996 there were maybe six or seven artisanal brewers in Italy, and now there are 150,” he said. “But the fact that there was no previous tradition here means the breweries are very free to be creative and original.” The beers, from Baladin in Piedmont, Busalla in Liguria, Orso Verde and Birrificio di Como in Lombardy and Birrificio Maiella in Abruzzo, offered a tour from north to south of Italy’s microbreweries. The tasting concluded with a perfect example of Italian brewers’ creativity, Baladin’s Xyauyu, made using the solera method, more commonly used for sherries.