Recipe: Salt-dough salmon

Learn how to bake salmon in a saltdough crust, in an open fire, 14th C style.

It was my pleasure to cook for the group on the Sunday at our recent show at Chepstow castle. I decided to boldly try something I’d never done before. Salmon baked in salt dough. It’s a simple dish, but not without its difficulties. Here’s what I did.

At home, I made up a batch of salt dough. There are numerous recipes on the internet – all very simple. You need around a kilo of flour, 700g of salt a couple of cups of vegetable oil (or you could use melted butter) and a few cups of water. You then have to knead, knead and knead it until it’s very stretchy (this will take a while!). I made two batches using this recipe.

I then took a whole (gutted and filleted) salmon and stuffed it full of herbs (dill, bay, parsley) and lemons (a bit posh for the dish in our period – but a delicious addition nonetheless). Do not add salt! The fish will absorb the salt from the salt dough, adding salt at this stage will make for a very unpleasant meal later on.

I rolled out the salt dough and placed the salmon on it, I then took the rest of my salt dough, rolled it out and covered the top of the salmon. This was not perhaps the best thing to do, as the salt dough slipped off the top of the salon while transporting it in the car from Cardiff to Chepstow. We patched up the salmon at the camp (it’s always useful to have a few kitchen helpers for this – especially when you have a large salmon… ours was 2.5kilos). We then placed, with much care, the salmon in the ashes of the fire. It’s important to get your fire going before you put the fish on it as the salmon bakes in the embers rather than the flames. We buried the fish in the embers and left it to bake for two and a half hours.

This brought us to the very tricky part of the operation. Getting our salmon out of the fire. We have a cook box for our camps (this is safer and causes less damage to the ground when at events). This meant we needed to lever the salmon out of the fire, we used our fire pokers and a sword to get it from the fire to the table. This took the efforts of three people. I’m sure there is an easier way of doing this, perhaps by having a salmon sized board to slip the fish on to but we did not have this at the show (something for next time perhaps?).

We left the fish to rest in its salt dough shell for ten minutes. This allowed the salt dough to cool and crack a bit. We then, to some ceremony, opened the casing to reveal a perfectly cooked salmon. It was delicious and had retained a lot of its moisture. The fish served 13 people. It was served with a side of cheesy chickpeas (chickpeas with cheddar crumbled over them in a pot over the fire. This takes about 20 minutes to cook) and raw kale (kale was in plentiful supply in the UK in the 14th Century. It was actually introduced to Britain by the Romans).

What you’ll need for this recipe:

To make salt dough –

  • 1kg of plain flour
  • 700g of salt
  • 2 cups of vegetable oil (you can also use melted butter)
  • 4 cups of water (approx, keep adding until the mixture is slightly sticky and very stretchy)

For the fish itself –

  • 1 whole salmon (gutted and filleted)
  • Dill
  • Bay leaves
  • 1 lemon (sliced)
  • Black pepper