Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 23, 2017

© Christopher Hirsheimer

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Pickled salmon

Because salmon was so plentiful in Ireland until recent times, it was often preserved, not only by smoking, but also by salting and pickling. The salted and pickled fish was an important item of export, especially in the north, from the port of Ballyshannon in Donegal, for instance.

This recipe is from Mrs. A. W. Baker’s Cookery Book, Vol. 1, a manuscript from the early 19th century, from Ballytobin, County Kilkinney. Mrs. Baker notes that her pickled salmon “will keep three months in cold weather.”


1 tbsp. (15 ml) salt
1 tbsp. (15 ml) whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp. (15 ml) ground mace
1 tbsp. (15 ml) freshly ground nutmeg
1 tbsp. (15 ml) whole allspice berries
3 bay leaves
2 lb. (1 kg) salmon fillet, wild-caught if possible, cut crosswise into 6 pieces
6 bay leaves
2 c. (500 ml) white-wine vinegar
brown soda bread (recipe follows) and unsalted butter for serving


Put 4 cups (1 L) of water into a large pot, then add the salt, peppercorns, mace, nutmeg and allspice. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn off the heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat the process twice more, then add the salmon and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, then carefully lift the fish from the pot with a slotted spatula, being careful not to let it break apart. Set aside and allow to cool.

Strain the poaching liquid through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into a medium bowl, stir in the vinegar and set aside to cool.

Put the bay leaves in one layer on the bottom of a glass or earthenware crock or baking dish with a cover, then lay the salmon pieces side by side on top. Pour the cooled poaching liquid over the salmon, making sure it covers the fish entirely; add more water and vinegar if it doesn’t.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 days and as long as a week, turning the fish once a day. Bring to room temperature and serve with brown soda bread and unsalted butter. Serves 6.

Brown soda bread

This recipe is by Michelin-star chef Myrtle Allen of the Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, County Cork except that she calls for sour milk, instead of the more readily available buttermilk. She allows for considerable variation in the amount of milk used so just keep adding until the dough reaches perfect consistency. She calls for this loaf to be baked in the traditional round, scored form, but a loaf pan produces a dense bread, which can be sliced thinly — just right to accompany smoked salmon, mackerel or eel.


butter for greasing
4 c. (1 L) wheat flour, preferably Irish or Irish style
1 c. (250 ml) white flour, preferably Irish, or unbleached pastry flour, plus more for dusting
½ c. (125 ml) Irish steel-cut oatmeal or oat bran
1 tsp. (5 ml) baking soda
1 tsp. (5 ml) salt
2 to 4 c. (500 ml to 1 L) buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Grease a baking sheet and set aside.

Mix the wheat flour, white flour, oatmeal, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and gradually pour in the buttermilk, stirring with a wooden spoon in a spiral motion from the centre to the edge of the bowl. The dough should be soft, but not too wet, with no raw flour left. (This will probably take about 2½ cups/625 ml of buttermilk, but use more or less if necessary.)

Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Flour your hands lightly, then shape the dough into a flat round about 3 inches (7.5 cm) thick. Cut a deep cross in the top with a wet or floured knife.

Transfer the loaf to baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until nicely browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Alternately, gently push the dough into a nonstick loaf pan and bake until done. The bread should slide out of the pan easily when done. Makes 1 loaf.

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