Arbroath Smokie + Foraged Mushroom Pack = (Un)Savoury Scrambled Eggs
It looks like remarkable bravery, or foolhardiness, on the part of a major supermarket to identify one of the species in their ‘Foraged Mushroom’ pack (Tesco £1.99) as ‘Trompette Des Mortes’. A more attractive common name for the same species (Cantharellus cornucopioides) is Horn of Plenty but its lifeless black hue naturally lends itself to the more dramatic nom de plume. Names are not always a good indicator of edibility. In my foraging days in the lush wooded valleys of South Wales I stumbled upon a reliable stand of so called Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina); despite its colour it is a species that is not poisonous to humans, if not especially flavoursome. My supermarket pack states that its contents were brought into captivity in Bulgaria by ‘experienced pickers’; packs can also include chanterelles (the ‘egg mushroom’), pied de moutons and makeweights such as grey chanterelle.
Serendipity is also involved in the next ingredient. I have a fondness for Arbroath smokie not least as it shares the same initial impression of inedibility with many wild mushrooms. The smoked skin of the haddock resembles an ancient accession to the ‘Early Printed Books’ department of a venerable library; moreover, its lingering aroma of wood smoke seems to tell of a country house fire somewhere in its long life. But cut off the ubiquitous brown string found around the fish’s tail, peel away the reptilian skin and lift off its blanched bones and you are left with rather delicately coloured flakes of smoked flesh. These are more interestingly flavoured than conventional smoked haddock but more subtle than a kipper; which is, admittedly, not difficult.
You stumble upon Arboath smokies almost as randomly as wild mushrooms, but when I do I’m tempted to pounce. (Locally, try Tucker’s fish stall in Swansea Market that sometimes offer smokies that have apparently been once frozen.) Joining other erstwhile favourites of mine such as Lübecker Marzipan, Newcastle Brown Ale and Pecorino Sardo, the Arbroath smokie has gained Protected Geographical Indication status under the EU’s Protected Food Name Scheme. Naturally there are conflicting local ‘creation myths’ concerning the origins of this salty-smoky treat including one that describes the preservation of surplus fish (not just haddock) by families of Norse origin in the nearby Angus fishing village of Auchmithie. The Arbroath process starts with the salt curing of the prepared haddock before it is hot smoked; a technique I have met with in Sweden that produced delicious smoked lake fish.
Either ingredient would make ideal an addition to scrambled eggs; our fridge briefly held some of both so a rather special dish was possible – I feel a recipe coming on:
– One Arboath smokie.
– Six large eggs
– 100g ‘captive’ wild mushrooms, or other flavoursome fungi.
– also: a clove of garlic, some curd/cream cheese and chopped parsley.
This makes enough for 4 hungry people.
¶ The prepared smokie flesh should be free of its leathery skin and bones; both come away freely from a well-behaved smokie.
¶ Wild mushrooms can benefit from some personal valeting, a quick once-over with a pastry brush was all the contents of this pack needed.
¶ The enemy of wild mushrooms is water – wash fully but briefly; then gently squeeze the water out the spongy flesh with kitchen paper.
¶ The friend of wild mushrooms is garlic – fry them with some oil, or butter and oil, with a whole clove for company.
¶ Before cooking the scrambled eggs, prepare everything in advance: warm the plates, toast and butter the bread, put people on stand-by – as you want to scramble eggs, not people.
¶ In addition to seasoning, a small amount of milk in the beating bowl loosens the mixture. Cook scrambled eggs in whatever kitchen utensil you like providing it’s gentle and, like the sea off Worm’s Head, continually stirred. The key is not the beginning but the end. To avoid a pan of vulcanised rubber the cooking has to be sharply halted when the eggs turn to a creamy curd. Cold milk, or cream, can be added to plain eggs, but in this recipe the prepared fish and mushrooms are dropped like control rods into to a nuclear pile going critical. By the time you have combined them, and yelled at people, everything is perfect. Two more ingredients were fortuitously at hand; I added some half-teaspoonfuls of cream cheese – that soon half-melted into the texture – and some verdant chopped parsley.
The muted flavours including wood smoke – salt – fish – egg – mushroom lined up on your tongue in a pretty unbroken line. When taste ‘spectrum’ is more or less continuous like this it is a rare food treat; flavours of the distant salt sea and mossy woodland merge with the produce of the farm.