Because I was away over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, my family celebrated the holiday this past weekend. Fortunately, we got through our boiled dinner before the power went out — not the dishes, sadly. While the traditional dinner includes corned beef, potatoes and cabbage, I had to include some seafood. Salmon is a popular Irish seafood option, so I did a quick refrigerator salting of some salmon to cure it. This is super easy and can be done with a mixture of salt, sugar and herbs like coriander, fennel or black pepper. You simply cut the filet in half and make a sandwich of the two sides with the rub in the middle and all over the surfaces along the side. Then, you wrap it in foil, put something heavy on it, and leave it in the refrigerator for a few days to “cure” the fish.

While salmon sadly is not currently a local, wild-caught species, salting of fish can be done with any number of species. Salt cod was one of the most common historically in New England. Now, most New Englanders don’t have much of a taste for it, but it is still common in many parts of Europe and in the Caribbean, where it is soaked and cooked in any number of traditional dishes. I haven’t tried salting cod myself, but there are some Maine companies that do this and the result is delicious. Stonington Seafood, for one, produces salt cod among its many other delicious products.

In addition to the salmon I salt-cured, I wanted to find something to make with local fish. At the risk of offending the Irish — including my husband’s family, which includes grandmothers with the names O’Brian and Rafferty — I looked to my own Celtic culture: the Scots. Apparently, my family are actually Scots-Irish, meaning that they were Scots who migrated to Ireland. So, perhaps there is a legitimate connection there.


A recipe for kedgeree. Milk Street via AP

All of this led me to finnan haddie. Finnan haddie is haddock that has been smoked, traditionally using local peat. Smoking the fish was one means of preserving the fish at times of year when it was particularly abundant. The finnan haddie can then be used in any number of dishes, including Cullen skink. This is basically a fish chowder that uses smoked fish instead of fresh. The fish is simmered in milk first to release some of the flavor and make it more tender. Then, you add vegetables like potatoes or leeks along with cream or milk. Or, for a hearty breakfast, it can be served creamed on toast or can be used to make kedgeree — a mixture of finnan haddie along with rice, hard-boiled eggs, butter and cream, which sometimes has the addition of curry and raisins.

However, in an effort to use local species and without a source of locally smoked haddock, I made finnan haddie with smoked pollock. Dunstan Smokehouse in Scarborough recently started smoking local pollock, and I decided to give this dish a try. Aiming for a lighter version of the soup, I used celery root and fennel and skipped the cream. The results were delicious and provided a welcome toasty dish we ate by our friend’s wood stove over the weekend along with slices of soda bread. While the stove wasn’t fueled by peat, the experience nonetheless felt more authentic as we stayed warm by the fire.

Many cultures have preserved fish in different ways, from smoking to canning to salting. Part of the reason for doing this is to take advantage of when there is an abundance of fish without letting it go to waste. That fish can then be utilized during the rest of the year when it is difficult to harvest because of where the fish are or because of challenging weather. In addition, part of the reason for preservation is due to lack of refrigeration. This struck a particular chord this past weekend when many people were without refrigeration. This could be for local storage or for transport, either locally or overseas historically.

Of the items in my refrigerator that I didn’t worry about at all was the filet of smoked pollock that I’d set aside to make finnan haddie. While most of the time these days we don’t have to worry about refrigeration, there is a movement back to utilizing these preservation techniques — many times because of the additional flavor they impart. Smoking obviously infuses the fish with a particular flavor, one that is partially based on the type of “fuel” used to do the smoking. Salting also obviously infuses fish with salinity but can also include other herbs, as I mentioned previously in curing salmon. And canning can include various sauces from mustards to hot peppers to flavor the seafood. So, while most of us hopefully have power back and can store fresh seafood yet again, don’t forget the opportunity to try fish that has been preserved in these traditional ways to experience a different set of flavors and options throughout the year.

Susan Olcott is the director of operations at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

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