Our Orkney food blogger, Rosemary Moon, has been sampling some of the finest smoked salmon with a dash of local vodka.
At the start of the war in Ukraine I read a news article predicting an explosion of vodka distilling in the UK as a kick-back against Russian brands. I sat back and smiled smugly. We already have the delicious Into the Wild vodka produced here in Orkney by the Deerness Distillery.
A favourite of chef and cook friends visiting as we start to cook together, vodka and tonic makes a deliciously refreshing and very clean drink, leaving the palate fresh and discerning for the seasoning of the foods being prepared in the kitchen. Into The Wild has been made in Deerness since 2017 and has a floral, herbaceous, bright and refreshing flavour: I want to add a caper berry to it, it has that sort of elegance.
The distillery themselves suggest basil, either a basil-infused tonic or bruised basil leaves. That sounds good to me too.
There’s also a new Orkney Vodka being produced now, launched this spring by the Orkney Gin Company who also make the Orkney Akvavit. This vodka, taken neat, is so smooth and sophisticated. On first taste I wouldn’t have known it was a vodka: I didn’t find the same herbaceous notes as in the Into the Wild but the smoothness of the spirit is ideal - so the makers say - for a cocktail base.
The cleanness of it is amazing and I was itching to add orange and bruised tarragon to it, the same sort of flavours as I like to add to smoked salmon.
This leads me very neatly onto three of Orkney’s finest. The island of Westray has a very joined-up food culture and, known colloquially as The Queen of the Isles, their food businesses are all very proud of their own products and those of other Westray-based companies. Pierowall Fish always try to use Westray-farmed organic fish for their smoked salmon and it was the palest in colour of the three salmons that I tasted (one after the other) with a very light smoke and delicate flavour.
This is typical of organic smoked salmons tasted in the past and I thought it delicious with the Orkney Vodka. You can usually find this smoked salmon at QA Shellfish at Hatston Industrial Estate in Kirkwall (turn right to the Food Park by McAdie and Reeve and they are on the right, just before Orkney Cheese) or at William Shearer’s on Victoria Street in Kirkwall.
Hume’s Artisan Smokers, like our vodka makers, have brought many medals home to Orkney from competitions like the Great Taste Awards. Their smoked salmon is also lightly smoked, slightly saltier than Pierowall’s but not overly so, and the flavour lingers despite being light. I have successfully matched this salmon with a lightly peated whisky in the past and found that the best vodka match was with the Into the Wild, as the salmon took the more herbaceous notes and they pulled more flavour from the fish. William Shearer’s is again the most regular stockist for Hume’s in Kirkwall but try The Bayleaf Delicatessen if you are in Stromness.
Orkney’s best known smokery is Jollys and their standard salmon was the deepest and most rounded in flavour. It was the party salmon, betting on with both vodkas and being made lighter and brighter by the Into the Wild, and deeper and rounder by the Orkney Vodka. Jolly’s smoked salmon is available from The Brig Larder, their own shop on Scott’s Road at Hatston, from Shearers and from many village shops around the islands.
Now, all this might seem like pure and utter indulgence to you, but somebody needs to taste these things and as the Food Tourism Ambassador for Orkney for Scotland Food & Drink and VisitScotland, well it might as well be me!
Kirkwall has a thriving marina with plenty of room for visiting yachts. When I lived in Sussex, I was often asked to give cookery classes for sailors heading off on their boats and was always surprised to be asked for canapé ideas for the evenings. I wonder if they are required when boats tie up in Kirkwall? Well, any of our smoked salmons on a peedie (small, therefore cocktail-sized) Orkney oatcake, with a little Greek yogurt or soured cream, some smoked salmon and a garnish of a shot of Orkney-produced vodka would get the evening off to a good start! Stockan’s Oatcakes and Baikie’s Biscuits both make the peedie oatcakes and they are widely available in Orkney shops.
The classic for smoked salmon and vodka together is of course in a seafood pasta. Usually tagliatelle, bound in a creamy sauce and with lots of local seafood including smoked salmon, add a splash of vodka and it’s a dish to remember for a long, long time. The best seafood pasta that I have had in Orkney is served at The Murray Arms in St Margaret’s Hope. Try it - with a local vodka chaser.
Rosemary Moon ‘retired’ to Orkney after a long association with the salmon industry in the islands. The author of 19 cookery books and countless more recipes, including writing for Waitrose and Lakeland, she has brought journalists and food writers to Orkney in the past to show off our diverse and delicious food and drink. After several holidays here Rosemary and her husband Nick have settled in South Ronaldsay but, once a cookery writer always a cookery writer, Rosemary is finding it impossible to stop jotting down the new recipes that she is creating with the island produce.