Traditional Cullen skink is a Gaelic mariners’ dish served more as a soup than a bake, and using haddock as opposed to a smoked river fish. These humble ingredients form a decadent dish.
I recently served a version of Cullen skink at a dinner celebrating eel, and it also proved an excellent substitute. For me, this dish with eel is a very strong representation of the area I grew up in south-western Victoria.
The region has always had a very strong dairy industry and Koroit – a town that is situated at the back of a now-dormant volcano called Tower Hill – was bolstered by the immigration of labourers during the Irish potato famine. Potatoes grow very well here in the rich volcanic soil, so in the mid-1800s potato farming was established as the town’s major industry. Koroit is now so well known for its potato industry that we used to refer to the football team as the “Spud Pickers”.
Variations of potatoes, dairy and smoked fish formed the backbone of my diet growing up so it is interesting to be referring to this dish as decadent. Decadence is something generally associated with exotic or rare food. Maybe I just like the familiarity of south-west Victorian soul food.
Serves 4 as a starter
– 1 smoked river trout
– 1 litre water
– 500ml white wine
– 2kg Dutch cream potatoes
– 1 large brown onion
– 1 clove garlic
– 200ml cream
– 50g butter
– 60ml pungent mustard oil
– 1 bunch chives
– 80g river trout roe
– salt and pepper
Prepare the stock by filleting the trout and removing its skin and pin bones. I find the easiest way to do this is to use a blunt, round-ended knife and almost push the fillet off. Place the bones and skin in a pot with the water and wine then bring to the boil, turn down to a gentle rolling boil and leave on the heat for 15 minutes. Skim, strain and let cool.
Peel the potatoes and slice finely on a mandolin before reassembling each potato back into its original shape. Place in piles in a baking dish.
Preheat oven to 160ºC. Slice the onion and garlic thinly before sweating them in a pan with a little oil until translucent, add the stock with the cream and butter and bring to the boil before pouring this liquid over the potatoes. Cover with either a lid or aluminium foil and bake for 30 minutes on 160ºC. Remove the lid and turn the temperature up to 210ºC for six minutes more to brown slightly.
To serve, remove the potato stacks with a slotted spoon and flip upside down onto a plate. Fold the pieces of trout fillet into the cooking liquid then spoon over the potatoes before drizzling the mustard oil over the top. Finish with the trout roe, finely sliced chives and seasoning.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 20, 2019 as "Guess whose Cullen for dinner". Subscribe here.