There was a time when smoked salmon was considered the ultimate luxury ingredient. It rated just below caviar and on par with foie gras on most menus. But now, you’ll see smoked salmon everywhere. Restaurants will offer smoked salmon sandwiches as part of a tea-time buffet and it is a staple of the five-star Sunday brunch menu.
So what happened? How did Smoked Salmon suddenly get so devalued?
The answer is simple: industrialisation.
As you may know, the salmon is an endangered species. It is getting more and more difficult to find wild salmon in the sea.
And yet, the shops and restaurant are flooded with cheap salmon.
What happened was this: fish farmers and large corporations discovered that it was possible to breed salmon in captivity. So there are now thousands of fish farms in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, America and elsewhere, all breeding salmon.
But while it is not difficult to breed salmon, it is hard to get the farmed product to look or taste anything like wild salmon. So most, if not all, of the Smoked Salmon you are likely to be served in Indian restaurants has been artificially coloured to make it look as pink as wild salmon.
Then, there’s the problem of diet. At the less-fussy farms, they feed the fish pellets of fish meal which has been industrially processed. Naturally, the flesh of fish tastes revolting once they are brought up on this diet. Places that feed the salmon something approximately their natural diet call their product ‘organic.’
Then, there is the muscle factor. Salmon are nature’s great swimmers. The flesh gets its texture from the exercise. But at fish farms, they breed salmon in tanks and tubs where they have hardly any room to swim. So their flesh is flabby and has no texture.
All of this ensures that salmon is cheap. But it also guarantees that much of it is tasteless. So, be careful!
Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the Cointreau Award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.