Smoked salmon, vodka and pea pasta – and a Kinvara salmon hamper

Smoked Salmon & Pea Pasta © J Horak-Druiff 2010

I have been reading a few articles lately about “the expat experience” in London (as if there is only ONE experience expats can possibly have!).  With all the fantastic vibe that has been generated in South Africa with the tremendously successful FIFA World Cup 2010, it seems to have become fashionable to paint South Africans living abroad as delusional fools and cowards.  The net and the press is awash with articles quoting SA expats in London who talk mournfully of feeling unable to integrate here but unable to go back; of “grimly hanging on” in London, despite the abject misery; of having no friends; and of the grass not being greened on the other side.

I have only one question:  who are these people?!

I certainly don’t know any of them or (God forbid!) feel as if I am one of their number.  Here’s a newsflash for all those who think they can lump all South African expats under one category and make glib generalisations about them: we didn’t all “run away” from South Africa because we thought life would be easier elsewhere; and for heaven’s sake stop telling us how miserable we all are! Me?  I am happy as a hungry cat in a flightless bird sanctuary.  I came over here for a look-see and found a list of fabulous things to do as long as my arm.  The list isn’t finished yet, so I’m still here – end of story. And I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that loving London and loving South Africa can comfortably co-exist in the same brain.

Mostly, though, I think I stay here for the readily available and very affordable smoked salmon (and maybe for the Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice-cream!).  Smoked salmon was a treat when I was growing up back in South Africa – you either had it at restaurants, or on occasions like birthdays and Christmas, as part of a very special meal.  Imagine my surprise on my first visit to London when I found smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches available for under £2 in the fridges of supermarkets!  I realised then that I had truly arrived in the land of milk and honey (or smoked salmon and cream cheese, at any rate!).

Smoked salmon is freshly caught salmon that undergoes salting and smoking in a kiln order to extend the period of time for which it remains edible – a very important consideration in the days before refrigerators.  These days, we have freezers that can preserve even untreated fish, so although the necessity of smoking salmon has fallen away, it tastes so damn good that we are still doing it!  Salmon can be hot-smoked or cold-smoked – in both cases the fish is first submerged in a brine, rinsed and left to dehydrate for a couple of hours, before being placed in a smoker.  The only difference between the two processes is the temperature: for cold smoking, it is kept below 38C, and for hot smoking it goes up to 74-85C.  Cold smoked salmon is still uncooked, but has taken on a deep pink colour and the unctuous texture that is so uniquely delicious.  Hot smoked (or smoke-roasted) salmon is in fact cooked and has a paler pink colour and a flaky texture.


Last week, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a gift hamper of salmon goodies, courtesy of the lovely folks at Kinvara, a family business that takes its name from the seaside village on Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Kinvara uses only the finest organic Irish salmon and employs traditional smoking techniques in a state of the art smokehouse to produce their top quality organic smoked salmon products.  The salmon are fed no GM feed and no growth promotors, and are stocked at 2 fish per cubic metre (about half the density of conventional farms).  The result is a premium product which was described by my hero Nigel Slater as the best smoked salmon he’d had all year.  High praise indeed!

In my hamper I had: 100g of organic smoked salmon; 100g of roast smoked organic salmon; 100g of organic gravad lax, 300g of organic smoked salmon, and a tub of salmon paté.  A veritable feast of salmon!  I am slowly working my way through the products and so far they have all been fabulous.  The roast smoked salmon is deliciously meaty and not excessively salty – a little goesw a long way. The texture of the cold smoked salmon is silky and muscular – not disintegrating like some cheaper brands – with a deep, attractive colour.  The flavour is wonderful – smoky, but never to the extent that the smoke overpowers the essential flavour of the fish.  I am in love.  Have a peek at their full product list and maybe treat yourself – you won’t regret it!  They deliver to a slwe of countries including most of Europe, USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Japan.

Here’s a quick weeknight dinner using some of the delectable cold smoked salmon – although it’s quick and easy, you will feel as if you are pampering yourself.  And it certainly takes a little of the abject misery out of living in London 😉




enough pasta for 2 people (I used chitarra pasta which really grips the sauce)
3 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup fresh (or frozen) peas
25ml vodka
a little flour
125ml single cream
100g smoked salmon, 3/4 chopped and the rest roughly torn)
a few basil leaves, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the pasta according to the package instructions.

Heat the oil in a large heavy frying pan and add the shallots and garlic.  Sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent but do NOT brown them.

Add the peas and continue stirring for a few minutes.  When the peas start to soften, add the vokda and turn up the heat so that it cooks away.  Once most of the liquid is gone, turn the heat back to medium and stir in the flour – enough that all the liquid in the pan is absorbed.  Stir constantly to prevent lumps.

Stir in the cream a little at a time, stirring continuously.  If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water.

When the sauce has reached the desired consistency, stir in the chopped salmon and allow to heat through.  Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped basil.  Check for seasoning and add black pepper – be careful of adding salt as the salmon will already be salty.

Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot.  Add the sauce to the pasta and mix well. Divide the pasta among two serving bowls and and top with the remaining smoked salmon, torn into rough strips.

If you liked this recipe, why not try my smoked salmon eggs benedict, smoked salmon paté parcels, or smoked salmon mini-quiches with sour cream and caviar?

I am submitting this as my entry into this week’s edition of Presto Pasta Nights, the event created by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and hosted this week by Helen of Fuss-free Flavours.  Make sure you swing by Helen’s to see the roundup on Friday!

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  1. says

    You poor miserable little London girl. 😉 I hate it when people make broad generalisations like that. But as you say, you’ve got cheap smoked salmon to cheer you up! That’s definitely a plus point, I love the stuff. Really should try this version with vodka, it’s taunted me before.
    PS: LOVE that pea pod photo.

  2. says

    Absolutely fab recipe for a quick dinner. Smoked salmon and pea pasta is one my favourite pasta recipes. I’ve never added vodka in mine though! That’s definitely a reason to make this pasta soon again and give this tweak a try! :)

  3. Sam says

    I couldn’t agree more Jeanne – love SA, miss it at times, but love my life in London too. This is home now, and we are making the most of it – fab food, entertainment and proximity to Europe for travel. And if we ever move back to SA (unlikely), then we’ll enjoy what that has to offer. No misery here (or among any of the other expats we know!)

  4. says

    I’m with you…embrace both homes! And you are one lucky lady to receive such an awesome gift basket. Thanks for sharing the resutls with Presto Pasta Nights.

  5. says

    Jeanne–I don’t know how one could be miserable in London! So much to do, see and eat! I will try Kinvara products if I see them at my grocery store, I’m so jealous of your fab hamper full of goodies.

  6. says

    Stereotypes and sweeping generalizations have always puzzled me. I have long held that they tell you a great deal about the person giving the opinion, and absolutely nothing about the group the opinion is about! How wonderful that you have room in your heart and your horizons to love 2 places! The more experiences we open ourselves to, the richer lives we lead, I believe.

  7. says

    When we lived in Ireland, we were on Cork harbour. We used to ride our bikes, take the ferry across to Cobh island and ride to a little guy’s house to buy his smoked salmon. The best I’ve ever had…. When we lived in the US it was only for Christmas….
    I understand living where the smoked salmon is.
    The miserable expats would probably be miserable anywhere, anyway…..

  8. says

    I’m a big smoked salmon fan myself, I remember being delighted by smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels when I arrived in London and I’d only arrived from Birmingham!! I do enjoy the smoked salmon with peas and pasta quite often although I’ve not tried vodka in there as well.

  9. says

    we have just started experimenting with making gravadlax at home with Lourensford Estate trout. I love the sound of this recipe and will file it under my ones to try :)