Tweed Kettle, Edinburgh and the Lothians
Salmon, like oysters, was once where it was found in abundance the food of the poor – either poached in the legal sense rather than culinary, or bought cheaply fresh or prepared. Scotland of course was and is associated with some of the best of this great fish.
Tweed Kettle is an example of a dish for the masses, once prepared in the cookshops of Edinburgh, where food readied in quantity was on offer cheaply to those without the desire or means to prepare it themselves – the forerunners of today’s chippies and kebab shops.
Tweed Kettle originally may simply have referred to the way to cook a whole salmon, poached (the cooking term this time) in a fish-kettle (Annette Hope in her excellent book A Caledonian Feast gives another way involving normally avoided rapid boiling). The proto-takeaways of Edinburgh would, however, have served the succulent flesh stripped from the bones and cleaned of its skin, topped with sliced mushrooms, and/or mashed potatoes, sometimes the spuds replaced by or mixed with swede, and a few peas; no wonder we think of the city as genteel comparing such a dish with cod, chips and mushy peas.
Modern versions often suggest grating and grilling cheese over the mash topping, sprinkling with chives or mace and even incorporating béchamel. None of these Twee Kettles appeals anywhere near as much as the stuff that the city’s students and bachelor clerks would have wolfed down in the 19th century: moist fish well cooked; hot mash; and a few peas for colour and to punctuate the taste and texture. In other words fish pie by another name.