Char is a fresh water fish related to both the salmon and trout and tends to be somewhat between the two in size, texture and flavour. Commonly known as Arctic char, because it is native to cold northern European waters but, perhaps as an accident at the end of the Ice Age, char can also be found in the lakes of Switzerland and northern Italy, where they are rightly considered a great treat.
Char’s flesh can vary from light pink to red depending on season and feeding. The flesh is pleasingly flaky and, although light in texture, it also has a little of the oiliness of salmon, making it a more satisfying choice than trout.
Not easily available in the UK but char is now being farmed, in Iceland for instance, and is increasingly found through internet fishmongers. Always order it if offered at a Swiss or Italian lakeside restaurant.
Choose the best
Like all fish, fresh char must have bright eyes, red gills and virtually no fishy smell. Frozen char must be defrosted very slowly, ideally overnight in the refrigerator.
Eat it as fresh as possible and very soon after defrosting.
Delicious cooked simply - poached, grilled, pan-fried or roasted. Any garnish should respect char’s elegant flavour and not be overpowering, avoiding undercooked onion, chilli, chives, too much lemon juice or creaminess. Slow-roasted tomatoes and grilled Mediterranean vegetables are recommended, as are the gentler style of Asian flavourings. Look in good Swiss and Italian cookbooks for ideas.