Eight of the Best Smoked Fish
Smoked fish crosses many cultural boundaries and often is seen as a gastronomic treat. Here are eight of the best.
People have been smoking fish for thousands of years as an effective means of preserving their catch particularly for times when fishing was less bountiful. Fish is smoked when it comes into direct contact with the smoke that rises from smouldering materials such as wood and plants.
The process relies on indirect heat, low temperatures and long cooking times. The smoke delivers a coating which prevents oxidation and makes it more resistant to decay. Commercial fish smoking is thought to have originated in the 17th century in Poland and remains hugely popular across many Scandinavian and Baltic countries.
The traditional smoking method involves the fish being suspended in smokehouses over slowly smouldering wood shavings, and left overnight to infuse. In the mechanical method practised by larger smokers, smoke condensates are used, with the flow of smoke computer controlled. The fish generally spend less time being smoked than in a traditional kiln.
Cold smoking requires far less heat and gives a beguiling, subtle infusion of smoke and richness without cooking as the fire producing the smoke is kept away from the food. Curing in dry salt cure or wet brine before cold smoking helps draw out moisture so that the smoke can better penetrate.
Smoked anchovies are a more unusual treat to seek out. Anchovy aficionados appreciate that light smoking takes our favourite umami-punchy fish to an elevated level, accentuating the somewhat addictive savouriness of these slender silvery fish. They are brined rather than salted then cold smoked whole before being filleted and tinned, usually in olive oil. They have a subtle smokey flavour.
I tried mesmerising freshly smoked anchovies recently at Rock-a-Nore fishmongers in the English town of Hastings. It is the only time I have tasted these DIY smoked anchovies anywhere – usually they come in a tin and should be kept in the fridge after opening. Spanish brand Nardín produce exceptional smoked anchovies that are on the menu in a number of London restaurants. Serve cold on toast with some roasted tomatoes or warm in their oil in a small pan and stir through pasta with lemon and chopped parsley.
In Israeli cuisine, smoked trout is traditionally eaten as part of mezze, often even for breakfast. It is enjoying a resurgence as consumers ask more questions about the often unsatisfactory conditions of farmed salmon.
I’m partial to English trout from the chalk streams that are the Test and Itchen Rivers in Hampshire. They are slow grown for two years in fish hatcheriesfed by fast flowing pure chalk stream water, dry cured in salt and demerara sugar and traditionally kiln smoked for 8-10 hours. The smoked fillets taste lean and clean.
For the best smoked haddock, head to Aldred Enderby in Grimsby. Dating back to 1918, it has a traditional brick built smokehouse and its smoked haddock is recognised internationally and has even been given Protected Geographical Status (PGI). The undyed medium smoke haddock is fragrant, with good oil content and an optimum balance of fish, wood and smoke flavours.
Though eel is classified as critically endangered, there is responsibly sourced sustainable eel that is accredited by the Europe-wide Sustainable Eel Group (SEG). Such fisheries can have a positive impact on the recovery of the European wild eel population which is thought to breed only in the Sargasso Sea. Eel has a shellfish sweetness with considerable richness from its oils. It is rather like lobster in texture.
Mackerel is the name for more than 30 species of fish that belong to the Scombridae family. Abundant in cold and temperate seas, they are known for their bullet shaped body, numerous finlets and oily meat.
Smoked mackerel fillets are full of omega 3 fatty acid and have a rich, decidedly full-on fishy flavour with almost campfire smokiness. Try mackerel crusted with cracked peppercorns for mackerel au poivre. The richness of smoked mackerel is often offset with grated horseradish.
Once the quintessential British breakfast food – and a regular fixture for high tea and supper in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, kippers are making a comeback. Family company, J. Laurie & Sons, based in Scottish Highlands have scooped numerous awards for their Jaffys Malaig kippers. They are cured in salt and cold smoked in a 30 foot brick kiln that is powered by wind.
Pungent and rich in omega 3 fats, kipper is a whole herring that has been sliced in half from head to tail, gutted, salted, then smoked, a process originally known as ‘kippering’. The technique was developed by the fish merchant John Woodger in 1843 in Northumberland. Kipper has been a permanent fixture on the Savoy‘s breakfast menu since the hotel opened in 1889. Kippers can, alternatively, be jugged, or immersed in a jug of boiling water to heat.
Quite a rarity, large female freshwater sturgeon are smoked lightly. Their texture is creamy in texture. Not at all ‘fishy’; the taste is delicate and light. I was thrilled and surprised to find smoked sturgeon at the breakfast buffet in the Hotel Pacai in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius recently.