A highly traditional Scottish smoked fish
“The stall is named after the process used for smoking the fish,” says Paul, standing behind a wonderfully laid out array of Arbroath smokies on the Oak and Smoke stall. “We get our supplies from a producer that’s been at the forefront of smoking fish for over a century. The smokie is steeped in tradition.”
The process—which has not changed for generations—is similar to one found in several of the Scandinavian regions from which the Vikings poured forth to wreak their havoc, and is where this style of smoking may have originally come from.
“First the haddock are slightly salted which leads to a certain amount of curing before the fish is smoked,” Paul explains. “Originally they would have used sea salt harvested from the coast at low tide, but now it just has to be a good quality dry salt.”
A fire is lit at the bottom of the barrel using oak and beechwood chippings, which gives the smokie much of its unique flavour. The haddock, which has been tied in pairs using a piece of hemp twine, is hung over v-shaped sticks which are laid across the top of open barrels. “The length of the twine ensures the fish hangs at the correct height, just above the flames.”
Heat and smoke
There is nothing between the fire at the bottom of the barrel and the fish, so it is a highly skilled job to manage the fire in such a way that it produces the right amount of heat and smoke, without overcooking or burning the fish.
“Once the fish is in place, the barrel is covered and sealed with a muslin cloth to make sure none of the smoke escapes. The fish is smoked for between 45-60 mins, but the key thing is that this must take place at a high temperature. It is a very intense, hot smoke process, which cooks as well as smokes the fish.”
But the barrels do far more than just act as a container to keep in the smoke. Arbroath smokies are smoked in whiskey barrels left over from local distilleries and they impart an extra layer of flavour—one of the reasons that the flavour of the ‘true’ smokie is impossible to recreate elsewhere.
When you get them home, store them in the fridge to keep them in best condition. “You can eat them cold, straight from the fridge, or some people really like to break them open and add the pieces to a salad or another dish,” Paul suggests. “You can also put then in the oven with a big knob of butter at about 180C then, when they come out, top them with some chopped parsley. I think this is a great way to get the best out of the smokie, especially if you are new to them.”
Kippers for breakfast
You can also have them in a traditional way, with a poached egg. “For some reason it really complements the smokies. It’s wonderful—I’m a kippers for breakfast, smokies for lunch man.”
One great piece of news for the Arbroath fishing industry is that the Arbroath smokie has Protected Geographical Indication status, giving it the same protection as products like Champagne and Parma ham. This means that the Arbroath smokie label can only be used where the fish is haddock caught in the North Atlantic, salted and smoked in the traditional manner within an eight kilometre radius of the town of Arbroath.
“It’s fantastic news. Arbroath smokies are enjoyed by people all over the world and this PGI not only helps protect the livelihood of the local fisherman and those processing the smokies, but it also means that the unique taste of this wonderful fish, which has been central to this region for generations, will be preserved for people to enjoy for many years to come.”
Image: Georgie Hodgson