Superlative hot smoked haddock from Oak & Smoke
Words: Mark Riddaway
Image: Hatty Cary
I live in a block in which one of the flats is occupied by a lovely family whose diet revolves around two rich, spicy, slow-cooked dishes, eaten in rotation, one emitting the pungent funk of offal, the other the assertive whiff of preserved fish. Both provide a full sensory assault. On fish days in particular, that heady smell moves through the building like an angry ghost, passing through doors and walls and dripping its salty ectoplasm onto everything. Insisting that a neighbour swap their delicious food for something much blander is out of the question, so instead the block’s other occupants have come to the unspoken agreement that the windows on our landings should be left wide open, regardless of weather or risk of burglary.
This is, of course, the eternal problem of smoked or salted fish—the fact that eating them takes just minutes, but their presence lingers for days. My dad’s favourite food is kippers, but at an early stage in his marriage he realised he had to choose between kippers and, well, marriage, and so only eats them in hotels. Even storage is an issue. I once had a bitter argument with a flatmate whose stash of saltfish in the fridge infused its scent into our milk so thoroughly that my breakfast cereal ended up tasting like a hot day at Billingsgate.
Opprobrium and tainted laundry
Some fish, though, are worth all the opprobrium and tainted laundry. These traditional cured, hot-smoked haddock from the east coast of Scotland are a thing of wonder, soft, creamy and smoothly smoky. I like to smear them with butter then heat them under the grill, something I can do without risk: everyone else in the block will blame my neighbours. And they’re so good that if my morning porridge ends up offering a little taste memory, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.