“ONE PERSON WILL LOOK AFTER EACH INDIVIDUAL FISH, SALTING IT, CURING IT, AND SMOKING IT TO PERFECTION”
Words: Ellie Costigan
For more than 500 years, in a town called Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland, people have been catching haddock and smoking it over whisky barrels. The technique (which is substantially more involved than that) has barely changed, the skills and knowledge passed down from generation to generation. The result, the famed Arbroath smokie, has achieved protected geographic indication (PGI) status, meaning it can only be produced in that particular way, in that particular area.
At Oak & Smoke, they’ve taken this age-old way of smoking and applied it to other fish – to similarly tasty effect – including hot smoked trout. “We use the traditional whisky barrels and fill them up with Scottish local hardwood, which is typically a combination of oak and beechwood,” explains stall owner Matt Parr. “The oak imparts a good, strong smoky flavour, while the beech works really well as kindling.”
The trout is salted and left overnight for up to 24 hours to extract the moisture, before being smoked for an hour over the barrels. “We don’t use any electricity – most smoked fish you buy, even quality smoked fish, will have been smoked in industrial ovens. Ninety per cent of the heat source is electricity – there’s only a little bit of wood to impart some flavour. Ours is smoked the traditional way: one person who will look after each individual fish, salting it, curing it, and smoking it to perfection. All our fish is treated exactly the same way as the Arbroath smokie – it follows that time-honoured process to ensure the quality is kept very, very high.”
This level of care and attention is given to each stage of the process, starting with the farming of the fish. Trout has a reputation for tasting earthy, but the small scale of the operation means Matt has control over every element and can ensure each fish is in excellent condition. “The taste of trout is really to do with how well the farmer has reared it and looked after the farm,” he continues. “We get ours from very clean waters. We’ve got a guy up there with a good eye, good experience, who will hand-select the fish.” Once landed, it’s taken to be smoked within 24 hours. “The smoke then locks in that flavour and keeps it very fresh” – a world away from commercially produced smoked fish often found in the supermarket. “When you taste it, it’s instantly recognisable as Arbroath smoked fish. It’s important for the community and the people who live are proud of the heritage – they’re proud of the product and that shines through in the fish that we eat.”