How we smoke our fish

"The kippers were historic!" comment by Head Chef Gideon at Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Canteen in Bath. 

Long before the refrigerator was invented, the smoking of foods was one of the main ways of preserving; today smoking is a 'flavour enhancing' process, with an eye to longer shelf life. The process explained here is 'Cold Smoking'; meaning the fish or seafood has not been cooked.

To make a perfect smoked fish, you need to start with the freshest fish possible. Whether it's haddock, herring, salmon, sea trout, mackerel or any other species, we always use the finest freshest fish when smoking as it creates a better flavour. We never use any other additives or dyes, only salt and oak chippings.

The fish must be salted, the time depends on the species; it can range from 10 minutes to 5 hours. The fillets are washed and then laid on racks, normally 30 on a trolley and refrigerated overnight. This starts the drying process and ensures when the fish is smoked, the fillets have a lovely sheen; we call this the "pellicle".

We cure each type of seafood differently; smoking salmon can take up to 15 hours, haddock and herring might take 8 to 10 hours. There is no hard and fast time for curing seafood, it all depends on the weather and weight of fish to be cured. Temperature plays an important part when smoking; we smoke at varying heats, from 18°C up to 32°C, depending on what stage the fish is at in the process.

Our fillets of smoked fish are chilled overnight once they have finished the smoking process. For smoked haddock and kippers this is the final stage of curing.