Rich History And Mouthwatering Flavors Of English Smoked Fish

Smoking is still done to some foods for the flavour it adds, even though refrigeration and freezing are more reliable methods of preserving and storing food. Smoked fish has been ruling our hearts for ages. But have you ever wondered where did it come from?

The Origins Of Smoked Fish

The rich, intense flavour of smoked fish is a key component of English cuisine. For centuries, institutions like the British Navy and the East India Company smoked fish to preserve it for long voyages. 

Smoking fish traditionally began in the port town of Grimsby, UK, by hanging the fish in chimneys above slow-smouldering wood shavings. It was and still is, a great way to preserve it for future use, and it will last for several months in the freezer. 

Over time, the term "smoked" was also adopted by mechanical kiln curers with newer technologies. So, the original method is now called "traditionally smoked," so that consumers can still tell the difference between the two ways of making the product. 

Why do the English Love their Smoked Fish? 

Smoked fish is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, eaten on its own, used as an ingredient in other dishes, or used as a popular topping for toast and English muffins. It is also popular in other British dishes like fishcakes, fish pies, and salmon dishes. The bold flavour of smoked fish goes well with rich, creamy sauces and hearty root vegetables. 

English smoked fish is usually made with haddock, salmon, or trout. Smoked fish is also a key ingredient in popular dishes like cassoulet, bouillabaisse, and ceviche. 

Today, smoked fish is a beloved ingredient in traditional English dishes like kedgeree, a traditional dish made with smoked haddock, rice, boiled eggs, and spices. Now, smoked salmon is so widespread that every supermarket chain has it in stock. 

The Fish Smoking and Production Process 

Whole, fresh fish are typically imported from the Faroe Islands, Norway, Iceland, and a few other countries. Not only does the size of the fish play a role in how quickly it smokes, but so do the ambient temperature and humidity. 

In the summer, only a small amount of fire is required, while in the winter, more fire is required to get the sawdust smoldering because less oxygen is needed. There is no heat used because doing so would cause the fish to overcook, flake, and fall off the spears during the smoking process. 

Typically, the smoking process is as follows: 

The expertly filleted fish are brined for 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the day, then drained on metal rod racks called "speats." The fish on the speats are placed at the appropriate heights in the smokehouse chimneys for cold smoking. 

Sawdust is used to line the bottom of the smokehouse, and once the sawdust is alight, the smoking process can begin. Fillets are marinated for at least 8 hours, usually overnight. Skilled smokers keep an eye on the process, rearranging and removing fish as needed to guarantee an even smoke throughout. 

As soon as the fish have reached the desired temperature, they are taken out of the smokehouses to cool. After the items have been chilled, they are put into interleaved, shallow, purpose-built cartons or individual vacuum packs before being sent to their final destinations in the UK and beyond. 

The Grimsby Smoking Tradition 

This delicious food and ingredient originate in Grimsby, a town in North East Lincolnshire, England. Since the town's fishing industry began more than 300 years ago, smoked fish has been made in the same way. Fishing and smoking provided a significant economic boost to Grimsby for centuries. At its peak in the 1950s, it was the busiest fishing port in the world.  

Cool, dry winds from the North Sea and Humber estuary make it easier to cold smoke fish overnight, and Grimsby's mean summer maximum temperatures are below 20 °C, significantly cooler than inland. Traditional Grimsby smoked fish is inextricably bound to its geographical origins in terms of both its reputation and the expertise of the smokers, which has been passed down through the generations. In 2009, the European Commission recognized the unique quality of Grimsby's smoked fish by designating it a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). 

Make your own Smoked Fish!

From salads to pasta dishes, smoked fish can add a unique flavour to any dish. If you're looking for a new way to add smoked fish to your diet, try one of these recipes.  

  • Smoked Mullet with Cucumber Raita 
  • Smoked Trout Salad 
  • Black-Eyed Pea Casserole with Gruyère 
  • Smoked Fish Gumbo (New Orleans style) 
  • Smoked Sturgeon Dip