In days of yore, before fridges and ice machines, we had few options when it came to preserving fish: salting, drying and smoking. Smoking essentially does a bit of all three.
Our fisherman Ken often cold smokes fish that his family catches. When he was younger, they mainly smoked herring in the form of bloaters (like a kipper, but with the guts still in), as these fell out of favour, he focused on white fish, such as pouting, whiting and cod. Smoking fish like pouting elevates it from the humble to the incredible.
First the fish is filleted and put in a salty brine bath. This draws out some of the water from the flesh of the fish and firms it up.
Hot smoked fish (mackerel fillets etc) is cooked using the heat of smoke from a nearby fire. You can then eat it as is.
Whitefish tends to be cold smoked though. Cold smoking, as the name would suggest, doesn't cook the fish in any way, it just cures it. As a result, you need to cook the fish before eating it.
Ken smokes his fish right on the beach in Dungeness. He uses oak chips which impart a deeply rich flavour on the flesh. We've seen smokers made from all sorts of things- filing cabinets, tea chests and gun cupboards. Ken uses an old fridge- not the most glamorous or rustic option, but buoy does it do the job!
Cooking Smoked fish
There are a number of options for cooking cold smoked fish- you can grill it, steam it, cook it in the oven, or our favourite, poach it.
Gently simmer a fillet of smoked fish in milk (with a bay leaf and pepper) covered, for a few minutes. When the fish flakes away from the skin, it's done. Whisk a little cream and mustard into the poaching liquor to make a banging sauce. Put a poached egg on top and you're cooking on gas.
Or try some of the recipes below. It's a really versatile product that can make some wonderfully comforting dishes that are great on a cold winter's night.