Food Lovers Britain
From what must be the smokehouse with one of the best views in Britain overlooking the hump backs of the Summer Isles scattered in the sea, Keith Dunbar smokes a range of fish. One of his specialities is salmon; he uses mainly farmed fish and cures them in a sweet brine of salt, rum, molasses and boiled-up juniper berries for about 8 hours. Opinions seem to be divided as to whether a dry-salt or brine cure is the more effective; Keith prefers a brine as he feels it offers him more control and a greater subtlety of flavours. The salmon is smoked up to 20 hours over oak shavings from the sherry casks from a local whisky Distillery and the result is a mellow rich fish with that melt-in-your-mouth texture. Wild salmon and farmed sea trout are prepared in the same way but he has recently developed a new whisky salmon. Plainly cured, after smoking it is sprayed with Glen Moray whisky and left to stand for 24 hours to mature, ‘ It is more a sensation on the nose, you can smell it as you lift your fork to your mouth but the actual taste of whisky is minimal’. Then there are his hot-smoked salmon steaks, cut across a boned out fish for a 4-5 oz slice, they are brined and hot -smoke ‘ to cook them through’ then lightly dusted with tarragon.
Another speciality is kippers that have proved so popular that he now runs a kipper club; a subscription secures you two pounds of fine plump kippers – a pair weighs around 1lb every month. Keith buys Scottish herrings landed at the Ayrshire ports or Loch Fyne ‘when the quality is right and the fat content is high enough’. With a catching season between June to September, he freezes stock to draw on but he does also use Norweigen or Icelandic herring and defies ‘anyone to spot the difference. What is critical is the oil content of the fish and the size’ Brined in salt for about 30 minutes, then smoked for between 18 to 24 hours ‘a good bit longer than most’, his kippers are particularly plump and juicy with plenty of punch. He also smokes eel, queen scallops, mussels, cures gravalax and sells smoked chicken and duck breasts smoked especially for him in the Borders, .
FISH is fantastic food. Fish is fast food. Packed with protein, it is incredibly good for us. To my mind, the people who make up the Scottish fishing fleet are our unsung heroes, facing danger on a daily basis to land us the wealth of flat fish, white fish and shellfish for which our country is celebrated.
Our coastal towns and villages are home to families whose livelihoods still depend on our fish industry. By no means all of them are fishermen. Many work in fish-processing, and Scotland is rightly renowned for its mastery of the age-old art of smoking.
There are two types of smoking: hot-smoking, in which the fish is cooked as well as smoked – and cold-smoking, in which the fish is smoked but raw. Smoke-houses vary in their methods, many of which are closely guarded secrets.
Arbroath is world-famous for its smokies – haddock, head removed and gutted but otherwise kept whole through the hot-smoking process. The famous firm of RR Spink & Sons has been smoking in this traditional way since it was established in the 1700s, and now sells wholesale to the world’s finest shops.
In North Uist, the Hebridean Smokehouse produces the most wonderful range of smoked fish and shellfish. In South Uist, Salar Smokehouse repeatedly wins awards for the excellence of its distinctive products, including the justly famous hot-smoked salmon. Over at Aultbea near Poolewe, Sleepy Hollow Smokehouse produces salmon with a delicate smoked flavour.
It is possible to eat fantastic fish throughout Scotland. Up, down and right across the land one can enjoy a plate of fish stew, or just mussels, with a hunk of homemade bread (try the Ceilidh Place, for example, in Ullapool) or dine more elegantly in Michelin-starred restaurants such as Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles in Perthshire (see our review, page 25) and Martin Wishart in Leith. One of my favourite fish restaurants is the delightfully informal Skippers in Leith, and I also commend the Seafood Restaurant in St Andrews, plus its sister establishment in St Monans.
My latest book is an anthology of my fish recipes, with advice on selection and preparation. But knowing where to shop is important too, so I’m pleased to offer my recommendations of the very best places to buy fresh fish and shellfish here in Scotland. Follow my trail, from Eyemouth to Glasgow via Shetland, the Hebrides and the West Coast.
Fish, by Claire Macdonald, is published by Transworld, priced £25. For a signed copy visit www.claire-macdonald.com