Article: The Arbroath Smokie

Almost 2 weeks ago I received the terrible new that my Nan had passed away.  Word came to me as I was driving the 300 miles that separated us to be by her bedside, having been told that she was gravely ill…… I didn’t get there in time.  I was devastated.

My Nan was the person who sparked my interest in cooking and we spent a lot of time together when I was a child.  She taught me to bake, and I could regularly be found standing on a stool at her kitchen worktop, hands in a bowl of flour and butter.  Back then eating raw cake mix from the bowl wasn’t seen as a danger, but a right of passage.  I’m fortunate to have so many happy memories of our time together.

Now, you might wonder what this has to do with Arbroath Smokies.  Well, I’ll explain.

The morning after I received the news of her passing, I remembered that I’d ordered langoustines from Arbroath Fisheries and needed to collect them.  The last thing I felt like doing was making the 30 mile round trip.  But I hate letting people down, and they’d ordered them in for me especially, so I dropped my eldest daughter off at school and headed through.  It was a beautiful morning, but all I could think about was my nan.  I had no appetite for the recipe I’d planned for the langoustines.  None whatsoever.

As soon as I got out of the car I could smell the wonderfully seductive smoke that I’ve come to love since buying my own smoker.  The smoke was of course coming from this, one of Arbroath’s many smokehouses.  Arbroath is world famous for its Smokies, which are hot smoked haddock, so much so that it was awarded Protective Geographical Status by the European Community.

I wandered toward the brightly coloured building, drawn by the wonderful smell, and entered the tiny shop which was furnished with a single display chiller filled with fish.  No frills, but then none were needed.

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Through a window to my left I could see two men standing over a stainless steel preparation table full of fish.  The radio was playing as they worked away and chatted to one another.  It was only seconds until I was attended to by one of the men who introduced himself as Mike.  I explained that I was there to collect the langoustines and asked if I could mention the business on my blog.  Mike had a quick word with his colleague, who I later found out was Campbell, the owner, and he asked if I wanted to see where they made the Smokies.  I jumped at the chance!

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Now I’ve seen Smokies being made in the original manner at various country shows, where half an oak barrel is partially buried in the ground, a fire set in the bottom and the fish hung over it covered with damp hessian sacking, but for some reason I was more interested in seeing the smokehouse.

Mike led me out into the rear yard, with its views of the sea, and he ducked inside a small open-fronted building attached to the back of the shop.  At one end of the building was the pit, a block built construction with hinged lid left ajar, and hessian sacking draped over it.

I got to work picking his brains about the types of wood they used for the smoking, how long they salted the haddock for beforehand and how they knew when the smokies were done, while Mike began to spray the hessian with water.

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He then removed the hessian revealing uniform rows of haddock, paired at the tails and draped over wooden rests.  A modest fire was burning in the base of the pit with smoke being fed into it from an adjacent smoking chamber, where a pile of sawdust smouldered away.

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Campbell soon came out to join us and explained that the smokies would soon be ready and asked if I’d like to try one straight off the smoker.  I couldn’t say yes quick enough, my appetite suddenly returning.

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Next thing I knew I had a plate and napkins placed in my hands and a fresh Smokie presented to me.  I insisted I didn’t eat alone, and so the 3 of us stood in the sunshine and picked away at the delicious, creamy white flesh of the delicately salted and smoked fish, still warm from the smoker.  We chatted about the history of Campbell’s family business, originally established by his father in the 60’s, and about the unfortunate decline of Arbroath’s fishing fleet, which now sees him having to source his fish from Aberdeen and Peterhead.

I knew that the local smokehouses regularly invited tourists and interested parties behind the scenes like this, but I still felt very honoured.

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But then I suddenly felt guilty.  Should I have been enjoying this moment so soon after such tragic news?  I thought about my nan and what she would have thought and I came to the conclusion that she would have approved of my culinary adventures, in fact, she would have actively encouraged them.  I left the shop with my langoustines and a pair of fresh smokies, determined to make the most of my haul.  I was glad I’d made the journey and was grateful to Campbell and Mike for making me feel so welcome.

Campbell sends his wonderful product all over the world.  Why not pop over to the Website , treat yourself to some fabulous smoked fish and read a bit more about its history.

Here is my very simple recipe in honour of the humble Smokie and my wonderful Nan x

Makes 6 fishcakes

Ingredients

430g mashed potato, cooled

200g of Arbroath Smokie, if you buy a pair this will give you plenty for the fishcakes and enough to snack on while you make them!

1 free range egg

1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Zest of one lemon, finely grated

Plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp plain flour

For the crumb coating

60g Panko bread crumbs

1 free range egg, beaten

3 heaped tbsp plain flour seasoned with a grind of black pepper and a pinch of salt

Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Method

In a bowl, combine the potato, flaked fish, egg, parsley, lemon zest, flour and a couple of good pinches of salt and ground black pepper.

Divide the mix into 6 and shape into patties, placing them onto a lightly floured plate.

To crumb coat, place the flour, beaten egg and panko crumbs onto individual plates or bowls.  Now dust each pattie with flour, dip in the egg and then pop onto the breadcrumbs, coating well.

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Place a centimetre of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Place a small cube of bread in the oil, when it turns golden brown it’s reached the right temperature for frying the fishcakes.  Fry in batches of two for 2-3 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  Remove to a plate lined with paper towel and keep warm in a low oven while you fry the rest.

I served ours on a bed of wilted spinach, topped with a slice of grilled black pudding and a poached egg.

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