The technique of "Curing" products prior to smoking is a key step in the process of producing long life products.
Originally, curing was simply a technique to change the physical and chemical characteristics of the product to avoid "spoilage" Other common techniques, prior to refrigeration, were "Pickling" "Sousing" and simple "Salting" all these techniques have the effect of inhibiting bacterial growth.
In truth, the microbiology is all about doing two things, excluding oxygen from the product and / or creating an environment in which harmful bugs can't grow. Excluding Oxygen kills or inhibits micro-organisms that depend on air to thrive, so called aerobic bacteria, however nature is a wonderful thing and some naughty and nefarious bugs are equipped with little SCUBA tanks and can live on gasses like CO2. (Anaerobes). But we are clever as well, and we figured out that some bugs cant live if the temperature goes up, we called this "cooking", we also figured out that some bugs can't live if the acidity is too high or low, and that if we deplete water in the sample their growth is stunted. So for thousands of years we used a variety of techniques that stopped us getting sick.
With the advent of modern refrigeration, freezing and vacuuming it is possible to inhibit bacteria to extend the shelf life of the product, so technically its possible to pack and ship fresh / raw food relatively easily and safely.
However smoking food nowadays is all about producing a fantastic tasting product so we have developed a cure and smoking process that uses traditional techniques to produce an outstanding character. Once cured and smoked we use modern techniques including refrigeration and vacuum to ensure you get the best of both worlds, safe food that tastes extra-ordinary.
Our fish is all sourced responsibly from sustainable stock, it arrives fresh daily and we inspect it all by hand. We use Herring and Mackerel that is graded and frozen within minutes of being caught so its extremely fresh when we receive it.
For Kippers, Bloaters and Buckling (Hot Smoked Herring) we choose large plump, oil rich fish. Minimum weight is 300g. A high oil content makes for a Kipper that is packed with natural flavour, which doesn't need to be dried out. We cut and gut immediately and leave the fish to rest before soaking in a salt brine. The precise concentration of the brine and the type of salt we use is a closely guarded old family secret, so please don't tell anyone that we use a 60% Brine made with fine grain Kosher grade mineral salt for 22 minutes.
After brining, the fish are hung on drying racks where the excess brine drains and the skin becomes a little tight. After 20 minutes the Kippers are Cured and look happy and relaxed.
We then carefully load the Kipper Kilns except on days where we are in a hurry to get to the pub. The kilns are at least 150 years old and a lined with the residue of a million smokes, the aroma is awesome. We use 100% seasoned Oak in the kipper kilns anything else just wooden be right.
Each kiln takes about a quarter of a ton of Herring. and we set fires according the ancient rituals of the Lowestoft Smoker and after saying a brief prayer to the ancient Icini Goddess Andrasta we gently back away from the kilns and close the doors. Smoke gently rises from the dust and drifts towards heaven swirling and meandering over the fish for many hours.
24 to 36 hours later we crack open the doors, the Oak has given up its goodness and the fish are well and truly smoked and packed with fabulous flavour, they have retained their rich oil content and their plumpness. Quite often people say they are quite simply the best Kippers they have ever tasted.
They can be grilled or gently poached for 3-4 minutes a little butter is always a good thing (subject to current medical nagging)
The Herring properly cured and smoked is a really healthy tasty product, its not for everyday its not for everyone but ours are made with care and skill using tradition and humour in relatively large proportions.
If you think our Kippers are good try the smoked Salmon. Although we use a different curing process, they co-habit with the Herring in the Oak Kilns and take on the same unique character and flavour profile.