Rich and buttery Scottish salmon, smoked in a 100-year-old smokehouse
If turkey is the crowning glory of the Christmas table, then hot smoked salmon is king of the Boxing Day spread; a highlight in a sea of sausage rolls and cold meats. Salmon is also, mind, a sticky topic when it comes to ethical eating—the merits and pitfalls of farmed over wild and vice versa a minefield of ifs and buts. Rest-assured, Oak and Smoke has done all the soul (and fact) searching for you, sustainability—second only to taste—being at the heart of its operation.
“All of our salmon is Scottish, from one of two suppliers,” explains owner Matt Parr. “One very good, RSPCA-certified farm, and another that’s technically a farm but the ‘pen’ is in the ocean”—making it the closest thing to wild salmon you can get without it actually being wild, in terms of both animal welfare and flavour. “It’s called Var salmon. Because the fish are in a natural environment, it means they get a lot more exercise, as they’re swimming against the current. Therefore, they’re a lot less fatty than many farmed fish.”
The salmon is hot smoked at a 100-year-old smokehouse in Arbroath—“it’s owned by my partner’s family, so we’re under the same umbrella”—home of the Arbroath smokie. It’s actually smoked in exactly the same way as Arbroath smokies, following a precise method. First, the fish are cured overnight in salt. They’re then tied in pairs using hemp twine and left for another night, before being hung with metal rods over upturned, halved whisky barrels filled with beech wood.
“They’re smoked intensely over a very hot flame for about two and a half hours, which gives them this rich, smoky flavour,” says Matt. “A lot of commercial smoked salmon is actually smoked in electric ovens with a tiny amount of kindling, whereas these have that proper campsite taste and smell,” he continues. “This method also locks in the moisture of the fish, leaving it beautifully buttery in texture.”
Once smoked, the fish is covered in chilli flakes. “You initially get the taste of the fish, then the chilli is a bit of a creeper, building in intensity. It has just the right level of heat—it doesn’t overpower the flavour of the fish.”
Eat it as it comes—“it’s beautiful on its own, or just flaked over salads”—or roast it in the oven for 10 minutes, if you prefer it hot. “I recently had it in pasta with just some really good extra virgin olive oil from the guys next door at De Calabria and some crème fraiche. It was lovely,” says Matt, “and Rob, our stall manager, makes a great risotto with it. Another good use is to make your own pâté, with just a bit of horseradish and some fresh dill—or if you can’t be bothered to make your own, buy it fresh from us at the stall!—and enjoy with some good, crusty bread.”