A smoked herring is a kipper. A kipper is a smelly, oily fish, eaten by old people for breakfast. Right? Well no, there’s a lot more to it than that!
As recent converts to kippers for breakfast I was inspired to learn more about how they’re produced. It hasn’t taken long to uncover that different preparation and smoking methods can be used to create a variety of results.
The coast of East Anglia has a long tradition of smokehouses, which over time have used and come up with different methods for preserving the abundant supply of herring from The Wash and North Sea, to create a range of local specialities.
Here’s a breakdown of the different variations on smoked herring that I’ve found that have their origins, or at least a long tradition in East Anglia. The list is by no means complete, and if there are other varieties you know of, then I’d love to hear about them.
The best known variety of smoked herring, kippers are gutted, soaked in brine solution and smoked. Kippers are produced all around the country, but they have a long tradition here in the East, and actually came later than some of the other varieties.
The kippers take on colour from the smoke during the process, and because the flesh is directly exposed to the smoke the smoke taste is quite strong.
References to Bloaters or Yarmouth Bloaters have been found as far back as the 17th century. They are left ungutted and are cold smoked giving them a mild smoked flavour. Originally they were mainly consumed close to the coast because the leaving the guts in meant that whole fish didn’t keep so well. The photo shows that it is obviously a proud tradition – why send your friends a postcard from your trip to Yarmouth, when you can send them a bloater in the post?!
Buckling refers to the name of the cure, which has its origins in Germany. Bucklings are also left ungutted. Their heads are removed before they’re hot smoked until they’re an ‘attractive golden colour’. This method doesn’t seem to have spread far beyond East Anglia, but it’s still possible to buy bucklings from Cley Smokehouse on the North Norfolk coast, amongst others I’m sure.
Golden and Red Herrings
Red herrings have a really strong salty flavour, meaning they’re quite an acquired taste. They’re very popular in Africa and Asia, but can be hard to track down in the UK. The Anchor Smokehouse in Lowestoft do still produce them though. Golden herring uses a lighter version of the same cure to produce a less strong flavour.
So to answer the original question – many! And I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. I can’t wait to try the different varieties, and hope that this blog does a little to help demystify a real East Anglian tradition and inspire other people to try kippers, bloaters, bucklings, and any other variety of smoked herring.
Information for this blog came from:
From Norfolk Knobs to Fidget Pie: Foods from the Heart of England and East Anglia, by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown
A History of English Food, by Clarissa Dickson Wright
Anchor Smokehouse website: http://www.anchorsmokehouse.co.uk/about-us-history.htm