JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Monday, January 21, 2008

Kippers - without stinking out the house

We eat kippers for breakfast every Saturday morning, without stinking out the house, which it seems is a major factor in putting people off these delicious fish. This morning my father told me he was banned from cooking them because of the smell. So he occasionally goes to the Loch Fyne Restaurant a few doors down from his house, specifically to eat kippers.

For years and years, cooking kippers was easy for me, as an Aga-user: all the cooking smells go up the flue - which means that you can burn food to a crisp black cinder without realising until you go into the garden. But now my Aga isn't working, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have it taken out (in favour of a wood-fired oven), so I've had to solve the odourless kipper-cooking problem. It turns out to be the original, traditional & popular method in the north east of England, which is where kippers were invented (by John Woodger of Seahouses in Northumberland, in 1840). The most difficult thing about it is finding a jug which is tall enough but not too wide (otherwise you'll need two kettles-full of water), and I keep thinking that there must be a pottery, perhaps in Craster, where they make the perfect kippering jug.

Jugged kippers

Put good kippers (ie undyed, preferably from Craster, Uig, Loch Fyne) into a jug, heads down, and pour boiling water over them. Leave for at least six minutes and no more than 10. Pull them out, shake off the drips, and serve on hot plates. Pepper, a little well-strained yoghurt, some finely chopped onion (probably not at breakfast), lemon juice are all good accompaniments, and a little toast and marmalade to follow is utter bliss.

This works well, but only if you use a jug (or similar) rather than a flat dish. If you do that, the water cools too fast and you need to heat it up - which produces a smell, as well as perfectly edible kippers.

The other difficulty people have with kippers is the bones. WC Hodgson explains in The Herring and its Fishery (quoted by Jane Grigson in her Fish Book):

"Eating a kipper is quite simple if it is laid correctly on the plate to start with, that is, with the skin uppermost. With the head twoards you, lift up the skin from half of the kipper by running the point of the knife along the edge and fold the skin back. This exposes the flesh on top of the bones, and it is quite easy to remove it in fillets, leaving the bones untouched. When this side has been eaten, turn the kipper round on the plate so that the tail is towards you and repeat the process on the other side."

Jane Grigson comments: This works. It's true, it does, because we both tried it a couple of weekends ago. But it's more of a palaver than what I normally do, but, unlike Mr Hodgson (somehow, I feel he must be a man), I am not equal to the task of describing it. But it works too.


Toffeeapple said...

Ages since I ate kippers, must get some soon. Could you not commission a special kipper jug to be made at your local pottery? (Then perhaps market them?)

I take it that the description of taking the skin off the fish relates to whole kippers and not fillets?

Ed Bruske said...

I really envy your fish culture, Joanna. Anchovies, mackerel, kippers--such great stuff, we just hardly ever see it for sale here in Washington, DC. I wish it were otherwise.

David Hall said...

What a clever way of doing kippers you clever thing! I love them, always Craster for me of course. This is what I am going to do next weekend, thanks for that Joanna.


Dan Davies said...

I should like to leave a comment that you appear to have omitted the Isle of Man in your list of 'proper' kippers. Here on the Island we smoke kippers in the traditional way and use no dye. Yum :o)

Joanna said...

HUGE apologies Dan ... you're quite right, and we often eat a Manx kipper, when they are on sale locally ... they are SUCH a good breakfast food, and I'm just about to make a pate from a pair of kippers I bought yesterday (sadly not Manx)


Simon Lord said...

What about the fabulous kippers from Swallow Fish of Seahouses - the birthplace of the kipper! Once tasted never forgotten!

Joanna said...

Yes, of course, you're quite right. And since I wrote this post, my father has told me that he won't eat a kipper unless it's grilled, no wonder he has to go out to eat them!


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice on both counts. My kipper consumption has doubled!

Anonymous said...

try kippers from - best kippers ever from the port of lancaster smokehouse!!