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Issue 39 - Smokies

Scotland Magazine Issue 39
June 2008


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Sue Lawrence turns to that most famous of Scottish fishes, the Arbroath smokie.

The Arbroath smokie was first recorded historically in Arbroath Abbey’s land register in 1178, as a gift from King William to the monks. Because the village where they were originally made – Auchmithie, three miles north of Arbroath – has been dated back to its time as a Pictish settlement, the origin of the humble smokie probably goes back a good deal further.

It was only in the 1880s when fishermen from Auchmithie were enticed to Arbroath and its new harbour, that the fisherfolk moved, taking with them the secret of their uniquely smoked haddock.

A hot–smoked haddock, the smokie is gutted, beheaded, lightly brined and smoked until just cooked. It used to be the case in Auchmithie – and later in Arbroath – that smoke barrels were sunk into the gardens, the rim being about a foot or so above the ground. Pairs of whole, headless, gutted haddock were salted, tied by the tails and hung on wooden poles over beech or oak chips, then damp hessian bags were placed over the top. Depending on the size of the fish, they would need only 30-45 minutes smoking time before emerging a gorgeous bronzed, tarry colour with soft, succulent and delicately flavoured flesh. These days, the smoking is done in more or less the same way, but of course by commercial companies, on a larger scale.

The fishwives of Auchmithie – and later Arbroath – wore a particular outfit of several skirts or petticoats (called coats) of coarse navy blue flannel, the outer ones folded up and tucked up to support the willow creel in which they carried their merchandise to market; it was kept in position by a broad band which went over their head and crossed the chest. They also wore a fancy blouse often with mother of pearl buttons, a striped cotton apron and a plaid or checked shawl crossed over at the front. My parents remember the Arbroath and Auchmithie fishwives coming to their hometown of Dundee to sell fish from their creels. The fishwives would climb up and down the stone tenement stairs ringing at every door.

My sister’s husband’s grandmother, Isabella (Ise) Smith, was one of Arbroath’s last fishwives to go far afield to sell the fish – mainly smokies but also Finnan haddie. Once a week, she travelled all the way from Arbroath to Perth and Almondbank (in Perthshire) to sell fish to the “big houses” there. She was away for the entire day, most of which was spent travelling, by train to Perth then bus.

Amazingly she continued this until she was nearly 70 years old, which was in the late 1960s – not so long ago.

In those days people would have done nothing more than lightly grill the smokie with a pat of butter, in order to serve it perhaps with some brown bread and butter or boiled tatties. Nowadays, however a plethora of fabulous recipes showcase one of Scotland’s finest ‘fast foods.’ It can be flaked into quiches and tarts, stirred into pasta and risotto and puréed into mousses and patés. It also makes a wonderful topping for hearty soups made from root vegetables or beans and makes some of the nicest fishcakes you will ever encounter. Use it also instead of tinned tuna in a superb salade niçoise with black olives, tomatoes, green beans and hard boiled eggs.

But best of all is to eat a smokie hot off the barrel over which it has been smoked, with nothing more than a napkin and a sigh of satisfaction after tasting something so good that we Scots can only proudly claim as our own.

You can also add an egg per pot, if you
like: break one into each pot on top of
the spinach, season then spoon the
sauce over. Bake as instructed below,
until the yolk is almost set

200g / 7oz spinach, cooked until wilted,
patted thoroughly dry
25g / 1oz butter
25g / 1oz plain flour
300ml / half pint of milk
1 pair of Arbroath smokies, flaked
40g / 1 1/2 oz freshly grated parmesan

1. Place the spinach in the base of four
ramekins and season well
2. Melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and
stir well. Cook for one minute then add the
milk and cook for a further three to four
minutes until thickened. Season to taste
and add the flaked smokies
3. Spoon this over the spinach then top with
the cheese
3. Bake at 190ºC / 375ºF / Gas mark 5 for
12-15 minutes (no more than 14 minutes if
breaking in eggs) until golden and bubbling.
Eat with plenty of good bread


2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
2 celery sticks, peeled, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 kg / 2lb 4 oz parsnips, peeled, chopped
1.2 litres / 2 pints hot chicken stock
50ml / 2fl oz dry white wine or dry sherry
1 pair Arbroath smokies, flaked

You can thin down the soup if you find it
too thick with a little boiling water
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently
fry the onion, garlic and celery for about
10 minutes. Add the cumin and stir
2. Add the parsnips and stir to coat in the
fat. Cook for about five minutes then add
the hot stock, a little salt and pepper and
bring to the boil. Cover, reduce and simmer
for about 25 minutes or until tender
3. Tip into a liquidiser or blender with
the wine, purée until smooth then
check seasoning
4. Meanwhile, wrap the smokies in foil, heat
in a low oven for 10-15 minutes.
5. To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls,
top with some smokies, drizzle with oil

Where to buy smokies
Tel: +44 (0)1467 629 666

Kirkton Idustrial Estate, Arbroath DD11 3RD
Tel: +44 (0)1241 872 023


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