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Issue 61 - Smoking Legend

Scotland Magazine Issue 61
February 2012


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Smoking Legend

Nikki Todd looks at the world renowned Arbroath Smokie

Up there, with some of the most exclusive names in the world, smoked haddock from Arbroath shines with a beautiful golden glow. It, like Champagne and Stilton, shares protected status by the European Union. A newcomer to this elite group, Arbroath Smokies have been protected since 2004.

Originating, as legend would have it, as the result of a fire in a store in the small village of Auchmithie some three miles north of Arbroath, the smokie was discovered by accident. The thrifty villagers discovered some charred barrels of salted haddock in amongst the debris while clearing up.

Not to waste what might be good food, history has it villagers found the fish to be not only edible, but also delicious. So it was, that the Arbroath Smokie was born. The business of smoking haddock in the East of Scotland continued to grow and today it is a world-renowned quality product and has European Union recognition.

Smoked haddock has always had a place in Scottish cuisine as an ingredient in the well-known ‘Cullen Skink’, a thick soup made from potatoes, smoked haddock, milk and onions. Cullen, a small fishing town in Morayshire on the North East coast of Scotland gives its name to this delicacy, having been a centre for the smoking of haddock.

However, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that the smokie from Auchmithie actually became associated with Arbroath. The fishing industry in the town was dying, so in an effort to boost local industry, Arbroath Town Council tempted the fishing community of Auchmithie into Arbroath with the promise of a piece of land and use of the harbour.

So it was that gradually in the late 1800s, the relocation the majority of the whole village of Auchmithie brought with it the secrets of the Arbroath Smokie, and a new international industry was born.

The traditional methods of producing this delicacy, reputedly dating from the 18th century, have even now not died out. Arbroath boasts a number of smokeries, but one of the greatest promoters of the Arbroath Smokie is Iain Spink, a fifth generation smoker, well known for his smokies throughout Scotland. When he was 16 years old Iain started working full-time in the family business, ‘R Spink and Sons’ a longstanding, smoked-fish producer.

He started his own business when he was still at university studying for a degree in Environmental Science and as he said: “I wanted to make a bit of money by going round a couple of shows with a smokie barrel. It was an instant hit right away.” The first event he went to was the Aberdeen Highland Games. “It was an absolute mud bath,” he says, “the mud was about a foot deep. It was lashing down with rain, a pretty tough day.” The turning point for his business was getting into famers’ markets. He sold out in an hour at the first market he went to in Cupar, Fife, and from there on he has gone from strength to strength.

Using every opportunity to put into practice his environmental principles and his love of nature, he serves his golden-brown fish with unbleached napkins and wooden forks from sustainable forests.

Traditionally the fish are salted to dry and preserve them and toughen up the skin. The original smokies did after all come from a charred barrel of salted haddock, or so the romantic history of the smokie recounts.

The legend of Arbroath Smokies, the champagne of fish, still lives on today and as long as there are smokers like Iain Spink who care, it will continue to do so.

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