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Issue 80 - Haddock the Arbroath Way

Scotland Magazine Issue 80
April 2015


This article is 3 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Haddock the Arbroath Way

Sue Lawrence enjoys a smokie cloot

Watching a master at work is enthralling. Seeing one of Scotland’s finest products being crafted – then tasting the result – is memorable. I was lucky enough to witness Iain Spink set up his stall at the Farmers Market early in the morning and begin to create his magic.

After a couple of hours, he replaced the tarry poke over the barrel then emerged, eyes streaming, from a billowing cloud of smoke. He had in his hand a smokie, straight off the barrel. He opened it up, slipped out the bone and offered me some. The moist, warm flesh tasted divine. It was the best smokie ever; one of the best fish I have ever tasted.

And the long queue forming at Cupar Farmers Market bore testimony to the fact I am not alone in my opinion. They had been placing their orders since 8am, ready to return at 9am when Iain has the first batch ready. Iain, scion of the Arbroath smokie Spink family, gives craft demonstrations all over, keen to revive the traditional curing method which originated in Auchmithie then was taken to Arbroath during the 19th Century .

Iain can be found regularly at Cupar Farmers Market and at any Fairs where he can dig his halved whisky barrel into the ground to make his fire with oak or beech wood. For the adage ‘No Smoke Without Fire’ was never truer than in the preparation of the famous Smokie. The day before, he beheads and cleans the gutted whole haddock, then ties in pairs and dry salts them for anything from 1½ to 5 hours, depending on size and firmness. The salt is then washed off in fresh water and they are left to hang to dry the skins out. Ideally this would be done overnight, but 20 minutes at a smoke-encompassed stall at the farmers market does the job just was well.

The poles the fish are hung over are made of wood which is traditional; commercial producers have to use stainless steel nowadays because of EC legislation. Because Iain is giving a craft demonstration, however, he can still use wood. Whether or not Iain’s superb fish can now be called Arbroath smokies is a moot point, though, since these have joined
the ranks of Stilton, Parma ham and champagne-awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the EC, which means it must be produced in the traditional manner within a five mile radius of Arbroath. This is not only a boost to the smaller cottage industries in and around Arbroath, it means that so-called Arbroath smokies from London or Hull are no longer entitled to use the name. Since Iain’s is a traditional display rather then a commercial enterprise, however, his smokies can be called ‘Original smokies from Arbroath’ by rights; the customers in the queue simply call them delicious.

After the poles are laid on the barrels, they are covered with the ‘tarry poke’ (Auchmithie’s Smokie doyenne, Margaret Horn’s terminology), or as Iain calls it, a smokie cloot. They are left for 40 minutes or so, turning once halfway through. Then they are moved from the barrel, all golden and tarry, dripping with tasty, salty juices, ready to be taken home for tea or eaten there and then straight from the paper. There is no better nor more natural Scottish fast food.

Find out more about the smokie – and buy online – go to Ian Spink’s website:

Smokies and parsnip soup

Recipes serve 4 – 6

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

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

Smokies Salade Niçoise

Recipes serve 4 – 6

Crisp salad leaves, washed
3 – 4 large tomatoes, quartered
100g/4 oz green beans, blanched for 1 minute until al dente
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, quartered
4 – 6 waxy salad potatoes, cooked in their skins, quartered
1 pair Arbroath smokies, flaked
Good handful of black olives
50g/2 oz tin of anchovies, drained
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of 1 lemon

Place the salad in a large salad bowl then top with the tomatoes, beans, eggs, potatoes and finally the Smokies, then olives and anchovies. Whisk together the oil and lemon juice, season, then pour this dressing over justbefore serving.

Baked buttered smokies

Recipes serve 4 – 6

2 pairs of smokies

Place the smokies on a large sheet of buttered foil and tightly wrap. Bake in a preheated oven (180C / 350F / Gas4) for 15 – 20 minutes until hot. Unwrap, tuck a knob of butter inside each pair of fish. Re-wrap, leave 2 - 3 minutes then devour.

Smokie Pots

Recipes serve 4 – 6

200g / 7 oz spinach, cooked until wilted, patted thoroughly dry
25g / 1 oz butter
25g / 1 oz plain flour
300 ml / half pint milk
1 pair of Arbroath smokies, flesh flaked
40g / 1½ oz freshly grated parmesan

Place the spinach in the base of 4 ramekins. Season. Melt the butter in a pan, add the flour, stir well, cooking for 1 minute then add the milk and cook for 3 – 4 minutes until thickened, then season to taste and add the flaked smokies.
Spoon this over the spinach then top with the cheese. Bake at 190C / 375F / Gas5 for 12 – 15 minutes ( no more than 14 minutes if breaking in eggs) until golden and bubbling. Eat with plenty of good bread.