Look at this beautiful, beautiful fish. It’s a Scottish kipper, a smoked herring. They split the herrings along the back from head to tail, gut them and soak them in brine. Then they hang them up on tenter hooks (the metal hooks used originally to fix wet cloth to a frame (a tenter) so it dried straight), hang them on racks and smoke them in big kilns.
Kippering is one of those methods of preserving fish, mainly salmon and herring, whose origins are lost in the mists of time. The word kipper is certainly Old English, and the most likely derivation is from the Old English kippian, to spawn. Spawning fish are not good to eat fresh, but they turn up in large numbers, so kippering is a good way to deal with a glut. The crude smoking process also used to turn the fish a golden red, hence the expression red herring. In the 1840s John Woodger of Seahouses, in Northumberland, decided to adapt the old salmon-kippering process, gutting the herring and smoking it slowly over oak for 6 to 18 hours. Modern methods preserve even more of the original colour of the fish, and it glints gold and silver, with a blue black back and a white belly.
Anyone who grew up in the North of England, or
You can jug them, bake them in foil, fry them or eat them raw. But I prefer them grilled, with a knob of butter to slide around over them under the grill. And all you really need to go with them is good fresh bread and butter.
If, however, you would like something more in the way of a vegetable, let me offer to you a recipe for colcannon from none other than Dame Helen Mirren. And here it is:
Ingredients for Colcannon
1 lb/450 g kale or cabbage, finely chopped
7-8 fl oz/200-225 ml milk or cream
2 small leeks or green spring onion tops, chopped
2 lb/900 g potatoes, preferably Irish, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of ground mace
4 tbsp butter melted
Cook the kale or cabbage in a large pan of boiling water until very tender, then drain and keep warm. Put the milk or cream in a small pan with the leeks or spring onions and simmer until soft. In another saucepan, cook the potatoes until tender, then drain and mash them.
Mix in the leeks or onion tops and enough milk or cream to give a creamy consistency. Add the kale or cabbage and season with salt, pepper and mace. Drizzle with the melted butter and serve immediately.