Who’d have thought it? Old-fashioned, tasty kipper is smoking its way back

English breakfast dishes

English breakfast dishes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Who loves a kipper in the morning? David Henshall does and, according to a couple of British supermarkets, we are tucking into them like in the good old days

The dear old kipper is making big comeback, bless its oily heart. And, according to two top supermarkets, it is because younger people are embracing it as a healthy, sustainable and tasty food. The little herrings, split butterfly fashion and smoked over smouldering oak woodchips are packed with goodness.

They were introduced as a breakfast delicacy towards the end of Victoria's reign and the North Sea herrings remained popular as a cheap standby meal until the 1970s when sales declined. "But we're beginning to see a kipper renaissance," says Jeremy Langley, fisheries manager at Waitrose, where sales of the smoked fish have increased by nearly seven per cent in the last year while Sainsbury's has seen a mammoth 109 per cent lift in demand.

"High in protein, low in calories, more of our customers are buying them. We think they could be a big food trend again in the next two of three years," says Langley.

Kippers were my father's favourite teatime treat and, as a small boy, I used to hold my nose when they were served up.

Now I love them and there's only one other thing to equal the kipper and that's the Arbroath smokie, a smoked haddock, speciality of the town by that name in Angus. Victor Patrick, a cricket-crazy Scot and deputy editor of the Sunday Express some years ago, used to send for a case of the smokies a couple of times a year and parcel them out to his friends in London. Delicious.

The smokie originated in the small village of Auchmithie, three miles north of Arbroath and when towards the end of the 19th century, Arbroath's fishing industry died, the town council offered the fishermen of Auchmithie an area of the town, known as the "fit o' the toon" along with the use of their modern harbour and much of the village then relocated, bringing their smokie recipe with them.

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There are all sorts of stories about the origins of the smokie and the kipper, usually wrapped round yarns about the fish being accidentally smoked for the first time by a disastrous building a-fire, but the name "kipper" goes back a long way and was first mentioned in a 13th century poem. As a verb, to kipper, means to preserve by rubbing with salt or other spices before drying in the open air or smoking and was used to preserve and store surplus fish.

The kipper is sometimes referred to as a red herring, although extra strong curing is needed to produce a truly red one. Samuel Pepys used it in his diary entry of February 28, 1660: "Up in the morning and had some red herrings to our breakfast, while my boot-heel was a-mending"

Kippers can be boiled, fried, grilled or roasted and are sent all over the world from places like Mallaig, once the busiest herring port in Europe, Stornaway and Loch Fine. The fishing fleets of Yarmouth and Lowestoft were once big names in the herring trade.

Not quite so well known and equally tasty is the finnan haddie, haddock smoked over green wood and peat in north east Scotland and a much-loved dish in Aberdeenshire since the 1640s. The method of curing did not give it a long shelf life and it was not seen in London until the trains came in the mid 19th century and enabled it to be rattled rapidly south.

It became a speciality of breakfast at the Savoy which is where I had one beautifully served when I was feeling flush and we stayed there for just one night while my daughter was appearing in the theatre next door.

The Savoy has since had a multi-million pound complete make-over and is well out of my range now.

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