Chris Sparkes, Jaines & Son
The traditional fish smokers of Grimsby know all about the risk of foods becoming forgotten, and have fought against it. In 2009 Grimsby smoked fish was awarded PGI status by the EU. Chris Sparkes, whose company Jaines & Son supplies Grimsby smoked haddock to us, says, “The tradition goes back to the mid-1800s and it was in danger of being forgotten, but it has now been recognised as a unique product.” Grimsby’s smokehouses are listed buildings, and in their tall, tar-lined chimneys, the brined fish fillets are drained on long metal rods called spreats and cold-smoked overnight. “The fish are placed up in the houses at a certain height depending on the weight and size of the fish,” says Chris, “and they know where to put a certain size of fish to get it done exactly right. That’s an age-old skill.”
What’s the story?
The tradition of smoking haddock in Grimsby began before refrigeration and has persisted long after the advent of quicker (and less picturesque) methods. Chris Sparkes, who supplies the fish to us, says, “despite the modern methods available now, doing it the traditional way is what people prefer, and once you’ve had one or the other you know.”
Geography plays an important part in the cold-smoking process which produces smoked haddock with a firm texture and light salty-smoky flavour. “Sawdust is lit at the bottom of the chimney, but there’s no real heat involved,” says Chris. “What you end up with is unique to this location because of the wind that comes from the estuary and the north sea which maintain a temperature that’s just right. We’re not subject to the humid rains that the south of the country gets. It’s quite a complicated process and it goes back over such a long time. The skills are passed down and time-tested.”
With some pride, Chris describes the finished product as “like an angel caressing you. It’s not oversmoked. It flakes away, it’s moist, it’s still translucent, and there’s something about the natural smoke which is absolutely superb. If you get yourself a poached egg on top of it, you’re in food heaven, you really are.”