Thursday, 18 October 2012

Absolutely Kippered

We brought back a souvenir from our trip to Northumberland - kippers. 

Kippers are salted and smoked herrings, and were very popular in Victorian and Edwardian times, particularly as a breakfast dish.  The modern kipper was invented in Northumberland, and we bought ours from Swallowfish in Seahouses, who have been in business since 1843.  With no additives, preservatives or colourings, these are about as authentic as you can get.

There is a lot to be said for kippers.  They are high in omega 3, cheap and sustainable.  So why have they fallen so far out of fashion?

Kippers Benedict
My first experiment was a Nigel Slater recipe "Kippers Benedict", where the kippers are teamed with hollandaise sauce.  What isn't delicious with  butter sauce after all?

My first task was to cook the kipper which was very simple.  Just put in hot water for 5 - 10 minutes.  The next step was boning the fish, which was a royal pain in the ass.  I'm no expert in fish anatomy, but even when I did manage to lift off a fillet, this was full of tiny hair-like bones running right through the flesh.  While the answer is maybe to 'man up' and just eat the bones, it was my lunch and I didn't want to. I actually gave up half way through and made Mr G do the rest.  He didn't fare any better, which was relieving and disheartening in equal measures. After all that palaver I didn't feel bad about cheating on the hollandaise front and using a shop bought sauce.

The taste test - I was pleasantly surprised by the flavour, being not as strongly salty or 'fishy' as I'd feared.  While it did vary a little with the edges of the fish tasting stronger, much of the flesh was plump, moist and quite mildly flavoured.  While I'd expect sharp flavours like vinegar or citrus to complement an oily fish, the creaminess was actually a nice balance to the salt.

With both me and the house already smelling of fish, and another kipper still to go, I kept up the kipper odyssey.  
Eliza Acton's recipe is a little different from the one we'd recognise today, being more of an omelette.  It includes cold rice, cold fish and cayenne, but the eggs are beaten and mixed in, with the dish then cooked until set.  Mrs Beeton's later recipe again contains the same basic ingredients, but the eggs are boiled this time.

My recipe:
1 kipper, cooked and bones removed
1/2 an onion, chopped
Curry powder (1 tbsp)
1 cup rice
1 cup peas
2 hard boiled eggs to garnish

I fried the onion in a little oil together with the curry powder for few minutes.  I then added the rice and 2 cups water and simmered until the liquid was nearly all absorbed.  I added the peas for the last 2 minutes of cooking.  I peeled and quartered the hard boiled eggs to garnish.  You could use the cooking liquid from the fish instead of plain water, but I wanted to dial down the fish flavour.

The taste test - This turned out to be a very good dish.  There was a nice ratio of rice to fish and the curry powder provided a good balance to the strength of flavour from the kippers.


Overall, I'd be surprised if kippers do manage to stage a strong come back.  For all their positives, there an embodiment of why people don't like fish - full of bones and too 'fishy' tasting.  The smell and taste really did linger.  Hours later despite repeated washing my hands still smelt like a fish wife's.  I ate a chocolate biscuit after lunch, and this too ended up tasting of fish.  That definately got the thumbs down on the taste test!