What are Arbroath Smokies?

There is an Arbroath smokies easy recipe further down the page if you already have a couple of smokies on the kitchen table and what to do with them is starting to bother you.

You cannot travel through the coastal Angus town of Arbroath without noticing Arbroath smokies – or at least the many fish shops that both prepare and sell them.

Arbroath smokies are an Angus food product with Protected Geographical Indication. Yes – it’s a special smoked fish. But whatever you do, don’t call it a kipper.

Protected Geographical Indication for Arbroath Smokies

Like champagne or parma ham, the protected status of the Arbroath smokie means it can only be produced close to its place of origin.

In this case it means within five miles (eight km) of the town of Arbroath, though, strictly speaking, the smokie originated in the wee clifftop village of Auchmithie, just to the north of Arbroath.

Arbroath smokie - cooked and served plainly.
An Arbroath smokie actually in its natural habitat – a pub restaurant in Arbroath, Angus. This one is fairly unadorned but still a delicious flavour.

Arbroath smokies are taken very seriously, hereabouts. Small haddock are gutted, beheaded and salted (usually overnight).

Tied together by the tail in pairs, they are then hung over rods suspended over a wee smoky fire in a barrel and the process is controlled by placing damp hessian cloth over the conflagration.

(At least, that’s the basic traditional method. The process is scaled up in the local smoke-houses.)

By the way, you always buy Arbroath smokies in pairs, as far as I can tell, as they are cooked that way with their tails tied together by jute string.

Why jute? Because there used to be tons of it around as the nearby city of Dundee was a massive jute product manufacturing and mill centre.

Anyway, that’s why smokies is usually seen in the plural – like a brace of smokie perhaps.

A hot smoked method for smokies

The smoking process is Scandinavian in origin, say the experts, and it is a hot smoking technique, meaning the fish is smoked and cooked at the same time. (Unlike that poor relation, the kipper…)

Basically, hot-smoked = cooked, ready to eat; cold-smoked = still raw, requires further cooking. And while smokies are haddock, kippers are herring. Forget kippers for the moment…

Plenty of fish shops in Arbroath process and sell smokies
Plenty of fish shops in Arbroath process and sell smokies

To be honest, you might find the reverence and solemnity which surrounds the smokie a little curious, but ‘tis a harmless local custom.

Also it keeps people in jobs and no coastal Angus restaurant is without its smokie offering, either plain with tatties or in many other forms, including a gratin, flan or chowder.

You can even use it in a modified Cullen skink. (You’ll find a recipe for that on the link.)


An Arbroath Smokies Recipe

This involves no cooking. (Remember? Arbroath smokies are bought ‘ready to eat’ if you want to – though you can grill ’em with butter too…)

But here follows what I do with Arbroath smokies – and if you are careful you don’t need to worry about those horrid wee bones.

(There are two sorts of fish eaters: those with a devil-may-care attitude to bones, and those who filter and mumble their way through their fishy dishes with a look of close intent and laser focused concentration.

I am in this second camp. Ospreys and herons are examples of the first kind.)

Brandade de smokie recipe

Original and authentically stained note for Brandade de smokie.

No kidding. That’s what I wrote on the original notebook. How pretentious.

I have no idea why – many years ago –  I started to write recipes in something as fragile as a spiral bound reporter’s notebook.

Sure enough, the pages started to fall out and disintegrate. I rescued this recipe though and had to look up exactly what a ‘Brandade’ is. 

At its simplest, a brandade uses salt cod and not a lot else, all mashed up. It’s a Mediterranean dish with regional variations. It possibly derives from old German ‘brand’ for sword (hmmm) and maybe that refers to a mashing implement (hmmm again). 

No cooking is necessary. This is essentially a blending or emulsifying exercise. Obviously, Arbroath smokies are substituted for salt cod in this instance.

It’s also a mix and taste as you go recipe, requiring:

  • 2 Arbroath smokies at least (which always are tied in twos anyway), so it depends on how many you want to feed.
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed – so, one per individual fish.
  • Some double cream (my original note just says ‘cream’ but let’s indulge here)
  • Olive oil (best quality you can afford)
  • ½ lemon (juice of)
  • Black pepper to taste
Unwrapping Arbroath smokies.
Unwrapping Arbroath smokies.
Twisting off the smokies' tails.
Twisting off the smokies’ tails.
Cut towards the smokie tail a little.
Cut towards the smokie tail a little.

Method:

OK, it’s really a kind of smoked fish pate or emulsion.

Gently remove backbone of the smokie. (Ah, such a simple sentence encapsulating so much anxiety.)

Start to 'peel' open the smokie.
Start to ‘peel’ open the smokie.
...and press with thumbs to free backbone.
…and press with thumbs to free backbone.
Operation backbone declared a success!
Operation backbone declared a success!

Then, flake the fish, carefully, into a bowl, using your best reading glasses to ensure all bones are removed. (No, just removing the backbone does not take them all away.)

When you have removed all the wee bones, clean your reading glasses of fishy fingerprints, go through the bowl again and find one or two more bones. Life’s just like that sometimes.

Mash or crush the fish meat. Use a fork, knife, or sword if you have one. Or a slow pulsed blender. (But do not reduce to mush!)

There’s something satisfying about the crushing and fine flaking by hand and, besides, it’s more environmentally friendly. That’s my preference.

Arbroath smokies - Brandade ingredients
Arbroath smokies – Brandade ingredients

Add lemon juice, garlic and pepper but be prepared to add more. Remember: taste as you go – especially with this next step.

Add, time and time about, oil and cream, until mixture has consistency of ‘creamed potatoes’ and tastes delicious. My original note says twice as much oil as cream but I would be quite relaxed about that.

By the way are ‘creamed potatoes’ a 1970s thing? I suppose I must have meant smooth mashed potatoes.

Personally, I prefer it with a bit of the flaky fish meat still recognisable. Which won’t happen if you’re heavy-handed with the food processor.

The finished Brandade de smokie de Arbroath. (How pretentious!)
Dress your Brandade de smokie any way you like. This one is a little under-dressed.

Spoon into serving dish.

You could sprinkle it with dill, if you like, and serve with whatever you normally prefer: bread, oatcakes, crackers or Presbyterian Ryvita.

That’s it. You guests will be mightily impressed – trust me.

More Scottish recipes here.

Foolproof scones, anyone?