Salt, Smoke & Skill
Passionate Irish producer Sally Barnes’ mastery of traditional fish smoking and her use of sustainable local catch bring her to Slow Fish 2011 this May. Here she tells us her story…
Our Woodcock Smokery is located just outside the pretty seaside village of Castletownshend in West Cork, Ireland. There is a long tradition of fishing in this region, but the story of our smokery begins in 1981.
At that time, my fisherman husband was bringing home large quantities of delicious fresh fish which we very much enjoyed cooking and eating. However, we didn’t have a freezer and so I began experimenting with smoking as a way to preserve them and to enhance the natural flavors, and the rest is history.
Our age-old method of salt-curing and then smoke-drying the surface of the flesh is time consuming but gives an excellent product. All steps are done by hand, and rely on precise skills in filleting and salting of the fresh fish and timing the smoking process.
The art of smoking has been almost lost over the years, as many people have turned to artificial smoke flavors, dyes and preservatives to try to speed up the process. The use of dyes was commonplace when I started out years ago, but as a mother I didn’t want my children eating artificial substances, and from the start decided to stick with using wood. My kippers looked positively anemic alongside the orange dyed ones, but I persisted, and it wasn’t long before some of these dyes were banned in the EU.
We choose sustainable fish, and as much as possible we buy from local boats and suppliers, helping to sustain fishing families and protecting jobs and incomes. Cheaper imported fish are available to us of course, but I rest easier at night knowing that we are doing our best to help our community.
My younger daughter, Joleine is following in my footsteps and is now in charge of production. It makes me so proud to have her working alongside me, and to know that in her hands the quality of our fish will continue to the next generation of consumers.
In 1996, I attended Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto in Turin and became a huge fan of the association’s ethos. Many of us live such fast lives these days that we don’t take the time to enjoy both preparing our food and the pleasures of eating amongst good company. Our methodology is time-honored and traditional. All we add is salt, smoke, skill, care, and lots of time. Fish don’t get any slower than that.