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London Cure Smoked Salmon

Secret Smokehouse proudly produces Protected Geographical Indicator [PGI] status 'London Cure Smoked Salmon' from our small, artisan smokehouse based by London Fields, E8.

The characteristics of London Cure Smoked Salmon are linked to the geographical area on the basis of tradition, reputation, the smoking process (largely unchanged since 1905) and the skills of those involved in that process. These skills have been passed down from generation to generation.

Salmon smoking in London started in the late 1800s when Eastern European immigrants who settled in London’s East End used it as a way of preserving fish at a time when refrigeration was basic. The Jewish population of the UK increased from 46,000 in 1880 to about 250,000 by 1919. They lived primarily in the large industrial cities, especially London, Manchester and Leeds. In London, Jews lived principally in the Spitalfields and Whitechapel areas, close to the docks, and the East End became known as a Jewish neighbourhood. When the Jews arrived from Eastern Europe they brought their own cuisine and the need to supply them with traditional food products saw the introduction of the first smokehouses in the East End.

In the early days, the East London smokers imported salmon from the Baltic, not realising that wild salmon was available from Scotland each summer. Having discovered the Scottish fish at Billingsgate market, they realised it would be easier to use the native fish and the taste of the finished product was considered superior. The light smoke applied to the London Cure allowed chefs to use it on their menus and it became extremely popular across the western world. Historically, Scottish wild salmon was sent to Billingsgate Market from at least the 19th century onwards. Scottish salmon has a worldwide reputation for excellence and the London Cure relies on exceptional raw materials to produce a superior smoked salmon. What makes London Cure Smoked Salmon special is not just the salmon used, but also the light smoking process. The London Cure is special because it smokes the salmon to preserve it without leaving a heavily smoked flavour. From its origins, the beauty of London Cure Smoked Salmon was that it enabled fish to be preserved whilst showcasing its quality and freshness. Today, this quality and freshness sets the London Cure apart from other smoked salmon which is usually mass produced. Mass produced salmon, processed by machine does not always use the freshest or the best quality salmon. Ingredients such as sugar, disproportionate amounts of salt or liquid smoke can be added and it frequently has an excessively smoky taste – often to disguise poor quality raw materials. As a London Curer, we purchase only the finest quality salmon which arrives at the smokehouse within 48 hours of harvest. As soon as it arrives the fish is cleaned, split and trimmed entirely by hand, whereas most smokehouses use machines which damage the flesh, give lower yields and cannot handle the firm flesh of very fresh fish. The fillets of salmon are then salted by hand with the bones left in to enhance the flavour. Years of experience ensure that a carefully controlled amount of smoke is added – a perfect blend of air-drying and dehumidification with precise quantities of smoke produced by smouldering oak sawdust. At all steps of the process London Cure Smoked Salmon is appraised and reappraised, ensuring that only the finest quality smoked salmon is delivered to customers. The attention to detail in the artisan process means that the finished product is outstanding.

The skill of salmon smoking and slicing has long been established in the East End and these artisanal skills have been handed down through generations. The salmon is always split and filleted by hand. Once split the fillets must be inspected and any fillets that are discovered to have blood spots or cancerous indicators and any that are not judged to be up to the standard required are rejected at source. Each fillet is then cured by hand – the person applying the salt cure must ensure just the right amount of salt is added to each fish, and that the length of time for which the salmon is cured is appropriate for the size of each fillet. Once smoked for the required length of time, the smoked side of salmon is trimmed by hand. The 32 pin bones are then deftly removed by hand using fish bone tweezers. To do this successfully, the pin bone must be pulled along its own axis (not straight up) in order to avoid damaging the delicate flesh of the salmon. The salmon is then hand carved which enhances the taste – it produces an uneven surface which releases more flavour. Carving is done across the body of the fish (D-cut) or vertical cut like very thin sliced of sushi. Quality control in the form of visual inspection means that every slice of smoked salmon is examined before leaving the Secret Smokehouse. Basic training on the principles of salmon carving and slicing takes time, and true artisan skills are honed over years.

As late as the mid 1970s there remained about a dozen salmon smokers in London’s East End. As one of the very few artisan London Cure smokers, we adhere to the traditional approach to create London Cure Smoked Salmon, retaining all the traditional skills associated with salmon smoking, and believe in maintaining artisan skills before they are lost for good.

The PGI preserves traditional salmon smoking methods, the reputation of the London Cure, the skills of those who produce the salmon and the London Cure recipe itself.