The new fish supper: Kippers are popping up on all the best menus

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Kippers have captured our hearts again and the smoky treats are far too good to eat only for breakfast, says Anthea Gerrie

It could be the state of the economy, or maybe just a nostalgia for simpler times. But whatever the reason, the kipper has recaptured the British heart and palate. Marks & Spencer recently reported a 300 per cent increase in sales, but the smoked herrings they have seen flying out of the store at £1 per pack are also attracting a well-heeled clientele in London's smartest restaurants. St John, The Wolseley and the Savoy's River Room all have kippers on the menu and their whole, un-split siblings, bloaters, are a much-awaited treat at the Soho Champagne bar, Randall & Aubin. The owner, chef Ed Baines, reports: "They fly off the bar whenever I put them on."

Savoy archivist Susan Scott says kippers have been a fixture on the breakfast menu since the hotel opened in 1889 and, more than 100 years later, River Restaurant manager Emma Sandle reports they are rivalling egg dishes as the favourite hot choice. All this may surprise those who feel kippers are declassé and too pungent and bony to be given fridge space, but part of the new wave of popularity could be that today's version are not always what they seem.

While M&S stands by its traditional smoked herrings, Sainsburys – while glorifying that item in their Taste the Difference range – have simultaneously instituted a fishy revolution by kippering sardines. "It has overcome a certain resistance. Although we've seen growth in kippers in general, we've found that substituting sardines has introduced them to a whole new generation," says Darryl Burchell, who oversees Sainsburys fresh food counters.

"While the kippered herring remains the province of an older, more affluent customer, for many customers there's the issue of bones, which is not a problem with sardines."

Some smoking professionals, however, believe sardines are too small to take well to the process, which basically involves the fish being split and set out in a hot shed on a tray. They feel the new intruders can dry out too quickly.

For restaurants that pride themselves on purveying traditional British produce, it has to be the real thing. St John sells kippered herrings landed in both the Isle of Man and Lowestoft and chef Fergus Henderson says: "There's nothing finer, especially when washed down with a glass of Black Velvet."

But it can indeed be the province of the purist, he warns, which is why he buys from different sources: "The Manx is quite dark and intense, while the Lowestoft is a more laid-back kipper."

Because he feels the general intensity of kippers is emphasised by grilling, he prefers to throw them into a hot oven, "then add a big knob of butter and keep an eye on them".

Although they are on the breakfast menu at St John's East End venture Bread and Wine, they feature all day long on the main restaurant's bar menu, and Henderson says: "They make a very fine supper." But not if you require veg at teatime: "They get in the way," he believes. "The only other items on the plate should be brown bread and a wedge of lemon."

M&S believes the very presence of the working man's kipper in trendy eateries has driven their sales boom.

"Whenever an ingredient becomes fashionable out of the home we see customer demand increase, but there is more to it than fashion," says fish buyer Chloe Soppet. "There's been a general increase of interest in smoked foods, so sales of smoked haddock and smoked cheese are also up.

"But also, there's a nostalgic return to traditional foods when people are having a tough time financially. And there's also the fact kippers are healthier option than a fry-up for people who have been opting for hot breakfasts in this record cold winter."

Indeed, health figures loom large in any discussion of kippers, with Burchell claiming: "They are so rich in omega-3 that by turning on a new generation to kippers, we're guaranteeing a nation with a healthier future."

This could well be so. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid which helps prevent heart disease, encourages proper development of babies' nervous systems and has even been associated with lowering the risk of cancer.

Kipper connoisseurs will be concerned with provenance, as well as health benefits, with many believing the finest come from Craster in Northumberland.

There is a fierce debate over whether kippers originated on the Northumberland coast in 1843 or in Great Yarmouth hundreds of years earlier – in 1599, Thomas Nashe wrote of a fisherman there having discovered the delights of smoked herring by accident.

It's been an exportable treat – in both Europe and the USA, kippers are eaten cold from the can as a gourmet treat. Back at home, Organico has introduced tinned kippers prepared this way, cold on toast or warmed through in a saucepan of hot water – though you'll pay nearly three times the price for only three-quarters the amount.

Frankly, there's so little fuss in a fresh kipper, whether you just stick the whole pack of boil-in-the-bag into a saucepan of water and simmer to heat through, or take a fishmonger's specimen and lay it on a foil-lined grill, that cans seem redundant unless you are after ready-flaked fish for a recipe.

And at an astonishing £1 or less for 200 grams, the fresh variety has got to be the best value fish in the market.

Cooking with kippers

* GIs billeted in Britain startled their wartime hosts by eating marmalade with their kippers, a strange combination American food writer Marlena Spieler, who lives in Hampshire, unwittingly reprised: "Knowing the Indian cookbook author Mridula Baljekar loves smoked fish, I bought some kippers as a starter for our dinner. I served them with the home-made fruit chutneys she brought, and the pairing was inspired."

* A less startling sweet foil for salty kipper flesh is sliced onions caramelised in butter to which ripe tomatoes have been added. The cooked-down mixture is delicious piled the length of the grilled kipper's central divide.

* It may take a leap too far of the imagination to do as Haitians do and fold kipper flesh into pasta. However, it combines well with rice in Organico's kedgeree recipe. Flake a can or two of their kippers into hard-boiled eggs and chopped sauteed onion, season with salt, cayenne and black pepper and add to basmati flavoured with turmeric, then stir in a little butter and/or double cream.

* Fergus Henderson makes kipper pate, though admits: "I only do it for home. I wouldn't put it on the restaurant menu because there's something just so Seventies about it."

Kipper and haddock pie

By Tristan Welch

This recipe, which combines kippers with unsmoked haddock, has been a favourite at London restaurant Launceston Place.

Boil 500g potatoes in salted water until cooked. Meanwhile poach 2 whole kippers and 200g fresh haddock in 400g whole milk infused with a bayleaf. Strain when cooled, reserve the milk and flake the fish.

Make a roux with 20g each of butter and plain flour, gradually add milk and simmer for 10 minutes, while wilting 300g baby spinach with a little butter in a separate pan.

Divide dried spinach and fish between 4 serving dishes, pour over the sauce, mash cooked potatoes with 20g each milk and butter, fold in 3 egg yolks and season. Pipe the potato mixture on top of the pie and bake for 20 minutes.

Smokehouse favourites

Smoked mackerel, which has the same Omega-3 benefits as kippers and other oily fish, can be dull when served up as a plain or peppered fillet. But it makes a delectable dip simply mashed into Greek yogurt or cream cheese, with the optional additions of parsley, lemon juice and/or a little horseradish sauce.

Starter of the Year accolades have been heaped on the smoked eel "soldiers" at Eddie Gilberts of Ramsgate, which are breaded and deep-fried to dip into soft-boiled duck egg. It would be possible to ape this idea with one of the drier, more intense kippers such as the smoked Arbroaths from M&S.

While herring and trout are smoked aplenty in Arbroath, the town is best-known for its eponymous Smokie, considered by many the king of smoked haddock. At Canteen, a London restaurant chain, it's served two ways – on its own as a starter or with spinach and mash as a main.

Smoked haddock is a somewhat pricier proposition than kippers, but also invariably graces the breakfast menus of traditional British hotels. There, is, however, more to do with it than poaching in milk and topping with a poached egg. Diced and mixed with cubes of leek and potato in milk and cream, smoked haddock makes the delicious Scottish chowder known as cullen skink.

For those who like the idea of smoked haddock but are averse to the idea of handling it, the Saucy Fish Company have created a sealed bag for Tesco which can be put straight into the oven with a cheddar and chive sauce. It's one step on from the boil-in-the-bag kipper, which also needs no handling except to release from its bag, heat and serve.

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game