Are the days of kippered herring over?
By Mike Urch, SeafoodSource contributing editor
01 November, 2010
The days of scores, possibly hundreds, of women and girls processing freshly landed herring as the fish made their way down the east coast of the United Kingdom, as far as Lowestoft, are long gone. However, the death knell could now be sounding for one of the best-loved products to be made from herring, the kipper, at least as far as the mass market is concerned.
It was reported in the Daily Telegraph last week that Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s leading supermarket chains, is about to start selling sardines as kippers instead of the traditional and more familiar herring.
The process of kippering, long synonymous with the cold-smoking of cured, split herring, can in fact be applied to any species of fish — wild-caught salmon in the UK also used to be kippered — as well as meat and poultry. It is a means of preservation achieved by rubbing with salt and/or spices, followed by drying in smoke or warm air.
The process was apparently first used for herring by John Woodger, who worked at Seahouses on the Northumbrian coast of England in the 1840s. There is a story that it was inspired by a split herring left by accident to dry in a shed overnight by a smoldering fire. Be that as it may, the kippered herring, or kipper, has been produced in the UK for more than 100 years.
The kipper was once a favorite breakfast dish, although also eaten at other times of the day. The fat content of herring to be kippered should be at least 11 percent, and it is hard to think of a more healthy and nutritious food.
So why is Sainsbury’s switching to sardines? Apparently, customers are not buying traditional kippers nearly as much as they used to because of the bones in the product. Russell Crowe, Sainsbury’s fish counter buyer, is reported as saying: “One reason for Cornish sardines’ surge in popularity is because the bones are so fine that when cooked they [sardines] become virtually boneless providing a solution for people who love fish but don’t like bones.”
Since a traditional kipper is produced from a whole herring that has been completely split from head to tail along one side of the backbone, but still joined at the belly, and opened out — the gut is removed — then all the bones are still present in the final product. It is easy to remove the backbone once the kipper has been cooked, although fine bones will remain in the flesh and need to be carefully removed when eating the kipper.
Unfortunately, bones in fish, not just herring, are a major reason why many consumers, particularly children, don’t like to eat fish. In order to try and solve this problem with kippers, some processors sell them as fillets and remove the backbone. These are often presented with a knob of butter in boil-in-the-bag format, which eliminates the lingering odor that can occur when grilling or frying kippers. This can also be off-putting to some consumers.
While sales of traditional kippers have fallen in Sainsbury’s stores, sales of sardines have increased, and the company says that it is confident that kippers produced from sardines will take off. Herring kipper producers say a kipper made from a sardine will be very much smaller than that made from a herring. However, the bones in sardines are a great deal smaller and people are used to eating them when they consume canned sardines.
So, Sainsbury’s may be on to a winner, and if sardine kippers sell well in its stores, other supermarket chains will surely follow suit. This will be a sad day for those people who still love to eat kippers made from herring. Although specialist small smokehouses will continue to sell them, they will be much more difficult to find.All Commentaries >
01 November, 2010