It’s not often you can say that it all started with a broken freezer. For years, Chamberlain’s of London in Leadenhall Market have served the freshest fish straight from their market stall at Billingsgate Market in East London. They are filleted and blocked on site, and sent via the van straight to the restaurant for prep.
The smoked salmon, however, was brought down from a supplier in Scotland. It was always, they told me, of the very best quality.
But when the opportunity to produce their own came along, executive chef Andrew Jones and his team couldn’t resist.
“We wanted salmon with a slightly more delicate flavour,” Andrew told me, “And also the chance to train our staff in this new skill. From the initial cure, to the cold smoking process. These are skills you don’t get to learn in many places, and simply aren’t taught in colleges.”
The broken freezer was the precursor. It had begun to fail in the kitchen, and instead of recycling, Andrew removed the inner workings and reversed the fan, making their own smoker. With the fan now reversed, instead of cold air being pumped in, the fan could suck out smoke.
A small, wood burning stove was then attached, with Andrew investing in an old whiskey barrel to use for smoking. As there was still about a litre of Grants whiskey still inside on arrival, you can smell the whiskey burning off the wood as it burns, in turn giving the salmon even more flavour during smoking.
Having visited a number of different smoking houses, Andrew and his team decided on a cure made up of honey, crushed juniper berries, sugar, table salt and Maldon sea salt. With a 60/40 mix in favour of the sea salt, a softer cure is achieved, with the smaller table salt crystals not eating away at the flesh as fast.
After coating the fish, they are left to cure in the fridge for 72 hours, with the team turning the fish halfway to ensure an even cure.
For the smoking process, the salmon are washed and either hung or placed on one of the rungs in the converted fridge. Crucially, the temperature in the fridge must stay below 5 degrees Celsius otherwise bacteria starts to multiply. This is prevented by keeping blocks of ice at the bottom of the ‘smoker’. The process takes six hours, after which the salmon is wrapped in paper, labelled, and returned to the fridge until needed in the restaurant.
The Home-Cured Whiskey Barrel Smoked Salmon is a starter on the à la carte menu at Chamberlain’s of London, served inside a ring of capers, parsley, chopped boiled egg and soda bread croutons, topped with crème fraiche, a blob of caviar and a drizzle of lemon oil.
Such is the success of this new venture that the kitchen at Billingsgate and its reimagined freezer has increased production of the smoked salmon from 8-10 sides a week to 25.