By Vivienne Pearson
I was first introduced to the delights of smoked fish when I lived in London in my 20s. My friends and I thought it the height of sophistication to create a platter of smoked fish and salad for a long English summer lunch.
Back in Australia, apart from some occasional smoked salmon from the supermarket, it is not a lunch I have had very often. And, with recent reports about salmon farming being a far cry from our preferred image of wild fish leaping out of a flowing river (see Four Corners episode from 31 October 2016), artificially pink salmon is a little less appealing.
Enter not one, but two brand-new local alternatives. Starting within months of each other, Cured Seafoods and The Bay Smokehouse are both smoking fish locally.
Given the paucity of smoked-fish culture in Australia, maybe it’s not surprising that both businesses were started by people who come from other countries.
Damien Curtis, of The Bay Smokehouse, grew up in Europe and was brought up eating and loving English smoked fish before training there to be a ‘master smoker’. ‘I love the magical effect that smoking has on an oily fish; it’s almost like alchemy,’ Damien says.
Emma Francis, of Cured Seafoods, grew up in New Zealand, where smoked fish is commonly eaten. Her first job, at age 14, was in a seafood store and she brought the tradition of home-smoked fish when she moved to the Byron Shire 20 years ago. ‘It was always our party trick!’ she says.
Emma offers a Smoked Ocean Trout, sourced from Tasmania, a Rainbow Trout, from Victoria and locally sourced Mullet. Damien offers smoked locally caught Spanish Mackerel, Tailor and Sea Mullet, as well as smoked fish dips and rillettes (a traditional French patê-style dip, which is made paleo and dairy free).
Mullet is a fish with an undeserved bad reputation. ‘It is underappreciated but is a lovely oily fish, and it is plentiful,’ says Damien. ‘It is so good for you,’ says Emma. ‘Maybe we need to start calling it “mull-ay” instead!’
Both use hardwoods for their smoking. ‘I try not to choose strong-flavoured wood,’ says Damien. ‘My mixture of hardwoods is my secret ingredient,’ says Emma.
At this stage, both only sell locally. Damien’s The Bay Smokehouse is at New Brighton, Byron, Murwillumbah, Kingscliff and Ballina Farmers Markets as well as the Bruns Fish Co-op, The Farm and Bay Seafood. Emma’s Cured Seafoods is at a myriad of independent stores, including Baz&Shaz, Ocean Shores Butcher, Newy Store (where she also works) and the Federal and Main Arm stores.
So, how best to enjoy a spot of smoked fish? Emma stresses the benefit of leaving her fish out of the fridge for 20–30 minutes before eating. ‘It’s best at room temperature,’ she stresses. Then, her preferred way of eating is simple: ‘On some fresh sourdough with a squirt of lime,’ she says. ‘That’s how I roll.’
Damien has similar taste. ‘With a lemony salad – warm crusty bread and salad,’ he says.
For me, I will still be serving it on a platter with salad. I’m set for a long summery lunch – with the bonus of better weather, even as we head into winter, than I ever got during my London smoked-fish-eating summer.
Cured Seafoods: www.curedseafoods.com.au. The Bay Smokehouse: Facebook+Instagram @thebaysmokehouse
Damien Curtis and Brett Hogan with some Spanish Mackerel.
The Bay Smokehouse fish and rillettes
Emma Francis from Cured Seafoods