At Woodcock Smokery we work exclusively with wild fish, not farmed fish, and cure our products in a traditional manner.
This takes prime quality fish, native hardwood timbers, skill and plenty of time.
All aspects of the process such as filleting, salting, pin-boning and slicing are done by hand.
At the smokery, the fish are assessed for freshness and lack of damage, and then hand-filleted. Next, they are carefully washed and laid out in beds of dry salt. The period of salting is calculated individually, based on over 25 years of experience, as these are wild creatures and are unique individuals. So each fish is given different salting times according to its size and fat-content.
Dry-salting is slow, in keeping with the Slowfood philosophy, and gives good texture and good curing. We cure the fish with dry salt which intensifies the flavour. With salmon we salt the thicker end of the side only; it is then absorbed down to the tail and this means that the flavour is not over-salty. After rinsing off the salt, the 'sides' are put into our kilns, and the long smoking period over oak and beech begins.
Ireland is well known for its rainfall, and humidity is one of the natural controls on the smoking time. So, if conditions are perfect, with cool air temperatures and low humidity, the process might last only 12 hours. After the initial smoking period the flesh has shrunk back a bit which makes the bones more visible and the sides are 'pin-boned' again by hand, to remove those bones.
Sides are put back into the kilns, and smoked until we have a dry pellicle, which is totally inhospitable to bacteria.
Vacuum-packing further ensures a good shelf life for our smoked fish. After vacuum-packing, the sides are held in the cold room at 4°C until required.
If a batch of fish is cured out to the optimum, this batch will be labelled for 'maturing', and will be held for a further period of three months before being offered for sale. The flavours in this fish become more homogenised through the flesh, rather than the 'stratified' flavours (salt, smoke, fish) which the regular sides have.
The entire process is HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) approved and all the stages of the curing process are logged batch by batch to ensure full traceability.
The art, however, is in producing a lovely balanced flavour of smoke, salt and fish. After nearly thirty years in the business, we think we know how to do that.