The process by which they are treated is called “kippering.”
The fish’s head is sometimes cut off. The fish is then split down its back, and cleaned. Otherwise, it is left whole, butterflied.
The fish is then lightly salted, often through brining for 20 minutes. Othertimes, it is rubbed with a salt cure of salt, pepper and spices.
It is then hung from hooks in a large kiln for about 24 hours and cold-smoked with smoke from oak below 91 F (33 C) so that the smoking doesn’t actually cook the fish. As they are smoked, they lose some of their moisture and weight as liquid drops out of them, and they turn a red or a brownish, coppery colour. Nowadays, they are usually smoked less to preserve sale weight. Owing to this shorter smoking time, they don’t have the colour that they would otherwise, so they are dyed instead to make up for it.
Kipper fillets will have fewer bones in them than whole Kippers.
Salmon can also be kippered, and in the fall of 2010, the UK grocery store chain giant Sainsbury’s announced that it would be introducing Kippers made from sardine, for consumers who were put off herring Kippers by all the small bones in them.
In Craster, Northumbria, England, they use a technique developed in the second half of the 1800s, which is a light cure, smoked slowly over an oak fire. The kippers end up with a rich copper colour without dyes being used. One of the smokehouses, Robson’s Yard, built in 1856, is still being used.
Kippers warmed in hot water. Snip heads off, put into a large bowl, jug or pot. Cover with boiling water, then cover the bowl, jug or pot. Let sit for 6 minutes, drain and pat dry on paper towel. Serve with butter.
Kippers need to be cooked before eating.
They can be fried, baked, barbequed, or broiled (aka grilled in the UK.)
To broil (aka grill in the UK): Line a pan with foil, then rub butter or brush melted butter on the foil. If the kipper has the head and tails on, snip those off with scissors and discard. Brush the skin side with melted butter or rub with butter. Lay fish on foil, skin side up. Grill for 1 minute. Then turn over, flesh-side up and grill for another 4 minutes until butter is very hot. Nice served with lemon to take the edge off the smoky fish taste.
Their smoky fish smell can really fill a house.
Must be refrigerated.
The kippering process was invented by John Woodger in 1843 at Seahouses, Northumberland, England. The story is that it was inspired by a split herring left by accident to dry in a shed overnight with a smouldering fire. However, given that man has smoked fish for millennia, and given that there was a fire at all in the first place in that shed, it probably wasn’t accidental.
Kippers used to be very popular for breakfast
Literature & Lore
“The herring is a fish of endless resource and sovereign merit and when suddenly transformed by smoke into the glorious kipper, it’s the cook’s greatest blessing.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. June 1950.
As breeding season approaches, male salmon develop a sharp beak which is called the “kip.” At this stage, they are sometimes called “kippers.”
Some speculate that the word “kippering” may come from this, as salmon at breeding time aren’t considered good to eat, but the kippering process overcomes this. Others speculate that the copper colour of kippers somehow led to the word “copper” becoming “kipper.”
Wallop, Harry. Sardine kippers, for those that don’t like bones. London: Daily Telegraph. 23 October 2010.