Hanging around Stoke Newington in a back alley of an old industrial lot smoking … no this wasn’t the scene of shiftless youths loitering along the High Street in search of some trouble to get into. It was just Great British Chefs blogger, Chris Osburn, sitting in on a few days salmon smoking process with Ole Martin Hansen of Hansen & Lydersen, trying to figure out why his smoked salmon tastes so gorgeous.
Photography by Chris Osburn
Definitely fishy business yet far from debauched – the purity and simplicity of Ole’s product as well as how he operates his business is about as straightforward and wholesome as things get these days. Be it Stokie or anywhere else in London.
At the moment, H&L is essentially a one man operation requiring occasional temporary help when sales pick up (as you might imagine they are this festive time of year). What I gathered over the couple of days I spent observing Ole do his thing – from a 6am shopping expedition to Billingsgate Market for some salt to a late night kiln hanging session - the steps behind smoking salmon are pretty basic. Fillet it, salt it, hang it, smoke it, pack it.
However I came to realise that to get it as moreishly right as Ole does, smoking a high quality salmon takes years of experience and a nuanced, almost innate, understanding of the traditions behind the process. Norwegian born Hansen has been running his biz out of his tiny Stokie smokehouse for a couple of years now, but the method he uses to yield such delicate and tasty salmon dates back to 1923. It’s the way fishmonger Lyder-Nilsen Lydersen (Ole’s grandfather) used to do it.
From the moment the salmon arrives via a fishery in the Faroe Islands to Ole’s smokehouse, it never touches plastic. According to Ole, ‘it takes a human to pack this’. So, the salmon doesn’t sit around vacuum-packed for an artificial shelf life and injected with dyes to look fresh. It actually comes in fresh and is smoked within 48 hours of being alive and swimming about.
The only ingredients added are salt, which the salmon sits in for ten hours before being washed off thoroughly and hung overnight in the kiln to be flavoured with the family recipe blend of beech and juniper wood smoke. Any other flavour elements experienced when biting into a buttery chunk of H&L’s smoked salmon should be attributed to the quality and ethical rearing of the fish along with Ole’s patience and skill and his passion to keep a family tradition alive.
And that really is about all you need to know. Well, that and how to get your hands on some of this flavoursome treat. Check out www.hansen-lydersen.com to place an order for some of the best smoked salmon you’ll probably ever taste in your life, to read a list of restaurants serving Ole’s fish and to learn more about the Hansen-Lydersen story.
What’s the best smoked salmon you’ve ever eaten? What are your favourite ways to serve it? We’re be discussing this over on Great British Chefs’ Facebook page. If you’re stuck for ideas, there’s plenty smoked salmon recipes in our Feastive App or on the Great British Chefs site.