A kipper is a fat, juicy herring that has been split, gutted, salted and smoked.
One of the sad things in the history of kippering (a curing process invented in the 1840s by a man called John Woodger) is that since World War II – when some foods were required by weight rather than number – most kippers have been under-cured, because curing removes moisture and therefore weight. Most kippers today are also dyed: this is done to compensate for what would otherwise be their anaemic under-cured appearance. Some undyed kippers are still available from parts of Scotland and the Isle of Man, but they’re mainly available only in the north-west.
Look for plumpness, oiliness, a silvery golden colour and a good smoky smell in a kipper. All fish (and meat) tastes better cooked on the bone, and kippers are no exception. They are excellent baked in a hot oven, but line the baking tray with foil to avoid any fishy flavours. I also think grilling is the best way to cook them.‘But what about the smell?’ you’re thinking. No problem if you cook them the very best way of all and that’s on the barbecue. Both kippers and herrings taste especially good cooked on a barbecue out in the open air – in which case, no lingering smells to worry about.
Grilled kippers: Pre-heat the grill, then line the grill pan with foil (which will stop any kippery smells haunting the pan) and brush the foil with melted butter. Remove the heads and tails from the kippers with scissors, then lay the fish on the foil, skin side uppermost. Grill them for 1 minute, turn them over (flesh side uppermost), brush the flesh with melted butter and grill for a further 4-5 minutes until the butter is sizzling. Serve immediately with lemon to squeeze over them and perhaps a dash of cayenne.
If you have an aversion to bones, you can of course buy kipper fillets: treat them in just the same way.
Jugged kippers: This is a traditional, and sometimes preferred, way to prepare kippers. All you do is remove the heads, then fold the sides of the fish together and pack vertically in a tall warmed jug. Now pour in enough boiling water to cover the kippers, put a lid or plate on top of the jug, and leave them in a warm place for 6 minutes. Then drain and dry them with kitchen paper, and serve on hot plates with a knob of butter to melt over each fish.
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