The first time I ever ate an Arbroath Smokie, I had just spent hours walking myself into a tired but content stupor at the Royal Highland Show. I emerged from a path onto a large open green space, where a long queue of people were standing in a continuous billow of the most aromatic smoke I had ever smelled. It was sea and charcoal, salt waves and wood and the drawn-out ache of an almost-fire that is never allowed to catch.
Immediately I made my way to the end of the queue and stood in the wafts of smoke, watching with watering eyes as a man lifted a jute sack from one of the barrels where the fish were hanging and with an expert eye, hoisted them up in a silent declaration that these Smokies were ready to eat.
A Smokie was handed to me in a paper wrapping and immediately the juice began to ooze through my fingers.
I knew the smoke smell would be in my skin for hours, but I didn’t care. I just sat myself down on the grass and used my wee wooden fork to flake off big chunks of haddock flesh, chewing slowly to match the rhythm of the long summer afternoon.
The second time I tried an Arbroath Smokie, it was a bit of disaster. After visiting Arbroath Abbey we couldn’t leave town without a wander down to the harbour. Go to Arbroath without buying a Smokie? The word sacrilege comes to mind.
At one of the smokehouses we bought two Smokies, sold cold. When we got home I set to work attempting to resurrect the pleasure I had experienced in June. I wrapped the Smokies in foil and put them in the oven to heat them and within minutes the signature heady scent filled the flat. Except this time the smell seemed to press against the walls like it was trying to be absorbed so it could seep out again later.
It just wasn’t the same. The flesh wasn’t as moist and flaky and eating it inside just didn’t fit for me. It was too heavy, too rich for indoor consumption.
For me Smokies feel like work food - wholesome outdoor fare that you eat after you have exerted a lot of energy and need to power up again. Also, for the same reason that I have never made Cullen Skink, I just don’t like my home to smell of smoked fish.
The next time I get a chance to be outside and eat a freshly cooked Arbroath Smokie, made by people with years of experience, I will happily stand in a long queue to partake in the deliciousness. This is one Scottish delicacy I am content to leave to the experts.
For more information on Arbroath Smokies, Iain R. Spink’s site gives insight into the history and cooking method.