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Sea Fish and Shellfish

Red Herrings and Kippers

Whole, un-gutted herring that were heavily dry-salted and then oak-smoked for between ten days and up to three weeks were known as ‘red herrings’, as the process turned the flesh to a deep red colour.

The method of kippering herring used today is said to have been first used in about 1843 by John Woodger, who owned curing stations at both North Shields and Seahouses. The more succulent and milder-tasting kipper quickly began to replace the drier and saltier red herring.

To kipper the herrings, the fish are split open and gutted before being cured. They are then washed and soaked in brine for an hour, then hung in the smokehouse on tenter-hooks over oak shavings and sawdust, and hot-smoked for at least twelve hours.

At one time, there were smoke-houses in almost every coastal community on the East coast Today only a handful of traditional smoke-houses remain in operation locally, at Craster and Seahouses in Northumberland, and at Eyemouth in Berwickshire.

Waddell's smoke-house in Eyemouth was founded in 1860, when Robert Waddell gave up fishing after his brother was drowned when their boat was swamped because it was too full of herrings. Robert swore never to go to sea again and set up instead as a fish merchant.

Extracts from contemporary newspapers relating to kippering the herring in Victorian times