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Sussex Cullen Skink using the Newhaven Whiting

Fishing

Article written by 10 January 2013
cullen skink

Another treat I have started smoking is a Sussex take on the Finnan Haddie (or haddock), but rather than being made of haddock it is of whiting.

The whiting is a smaller relative of the haddock and the cod, and becomes very plentiful around the southern coast (and possibly farther afield) during the winter months. It becomes a significant by-catch of the small boat fishing fleets which are targeting cod, and because of this is a much cheaper alternative to haddock. I have seen reports that up to three quarters of all whiting caught are discarded because of low market values, so do your bit for ecology and start eating them if you can.

The whiting is typically found in the 1-2lb range, which conveniently is the size that the Finnan Haddie is often smoked at. I wanted something different to do with the whiting after eating substantial amounts over this winter. We catch a few, and they are also available incredibly cheaply at our local Newhaven fisherman’s cooperative fish shop. Filleted they are £2.50/lb at the time of writing, or whole £1.50/lb. I’m not sure that chicken thigh fillets are even that cheap today, and certainly not wild or as delicious.

I had the idea when I first bought fillets from the shop. They came in pairs, connected at the dorsal fin (the opposite of kippers), and represented the shape of the Finnan Haddie to me. When I was smoking a few kippers I decided to brine some of these and give them the same treatment.

Ten to twelve minutes per fillet in a brine mix (see my kipper smoking directions of a previous edition), then tied in pairs and strung up in the Bradley for cold smoking. They tend to take about twice the time as kippers to smoke as they are less fatty, but it works well as they can share the smoker at the ratio of two batches of kippers to one of Newhaven Whiting.

Once done, the result was really pretty good. Less strong than an Arbroath Smokie, and subtle enough for my take on cullen skink. This is a traditional Scottish smoked haddock soup recipe, but now being a Sussex man I have rung the changes. I made cullen skink with jerusalem artichoke (found overtaking someone’s allotment) and potato mash that I had left over from some fish pie I made.

Firstly gently poach the fish in enough water to cover it (or in fish stock if you have some – we had plenty made from salmon heads and bones from the Christmas smoking bonanza), with any herbs you’ve got lying around and a bay leaf. Then take out the fish, remove skin and bones and retain the juice you’ve made.

Whilst this is doing with the fish, start with an onion and a leek, chopped finely. Sweat these down in the bottom of a pan, in butter, and retain a healthy spoonful in a separate bowl. Add a couple of generous lumps of mash (you could use raw potatoes if you allow enough cooking time), and give it a good mix up. Slowly combine the juice from poaching the fish, and half the whiting.

Give this soup base a blend if you like, or mash it up so it’s a bit more rustic. Add milk or cream to taste, then serve with a dollop of the onion, leek and whiting in each bowl. Garnish with chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper and serve with good lumps of local bread.

William Church

Born and raised in the Essex countryside, will has been fishing since the age of 7. He has a particular love of fly fishing in rivers, however is not averse to using just about any method for any fish in any water where there’s.. Read more.

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