Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart offers some pointers on Scotland's smoked fish

Smoked salmon

The smoking of fish is one of the few Scottish traditional practices related to food to be flourishing today. Here we provide a spotters’ guide to the differences in Scotland’s best-known smoked fish, while Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart offers his insights on some of his own favourites.

Cold smoked salmon

This is what most people recognise as smoked salmon, typically served in thin slices cut horizontal to the skin. Smoking was originally employed as a means of preserving fish, and while a longer shelf life remains a useful benefit, the principal role smoking has today is for the effects of flavour and texture it offers.

First the fresh salmon is salted, either in a brine solution or sometimes simply dry salt; additions to the cure play a role in the final flavour. Sugar is a common ingredient, but molasses, treacle, spices, rum, whisky and wine are also used. After curing, the salmon is smoked for a reasonable length of time (12–48 hours) at a lowish temperature (below 30˚ Celsius) – insufficient to cook the fish. It’s then normally left to rest and mature for about 12 hours.

Martin Wishart: ‘The best and most traditional way to make cold smoked salmon is to use wild salmon. You are looking for a salmon with a low fat content of around 14–16 per cent, as this allows a good quality of firmness and means that it won’t weep any oils when you cut into it. You don’t want a fish that has a lot of excess oil as it will affect the flavour. If you can’t get wild salmon then the best alternative is organic farmed salmon. I get mine from Benbecula and Shetland.

‘I remember being in Stornoway and buying some smoked salmon, but instead of being plastic wrapped it was carefully folded in greaseproof paper; it had a wonderfully authentic taste. Good things to serve with smoked salmon are those with a bit of bite: obviously citrus and lemon zests are the most common, but pickled cucumber, horseradish or long white radish with wasabi all work.

‘I prepare it differently from most chefs in that I slice it vertically straight down the meat and serve it with the surface pellicle; that way you get the beautiful intense smokiness followed by a light creaminess of flavour.’

Hot smoked salmon

Also known as hot roast salmon, or sometimes flaky salmon, the basic processes are similar to cold smoking, except the fish is smoked in a hotter kiln or the heat is turned up at the end of the process.

Oak or oak chips are most commonly burned (or smouldered) for both kinds of smoked salmon, with many smokehouses using ‘recycled’ oak staves from old whisky barrels. Larch, ash and beech are also used, as is peat (for example by the Summer Isles Smokehouse). Kilns range from older fashioned brick kilns (such as those at Inverawe) to widely-used stainless steel smokers.

‘This has become more popular and is widely available in supermarkets, but it’s best to eat it straight after it’s been warmed and smoked, when the flakes of meat will just break and crumble off. Because it is hot smoked, it works well in a warm dish like pasta. Just flake it in at the last minute, but be careful not to re-heat the fish. It is also nice served as it is, with a butter-based warm sauce such as a home-made hollandaise with herbs like tarragon and chervil.

‘You can also smoke it at home. Buy your own wood chips, put them in a pan with a trellis over the top, lay in the fish and cover the pan tightly. It might take a couple of attempts to get it right, but the fish really lends itself to smaller, individual smoking.’

Arbroath Smokie

Smokies are one of the few Scottish foods granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the EU. This limits the name Arbroath Smokies to haddock which have been smoked in the traditional manner within an eight-kilometre radius of Arbroath. A whole haddock is headed and gutted, then dry salted for around two hours, washed, tied in pairs by the tail and hung over metal bars, air dried then placed over a fire pit for 30–45 minutes. Iain Spink prepares them in the original way in a half-barrel laid over with hessian sacking, a portable system that allows him to prepare fresh smokies at food festivals around the country.

‘This is one of the best smoked fish. Last year I went over to Fife and had one of Iain Spink’s smokies; he pulled it straight out from under the hessian and gave it to me from the barrel. It has a rich creaminess and moisture, and fresh like that is undoubtedly the best way to eat smokies. It is also nice flaked up and served with potatoes.’

Finnan Haddie

Finnans are also whole haddock headed and gutted, but in this method they are split and opened up, dry salted overnight then cold smoked over peat for 8–9 hours. The method originates from Findon, a village south of Aberdeen. A Finnan needs to be cooked before eating.

‘I get my haddie from Anstruther fishmonger David Lowrie, who gets it from Findon. We actually don’t use it a lot in the restaurant, but my favourite way to serve it is in a potato mash. I’d use a nice floury potato, like a Golden Wonder, and then add reduced double cream, butter and salt. I’d then flake the haddie in raw. If you’ve cooked it right the flakes should retain a slight translucency and you should be able just to flake them off with your thumb.
‘It’s also great in soups like Cullen skink or served with a grainy mustard or braised leeks. It’s an all-rounder.’

Smoked Haddock

This is simply a fillet of haddock cold smoked, so it’s similar to a Finnan but off the bone and without the definition provided by a traditional method. Yellow dyed haddock fillets are still seen: they were originally used to mimic the colour of a properly smoked fish.

‘I recently ate smoked haddock served raw with crème-fraiche and mixed herbs and the taste of the fish really came through. Often with fish it’s about simple flavours, as you want to show off the fish itself. But just as much it is about the chef’s skill in balancing the flavours.’


Kippers are a different fish entirely – herring – which are gutted, split and brined for about half an hour, then cold smoked for anything between 4 and 24 hours. Though associated with Loch Fyne, it’s not a distinctively Scottish method and kippering traditions are strong elsewhere in the British Isles.

Martin Wishart has held a Michelin star at Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leith since 2001. In 2007 he opened the Martin Wishart Cook School, also in Leith, and a year later set up his second restaurant in Cameron House at Loch Lomond. He also produces his own brand of smoked Shetland salmon. www.martin-wishart.co.uk

Scotland’s Fish Smokehouses

Ardshealach Fine Foods, Glenuig, Lochailort www.smokedproduce.com

Belhaven Smokehouse, by Dunbar, www.belhavensmokehouse.com

Creelers of Arran Smoked Products, Brodick, Isle of Arran www.creelers.co.uk

Dunkeld Smoked Salmon, Dunkeld www.dunkeldsmokedsalmon.com

Fencebay Fisheries, Fairlie www.fencebay.co.uk

Hebridean Smokehouse, North Uist www.hebrideansmokehouse.com

Iain R Spink, Arbroath www.arbroathsmokies.com

Inverawe Smokehouses, by Taynuilt www.smokedsalmon.co.uk

Jolly’s of Orkney, Kirkwall www.jollyfish.co.uk

M&M Spink, Arbroath www.arbroathsmokies.co.uk

Marrbury Smokehouse, Newton Stewart www.visitmarrbury.co.uk

St James Smokehouse, Annan www.stjamessmokehouse.com

Summer Isles Foods, Achiltibuie, Ullapool www.summerislesfoods.co.uk

Ugie Salmon Fishings, Peterhead www.ugie-salmon.co.uk

Uig Lodge Smoked Salmon, near Stornoway, Isle of Lewis www.uiglodge.co.uk

Read about even more Scottish smokehouses here.

A Hebridean Smokehouse
Clachan, North Uist, Western Isles, HS6 5HD
Locally reared and landed fish has been smoked on North Uist for over thirty years, for more than ten of those by Fergus and Anne Granville, and is stocked from London's Fortnum & Mason to Edinburgh's Valvona & Crolla. Once known as Mermaid…
B Summer Isles Hotel
Achiltibuie, Highland, IV26 2YQ
Nearly everything you eat here is home produced or locally caught. From scallops, lobsters, langoustines, crabs, halibut and turbot to salmon, venison, big brown eggs and wholesome brown bread fresh from the oven, as well as salad and other veg from…
C Inverawe Smokehouses
Lorne Fisheries T/A Inverawe Smokehouses, Taynuilt, Argyll and Bute, PA35 1HU
Attention to detail, control over sourcing and an insistence on traditional methods has kept the Inverawe Smokehouse at the vanguard of the luxury fish market. The Campbell-Preston operation on the River Awe not only prepares smokes and packages the…
D Fencebay & Fins
Fencefoot Farm, Fairlie, North Ayrshire, KA29 0EG
A food chain in its own right, this small complex includes a farm shop, smokehouse and seafood restaurant, The Catch at Fins, as well as hosting a monthly market.
E Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond
De Vere Cameron House Hotel, by Balloch, Argyll and Bute, G83 89Z
Edinburgh chef Martin Wishart's Michelin-starred restaurant at Cameron House on the edge of scenic Loch Lomond.
F Dunkeld Smoked Salmon
Springwells Smokehouse, Dunkeld, Perth and Kinross, PH8 0BA
Dunkeld Smoked Salmon started humbly 35 years ago as a smokehouse for Tay anglers’ catches. Quietly, master smoker Ronnie Ross from Birnam has cured and roasted freshwater fish here on Braes Street for the last 25 years. Then, in 2005, owners Rob and…
G Cook School & Dining Room By Martin Wishart
14 Bonnington Road, Edinburgh, EH6 5JD
Martin Wishart's newly refurbished cook school is now open for weekend dining, with a four-course seasonal tasting menu prepared in front of you.
H Restaurant Martin Wishart
54 The Shore, Edinburgh, EH6 6RA
Michelin-starred flair and precision in one of the city’s most celebrated fine dining destinations.
I Jollys of Orkney
Scott's Road, Hatston, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, KW15 1GR
Founded by William Jolly almost sixty years ago, this thriving fishmonger is now run by George and Anne Stout, and sells a huge range of local fish and shellfish. A traditional kiln forms the centre of the processing area and is used to smoke salmon…
J Iain R Spink Original Smokies from Arbroath
Arbroath, Angus, DD11 2RH
An Arbroath smokie, or even a smoked trout, hot from Iain Spink's barrel is right up there with any world-class street food. Author of The Arbroath Smokie Bible, he’s an expert on the subject, with celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein, Jamie Oliver and…
K M&M Spink
10 Marketgate, Arbroath, Angus, DD11 1AY
Fishmonger where customers can watch smokies being prepared from a backyard shed. Shop also sells wet fish, smokie pâté and fish cakes.
L Belhaven Smokehouse
Beltonford, Dunbar, East Lothian, EH42 1ST
Established in 1975, Belhaven is one of only a handful of independent fish farm processors in Scotland. Their Dunbar smoked salmon is made by smoking a fillet over oak chips from whisky barrels then preserving it using a traditional rum cure. Belhaven…