Turf, Salmon and Smoke
“When you think back to your childhood of the things you used to do.” Says Declan. “You’d go on your bike, and go fishing, and light a fire next to the bank and eat a piece of fish that’s cooked fresh from the river bank. That never leaves you that’s a taste memory. The only way I can describe it to yourself I feel is like a songwriter with a tune nagging in their brain – its’ that compulsion of having to do it..”
After many attempts and experiments, Declan found a way to recapture the taste of his childhood, of locally caught salmon prepared over a turf fire. Today, the unique produce of the Haven Smokehouse is that memory come to life. With turf harvested by hand, and fish that is organic, locally farmed and hand selected – Declan speaks of old world values and the earthy heart of his Donegal home:
“Peat is 10,000 years old in the making and we dig it, take it out let it dry we use it for heating homes. The smell is so evocative of home, when you’ve travelled and you’ve gone away – you come back and you breathe deeply and you say: this is home”
The Haven Smokehouse was born of dedication and one man’s quest to recapture the tastes of his childhood. Flying in the face of industrial values for efficiency and high scale mass production – at the Haven Smokehouse Declan does the work by hand.
Filletted by hand, no machinery, smoked by hand, no machinery to have an element of a time gone by. “A salmon with an old soul- that’s what I wanted.”, says Declan.
Contrary to popular understanding The Haven Smokehouse do not use salt to cure salmon – they use smoke! Salt is used to create a pellicle on the flesh to let smoke stick to it. Given time, smoke will slowly displace the moisture in the salmon, therefore curing and creating a low salt product.
Once the salmon is ready and filleted, Declan carefully threads a needle under the collar of each side, with twine, and hangs them from hooks. When salmon is hung on twine from hooks, this allows the oil that comes to the surface, to drip off the tail, in sparkling droplets – not horizontal on racks in a mechanically driven generator. As Declan describes it, “We have balanced salt, smoke and salmon flavour with a dry mouth appeal.”
After drying using the fresh Atlantic breeze, the turf fire is lit and the process of smoking the fish begins. Gentle smoke envelopes our salmon sides for 2 to 3 days as it slowly starts to cure, and as Declan says, “It will be ready when it’s ready!”.
“When you come from the mountain you’re in the bog with the turf, if you follow the river down you come to the lough, and then that flows into the sea. The whole system together is entwined, authentic to its place. In a magical way.” says Declan.
Turf, salmon, smoke – simple, but effective.
A wonderful short film has been produced about Declan’s journey with Turf Smoked Salmon set in the beautiful countryside of Donegal. www.theperennialplate.com
You can also find more about about this Donegal Smoked Salmon on www.thehavensmokehouse.com
“When I started on this journey,
I only knew one thing – I had to do it!” says Declan “There was a picture in my mind,
Of what the ultimate smoked salmon should look
and taste like.” After many late nights and many mistakes,
I realised it was a taste of my memories,
of a time when simplicity was understanding
And knowledge was watching the salmon,
with the old soul.”