‘Artisan smoked salmon and trout are very superior products which you won’t find on a supermarket shelf,’ says smoker-in-chief John Nickell of Blakewell Valley Trout Company and Smokehouse in north Devon
John should know: he and his brother Richard have been breeding and rearing top-quality trout from their base in an idyllic Devon valley for 30 years.
Cold, pristine water running straight off Exmoor feeds large trout ponds which are a haven for wildlife and surrounded by luscious greenery. It’s the perfect environment in which to rear healthy trout with the slow-grown muscle and low-stress life that leads to exceptional eating.
Several years ago, the brothers started hot- and cold-smoking trout and salmon as a result of John’s experience in Denmark where he cut his teeth working in a number of smokehouses. ‘The results of our experiments were delicious,’ says John.
However, while they had fabulous trout on their doorstep, finding salmon reared in the same low-intensive fashion and with the same sensitivity to the environment proved more challenging. After much searching, John and Richard discovered salmon also reared by independent artisan farmers on the west coast of Scotland.
In a northern parallel to the Nickells’ bucolic Devon set-up, the salmon is hand-reared in tidal seawater lochs and fed trimmings of organic fish destined for human consumption. All natural health control, low-density farming (the fish have vast areas to swim in) and the hands-on approach of a dedicated team result in the exceptional texture and flavour sought by John and Richard. ‘They rear fish with the same care we do, except we use fresh water,’ says John.
Of course, raw fish is just the start of the story: it’s smoking that turns it into an outstanding product to be savoured. John cures the fish in salt before carefully smoking it.
‘It’s an age-old way of preserving food – a method that’s been used for thousands of years,’ he says. ‘We’ve devised The Devon Cure, a specific salt cure combined with a very exact smoking method.’ Naturally the precise recipe is a well-kept secret.
The delicious result is nutty and buttery in flavour with a firm meaty texture. ‘There’s a lot of smoked salmon out there,’ says John, ‘but smoked salmon like this is the result of attention to detail and passion from producers for whom it’s a way of life.’
Want to find out what all the fuss is about? We’ve a Blakewell Smokie Box (worth £30) to be won which features five of John and Richard’s exceptional hot and cold-smoked salmon and trout products in one box.
What’s the name of John’s specific cure?