The Comeback Kipper - The Fall and Rise of Britain's Beloved Breakfast Fish

Kippers: The Revival of a British Staple

In 1977, the herring population crash caused the kipper to be taken off the menu. However, the silver darling is making a comeback, and sustainably sourced kippers are now available in British supermarkets. The marine stewardship council has renewed its endorsement of North Sea herring fisheries as sustainable in 2022. In this article, we will explore the history, culture, and value of this inexpensive, healthy, and flavorsome fish.

The Heritage of Herring

Kippers or salted and cold-smoked herring were considered a delicacy in the past centuries, and they were exported to several other countries worldwide. The expansion of the UK railway network helped kippering become a big business in the 1840s. Kippers that were preserved by smoking herring were fresh enough to reach inland cities, without being too salty, were seen as top-notch.

The popularity of kippering reached its peak in the first half of the 20th century and was only second to cod in the list of favourite fishes. However, in the 1970s, the herring population had collapsed, which led to the industry shrinking almost overnight.

The Comeback of Kippers in Britain

Although kippers have fallen out of favour with the British population, several chefs like Richard Corrigan, Cyrus Todiwala, and Rick Stein have been using herring and kippers to create exciting dishes for their customers. The demand for sustainably sourced kippers is steadily increasing, and supermarkets like Aldi, Asda, and Tesco have made MSC-labelled kippers available to the public.

Sales of MSC-labelled herring have increased by over 25% in the past couple of years, with over 2 million tins and packets sold in the last year, which is more than double the figure from five years ago. Chefs like Mitch Tonks believe that "there is nothing quite like a good kipper for breakfast."

The Rise and Fall of Herring Fisheries

When the First World War broke out, fishers were called up to fight, and the export market collapsed. The Herring Industry Board was created to extol the fish's health virtues in 1935, which helped increase its popularity with celebrity endorsements. However, when the 1970s arrived, the fish species were hit by several factors, such as overfishing, industrialisation, mismanagement, and changes in demand.

In 1977, the UK government imposed a fishing ban to allow North Sea stocks to replenish. When fishing resumed in 1983, fishers were surprised by the abundance of herring. Cod predation, mesozooplankton, and environmental factors still impact the stability of the herring population today. However, the industry is better managed, and total allowable catches are kept within sustainable limits. The quota for 2024 will increase by 28.3%.

Kippers: Varieties and Preparation

Kippers come in different varieties: smoked kippers, white herring, red herring, bloaters, rollmops, and soused herring. The traditional method to make kippers is to butterfly split herring from head to tail, gutted, brined, and then cold-smoked over oak wood chips for up to 16 hours.

White herring was typically salted and cured inside barrels for export during the 19th and 20th century. Great Yarmouth was known for its salted and cold-smoked whole herring. Rollmops, herring fillets, are rolled up around sliced onions, marinated in vinegar, and held in place with wooden sticks. Sous herring is filleted, cured in salt, then soaked in vinegar and sugar brine.

Kippers are a great addition to salads, as pate or in kedgeree, but many people consider them old-fashioned. However, they are highly nutritious, rich in omega-3, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, making them an affordable protein source. With the renewed demand for sustainably sourced kippers, the silver darling is well on its way to regaining its status as a British staple.

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