A Passion For Quality!
Guest Post: Harry Dyer, V & H Cafe, January 2016
At V&H Café, there are a few very important criteria we look for when taking on a new supplier or product; provenance, quality, locality, customer service and price, and in most cases, in that order. We believe it’s a check list every business owner or chef should employ.
Reputation For Quality
Like most people in Sussex, we knew of Springs Smokery and their long established reputation for quality and prestige. It was only when we were delivered a pricelist and wonderful sample of Sussex Oak smoked salmon that we thought, “hold on, why we aren’t using these guys?!”
Smoking Since 1964
Springs have been smoking away since 1964, using the same Sussex oak log supplier near Arundel and the same Scottish salmon supplier from day one. Some of their customers, to name a few include, British Airways (1st Class, naturally…), Harrods, Selfridges, Delia Smith and now V&H Café. That’s provenance for you.
So what about the quality?
The standard of care that goes into each side of salmon is one of the factors that makes this company great. Each one is filleted by Paul and Jose, with combined Springs experience of nearly twenty years, ensuring the fish are up to standard. With their knife skills each side is consistently uniform and keeps wastage to a minimum. Don’t mess this these guys… They didn’t let me into the walk-in freezer for some reason…
Old School Preserving Techniques
From Paul and Jose’s skilled hands they are then passed on to chief smoker, Nick Hook, who has been perfecting his art at Springs for an impressive thirty three years. Nick dry salt cures the salmon for fifteen hours, removing a large proportion for the moisture from the fish through osmosis. This method of preservation has been used for thousands of years and stood the test of time. (It is only very recently, no more than a hundred and fifty years ago, that artificial refrigerators took over.) That’s why Springs have kept it old-school, because it works! No other artificial additives or preservatives here.
After that, the salmon is racked up in the original old brick kiln smokers, each one with the capacity to house up to two hundred and forty sides of salmon. They are simple constructions, basically a brick room with a fan to circulate the wood smoke, however the way they are used, monitored and maintained is where Nicks decades of experience pay tribute. The smokers are thick with glossy black tar built up from years of green-wood smoke but this isn’t an example of poor maintenance, it’s an essential ingredient in the unique flavour of Springs smoked salmon, not too dissimilar to your Grandma telling you to “never wash your tea pot!”
The smokers are fired by whole Sussex oak logs which makes for a far gentler process than wood chips, allowing the rich smoke to permeate through the salmon gradually and tenderly.
Commonly associated with lesser grade smoked salmon is an oozing of greasy salmon liquid. This is often due to it being injected with brine to retain weight before sale (so you’re paying for water at the price of salmon) or has been sprayed with a liquid smoke which soon exits the fish once removed from its packaging. With the Springs process of dry salting and a longer smoking time none of these issues exist. The difference in flavour of this thirty or so hour process against a mass produced wood chip smoked salmon is huge. It has a more complex, layered smoky flavour and cleaner finish, not acrid and pungent or just plain smokeless like the mass produced alternative.
Obvious Knowledge And Passion
Nicks understanding and knowledge is demonstrated further still, when he asks me to place my hand in the smoker to judge humidity and temperate to which he says, “Perfect, like a warm summer breeze”. First hand expert knowledge (pun intended) like this is truly priceless and exactly how masters of their trade pass on and enthuse the next generation.
The penultimate process before sale is slicing and trimming. The beautiful sides are transported to “The red room”… I hope Paul and Jose aren’t there…
Surgical Level Of Hygiene
The “Red Room” earns its ominous name due to its surgical level of hygiene. Before I was let through the double doors to the white room out of Bruce Almighty I had to don a sterile suit, boots, and one sexy hair-net. It was at this point my camera mysteriously stopped working for a few minutes…
I pass through the swinging doors to the blazingly WHITE “Red Room” and unfortunately didn’t meet Morgan Freeman – however I did meet the team of ladies with all of his wisdom and more – that lovingly trim, slice and package every salmon. I thought it impolite to ask how long they had all been working for this family run business but I am assured by Nick, it’s a respectable number of years!
The team of ladies in the slicing room are the final frontier of quality control. They trim the sides to their final shape and ensure the salmon has retained the correct level of moisture and not gained any imperfections. Sides that don’t meet the mark on presentation are not wasted though. They are kept for cheaper purchase for use in tarts, pates or parfaits etc… After all the salmon is still perfectly delicious.
Efficient And Consistent
This room is also where the old meets the new. It is a romantic thought to imagine a bench of skilled knife smiths painstakingly hand slicing each side of salmon and was in fact the case until relatively recently. However the old phrase, “time is money” is one all business owners must adhere to if they are to compete in this modern and extremely competitive world. So today, the main bulk of slicing is performed by impressive and accurate machines, improving efficiency, consistency and speed to cope with demand. They are not crude instruments though. They are accurate, simple and efficient with one oscillating blade and a sliding platform underneath where the side of salmon is placed and gradually slid back and forth across the blade a couple of millimetres apart at a time. Goldfinger would have loved it.
Ready For Distribution
Finally the sides are vacuum packed and labelled ready for distribution buy their very friendly drivers and sales team. They’re constantly on the run, no doubt you’ve all seen their vans outside some of the high end eateries in Brighton.
At Christmas they are packing and distributing over eight hundred sides a day!
Passionate And Skilled
Springs Smokey’s resounding success is tribute to their team of passionate and skilled workers that believe in what they do and how they do it. When a business employs and retains their passion and love the end product is purely a demonstration of this and this is why they are quite simply the best.
Thank You Springs!
A warm thank you to Chief smoker Nick and his dedicated team of ladies and the knife wielding Paul and Jose as well as Louise, head of sales, who have given up their time and shared their passion with me and Restaurants Brighton.