Doing my family genealogy a couple of winters back I traced the Scottish side back to 18th century Arbroath.

A few miles north of Dundee, it's the home of the smokie, one of the PGI protected foods of Britain. The scent of oak and fish pervades the town: I visited The Alex Spink smokery at 7am while they were building the hardwood fire to smoke the haddock.

The fish are paired, tied with hemp twine and hung over a wooden lathe or ‘kiln stick’. Hemp contains oil so the string doesn’t burn, but it's difficult to get hold of nowadays. The phrase ‘done to a turn’ derives from the half hour it takes for the haddock to turn golden brown. The lathes are then lifted out and switched around to smoke the other side.

Most of the fishing families are called Spink (Scots for ‘active or agile’), Cargill or Smith, and even today you will see several smokie establishments called Spink. Everyone is related but, suggested a laughing tradesman, the families are rivals ‘they all can’t stand each other’. For anyone researching genealogy, the similarity of names and use of by-names or nicknames is a problem.

The women would wear red striped skirts (strippet brot) and a blue flowery top (sprigget blouse) and according to one 18th century traveller, had bigger feet than the men. Before the development of harbours, these doughty wives would carry their menfolk on their backs to and from their anchored boats, skirts kilted up, so that the men’s feet remained dry. The fishwives were responsible for the fish rounds in Scotland.

A local woman told me that she remembered from her childhood that ‘the fisherfolk didn’t mix with anyone else: they had their own culture and ways’.

Arbroath Smokie Pancake (Serves 4)

These are the most popular dish at a family-run restaurant called The But'n'Ben (which means a two-roomed cottage), in a cliff-side fishing village called Auchmithie. These fisherfolk were Scandinavian settlers and originated the smokie technique which eventually moved to Arbroath.


For the pancake
55 g plain flour
140 ml milk
1 egg
pinch baking powder
pinch salt
a pat butter

For the sauce
600 ml Double cream
1 Arbroath Smokie, all bones and skin removed, flaked
pinch mace
white pepper to taste
parsley to garnish

Mix the pancake ingredients together, leave to rest for 20 minutes. In a pan on a low heat, pour in the double cream and warm. Add the fish, mace, pepper, parsley

Butter the pan lightly. Pour the pancake mix into a pre-heated large flat crepe or frying pan, sliding the mixture around so that you have a thin layer. Allow to cook slowly so that the underside goes golden and bubbles a little. Flip over the pancake carefully and add the sauce. After a few minutes cooking so that the other side is a light golden, fold the pancake over the top in a semi-circle. Serve hot.

Arbroath Smokie Paté


One pair Arbroath Smokies, boned and skinned
225 g cream cheese
150 ml double cream
1 juice and zest of lemon
Pinch cayenne pepper


Blend all the ingredients together. Press into ramekins and chill. Serve with hot toast, oat cakes or cheese biscuits

Arbroath Smokie Kedgeree (Serves 4)

This is usually made with rice but I used a rice shaped pasta- orzo - for a change.


Pair Arbroath Smokies
2 bay leaves
2 eggs, hard boiled, shelled and halved
250 g orzo pasta, cooked in salty water, drained
Large pat butter or ghee
1 small brown or white onion, finely sliced
bunch flat leaf parsley
tsp mustard seeds
pinch cumin seeds
pinch coriander seeds
1 lemon to garnish
1 small red chilli, deseeded and sliced (optional)


Place the smokies into a wide deep frying pan. Pour in enough boiling water to just cover them and add the bay leaves. Simmer for around five minutes then remove the fish to a plate where you can now easily lift out the spine, bones and remove the skin. Leave aside. Use both the strained water and some extra hot water to parboil the orzo until almost cooked. Add butter or ghee and put aside.

Using the wide pan on a low heat, add the butter and onion slices. Add the spices, then add the cooked orzo, the fish and finally the halved boiled eggs, cover with the lid until the eggs are warm. Scatter with parsley, squeeze over the lemon juice and chopped chilli if desired and serve.

From the kitchen of msmarmitelover.