Smoking fish has long been part of the traditional way of life in Argyll. It has become the method behind many of the areas most successful businesses.
“Smoking is good for you!” declared the poster in defiance of received wisdom, medical science and years of public health lobbying. It was clearly a rallying call for smokers to rise up and blow smoke in the face of their oppressors, and yet it seemed a strange place to start such a protest movement.
The poster was taped to the wall of the local fishmongers. This tongue-in-cheek advert was cooked up by a fish smoking business in Argyll in the mid-1990s, but had to be withdrawn on grounds of political incorrectness. Of course it was not really promoting the evil weed brought over from America by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 16th century, but something much older than that.
Smoking is one of the most primitive and effective ways of preserving food, and more to the point it is one of the most delicious cures there are for fish.
No-one knows how or when our ancestors discovered the process which was undoubtedly rediscovered many times. One can imagine a possible scenario where a tribe has spotted a fresh run of salmon in their local river.
Plenty of fish are caught and a feast prepared with the salmon strung up like socks over a fire. Not everything is eaten on the night and what is left seems to last longer than usual. Or perhaps it was a fisherman whose efforts to dry his catch outdoors in the salty breeze have been hampered by the rain. In frustration he retreats into his cave or bothy, and lights a fire to continue drying them indoors. Inadvertently he has stumbled on the magical properties of smoke and salt which together form the basis of the cure to this day.