16 AUGUST 1957, Page 12

Consuming Interest

By LESLIE ADRIAN TEXT to the deplorable orange-dyed kippers, n there is nothing more unappetising than the dyed smoked haddock. Swimming in its pool of yellow-tinged milk, like a plateful of damp cottonwool, it is a familiar sight on the breakfast menu of British Railways hotels—and of many hotels that should know better. So I was heartened to see the rows of large smoked had- docks, each tinged the palest amber and with the tang of the oak smoke still about them, in Mr. Charles Secular's shop at the Elephant and Castle.

I came across 'The Smoke Hole' accidentally when I took a wrong turning off the Walworth Road and, under the arches of the railway bridge, found the small fish-curing business, which has been carried on by this Cockney family for over 200 years. Never, when they are smoking whole haddocks, do they ever use a dye, according to the present head of the firm, Mr. Charlie Secular. And at their main shop and curing house at 99 Tower Bridge Road his son told me he believes they are one of the few firms in Britain today who smoke the fish without dyes.

`People come from abroad to buy them. They say they never taste any like them. But we don't bother to sell them up West. We've enough trade here. The dockers who live around here are big fish-eaters: always have been.'

I went into the smoke hole and, with stream- ing eyes, watched the curing. The haddocks are split, gutted and dipped in brine. They are then threaded on to iron rods and left over the oak sawdust fire for an hour or two, according to the type of haddock. Only the best quality fish are used, and the fire must be kept down to the right, smouldering temperature. If it is too hot the fish will cook and fall into the fire.

In some of the large plants today, Mr. Charlie Junior told me, the so-called smoked haddock never goes near smoke. `The fish are dipped in brine, then in dye and then left to dry. You can tell a properly smoked fish by the holes where the wire rods have been.' But in recent years, there has been a demand for fillets of smoked haddock, rather than for the whole fish. For these dye is used, as the pieces are too small to thread on to rods and are merely placed across metal bars for the smoking. This leaves an uneven colour.