When it comes to a good lunch, at the White Rabbit café we know the trick to creating a taste sensation is to let our star ingredients shine. And we like to make sure those key ingredients in our signature dishes are sourced from suppliers who really care about their products, which is why we always go to Staal Smokehouse for their salmon and mackerel.
A firm favourite with our café customers, the cold smoked salmon is paired with a lightly toasted bagel, cream cheese, and a side salad drizzled with our home-made chocolate vinaigrette. Our mackerel bruschetta is also a popular choice on the core menu, and there’s no wonder this hot smoked fish won Staal Smokehouse a star in the 2018 Great Taste awards – it’s amazing!
Here we chat with Staal Smokehouse owner Justin Staal about his business, based in rural Long Riston, East Yorkshire.
A meeting of minds
Ed Hawkes, White Rabbit’s Business Manager, met Justin on the farmers’ market circuit and they immediately realised they had a lot in common, especially a desire to create ethically sourced, premium, hand-crafted products.
“Ed was looking for quality local produce,” said Justin, “and I was more than happy to do business with him. We’re now a regular supplier for White Rabbit, Ed rings through his weekly order and we’ll smoke exactly what he needs so it’s as fresh as can be.”
The salmon comes from the west coast of Scotland – according to Justin the best quality salmon out there – and the mackerel originates from the north east Atlantic. He sources the fish via a Hull fish merchant, then the smoking process begins in his kilns, which were built in Hull.
Cold smoking involves curing the flesh then smoking below 30 degrees Celsius to add flavour, while hot smoking is in effect a slow-cooking process as the temperature is raised. “We hot smoke our products slowly – it takes about eight or nine hours – to ensure they are cooked but still moist. Smoking them too fast dries them out,” Justin explained.
“Some people think they don’t like smoked food as they’ve been put off by supermarket products that have been chemically smoked in liquid rather than by using traditional smokehouse methods.
“The smokiness should enhance the natural flavour of the meat and fish, not mask it,” he added.
Every smokehouse produces different flavours, mainly depending on the type of wood they use to create the smoke. Justin uses a British favourite, oak, and also applewood to add a hint of fruit. He said: “Different countries tend to prefer their local hardwoods, so in the UK it’s usually oak but in Germany it’s likely to be beech or hickory in America.”
Asked which of his products is his favourite, he laughed: “That’s like asking if you have a favourite child! I think I’d have to go for our smoked duck, which you really have to sample to appreciate. It’s smoked twice, firstly cold, then hot. It’s very subtle and works well in a walnut salad.”
Living the dream
Before setting up Staal Smokehouse with his wife Georgina in 2007, Justin travelled the world as part of a previous venture arranging luxury fly-fishing holidays for enthusiasts of the sport. His travels afforded him a fascinating insight into curing and smoking techniques for fish and meat, which blend centuries-old practices with super modern technology, and they also sparked an idea for a future business.
What started as a dream to set up a cottage industry became a reality when the couple moved to Georgina’s family farm in East Yorkshire, where they are now raising their two young sons as well as their burgeoning business.
A lot of hard work and a few sleepless nights have certainly paid off as Staal Smokehouse now has customers across the nation on its books, from local eateries, delis and farm shops to two Michelin-starred restaurants – the prestigious Paul Ainsworth at No 6 in Padstow, which orders a regular supply of Staal Smokehouse’s finest smoked haddock, and the more local Pipe and Glass in South Dalton. Everything is shipped fresh, rather than frozen.
“Demand is on the rise,” said Justin, “but it remains important to us that we have a relationship with the people we sell to and that they know they are dealing direct with the business owner. We are all about working with independents like White Rabbit, who really care about quality and the customer experience.”
Justin has some exciting plans up his sleeve, but won’t give too much away. “We are looking at adding some new products to our portfolio, possibly shellfish, and we are exploring working with other producers,” he added. There is mention of a ‘gin-fused salmon’, so watch this space!
Showcasing fine flavours
Ed said: “We let the Staal products speak for themselves in the food we create with them, whether in our regular lunch dishes or meals at our occasional pop-up restaurant evenings. Their flavours are so beautifully pure, they deserve to be showcased.
“It’s always a pleasure to work with people like Justin, whose ethics and values are very similar to White Rabbit’s. It’s heartening to see so many artisan businesses flourishing in East Yorkshire, too.”
For more information about Staal Smokehouse, visit www.staalsmokehouse.co.uk The website contains a list of stockists for Staal Smokehouse products, or alternatively customers can order online direct from the website for home delivery or collection from the Smokehouse premises in Long Riston.
The site also contains a useful list of forthcoming festivals and events that Staal Smokehouse are attending.