A kipper is a fat herring (caught in season) that has been split through the back, gutted, opened flat, salted or brined to reduce its water content and then cold smoked. This is a process that cures and dries the fish while imparting a smoky flavour, without exposing it to heat. Traditionally smoked kippers are pale golden in colour, but commercially made kippers are sometimes artificially coloured – these processed kippers can also have added smoke ‘flavouring’, and are often produced from herrings that are much leaner (indicating they have recently spawned and are not in season).
British kippers are best from May to September. Kippers available at other times of year will have been frozen or vacuum-packed in season, or made from herrings from other seas. You can have British kippers delivered by post from some traditional producers, and while you can source them online, it’s only worth doing this if you can be sure they have been naturally smoked.
Choose the best
The flavour and smokiness is best in freshly made kippers, especially those from the Isle of Man or Craster. Provided the herrings have been naturally smoked, are pale in colour and have been vacuum-packed or frozen in season, they are just as good at any time of year.
Kippers that have a black lining in the stomach cavity are likely to have been made out of season, as this usually indicates they have recently spawned and as a result, will be much leaner.
How to store kippers
Fresh, chilled kippers are best eaten within a week, but will keep longer if frozen. Vacuum-packing will also extend their shelf life, and also prevents any fishy smell tainting your fridge.
How to cook kippers
If your kitchen is well-ventilated, you can consider grilling your kippers, but if it is not, we don't recommend this – it can leave your house smelling of fish! Grilling also concentrates the flavour, which may not be to everyone's taste.
Kippers require very little cooking, and the best method is to gently poach them for no more than a few minutes. Bring a large frying pan of water to the boil, remove from the heat, add the kippers and leave in the water for about 5 mins, then drain and serve. If you're cooking just a few kippers, you could also pour boiling water from the kettle into a heatproof jug, add the kippers (head down) and remove after about 10 mins to serve.
Kippers are delicious served with buttery scrambled eggs, or with poached eggs that have been cooked in the kipper water.
You can eat the small bones, but if you prefer not to do this, begin eating from the tail end and pull each forkful of flesh slightly towards you, which should release the flesh and leave any bones behind.
Our best kipper recipes
1. Kipper pâté
Give pâté a twist by blending kippers with a punchy mix of horseradish, lemon, spinach and soft cheese. Slather over sourdough for a satisfying dinner party starter.
2. Spiced rice with kippers & poached eggs
Sit down to this comforting kedgeree-style rice dish topped with a runny egg yolk. Kippers combine with the spices to deliver a full-bodied flavour boost.
3. Kipper fish cakes with watercress mayo
The strong, smoky flavour of kippers balance perfectly with mashed potato, spring onions and parsley in these easy fishcakes. Serve with fresh watercress mayo for lunch or a light supper.