Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Frank Hederman. Master Fish Smoker.

Frank Hederman. Master Fish Smoker.

Mr Hederman smokes fish, which is a little like saying Steinway makes pianos. (New York Times).

Frank Hederman is a master at smoking fish, and his expertise is highly regarded, at home and abroad. His process is unique, developed over 40 years of experimentation. When he started, there were no apprenticeships available and established smokers were unwilling to share their secrets. So, he started experimenting with his way of doing things. Although he had a few close calls, he eventually succeeded.

Beechwood chips
Frank began by building a small smoker, using local bricks,  in an old shed. He used Pyrex dishes to hold the fish and barrels from the Midleton Distillery for chips. He fed the alcohol-soaked staves in manually for hours on end. Now and then, there was an explosion and the Pyrex dish came flying out the opening until a simple slat was attached as a safety measure. The process was rough and ready, and he admits that he was "daft and mad." However, he stuck with it and went on to build Ireland's first modular fish plant.

Smoking fish requires a delicate balance between the original fish flavour, the salt used in the cure, and the smoke. Frank has mastered this balance with his experience, touch, and timing. He believes touch and timing improve with time, just like a musician becomes better with practice.

Frank is always learning something new, even after 40 years. He relies on his touch more than technology to determine when the smoking process should end. He hangs his fish on tenterhooks in his smokehouse, allowing the free-flowing smoke to penetrate the whole fish evenly. This is not possible when the fish is laid flat on a rack.

Entrance to the Tasting Room, and tour!

Frank uses beechwood chippings instead of the more common oak because they are less tannic and more subtle, enhancing the fish's delicacy rather than competing with it. He uses just two ingredients, salt and salmon, and the fish is washed after the salt has been in contact with it for a short time.

Mackerel on the bone!
Frank's mackerel is superb, particularly when smoked on the bone. If you take a private tour with him, you can eat freshly smoked mackerel straight from the hot smoker, which is a unique experience.

Frank's tours are a great way to learn about his smoking process, and he offers tasting plates in his Tasting Room after the tour. Frank’s wife Caroline, a key partner in the enterprise, says the plates, that include hot-smoked and cold-smoked salmon, are a core part of the tour, allowing people to experience the difference that the traditional process makes. The private tours offer bespoke menus, and larger groups can even request bespoke smokes, such as lobster with hot butter.

Salmon hanging in the smokehouse.

Public tours are available daily at 3 pm (except Sunday), but you must book online (minimum 2, maximum 10). The tour lasts about an hour, and you can find all the details and book on Frank's website here. Private tours may be booked via email

Directions.  Take the N25 from Cork City. Exit at junction 3 (Cobh/Carrigtwohill West) and follow Cobh signs. Drive across Belvelly Bridge - you'll see a castle on your left. Take a right immediately after the bridge for the smokehouse. Then drive a quarter of a mile until you see the signed driveway for Hederman on the left. Plenty of easy parking. However no big buses please!

Small beginnings: Frank's original smoker! Note the safety feature!

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