Unlike their feline counterparts, Manx kippers do in fact have tails. We'll clear that one up right away. Now you will ask why I am writing about Manx kippers? Well, I will tell you: they are delicious.
Like many Americans, I believe I was introduced to the concept of smoked-fish-for-breakfast by the BBC show Fawlty Towers (Episode: the Kipper and the Corpse). Not the most encouraging of introductions, either. The idea of smoked fish for breakfast was mildly nauseating and the episode revolves around the idea of a hotel guest dying from eating one. So we all had a jolly good laugh and thought "those quaint Brits and their strange eating habits..." and moved on.
Many years later I found myself on the Isle of Man with my Man for a holiday. The Critic had visited the island many times in his childhood so we were have a real nostalgia trip. For years, he had been telling me "Isle of Man kippers are the best in the world" (uh...yeah...). But as I've been living with this Brit I have become strangely more...well, almost British. And the years of tea drinking (milk added first please!) had gotten to me. So the fish almost sounded appealing. We asked the B&B keeper if we could have kippers one morning for breakfast. She tried to put us off with veiled hints ("they do make the entire house smell for days...") but it was written on the breakfast menu in front of us: we are pleased to serve kippers for breakfast; please request them 24 hours in advance.
The next morning, the breakfast room did indeed smell of kippers, but this may have been due to the fact that the other guests had overheard our conversation and also asked for kippers. It smelled great. They were great. I don't know why smoked fish is now my favourite breakfast but there it is. It's the only food that involves "work" that the Critic likes. (He's normally a no-bones-in-my-chicken, no-peeling-shrimp kind of a guy.) In fact it becomes a dedicated satisfying activity to try and extract every delicious morsel of herring from its bones for transport to your mouth.
It's making me hungry just thinking about it.
Now the bad news, for you North Americans, is that these Manx fish are only delivered to the UK and mainland Europe. (That's the good news for me, by the way.) But if you do live in Europe or just would like more information on the process of catching, curing, eating and cooking herring, you can do no better than to go to the George Devereau Kipper Curers web site. There are also recipes that look very good, but somehow I can never convince myself to chance wasting one. They also have fascinating information on how nutritious kippers are.
For the North Americans who are already kipper-lovers or willing to give it a shot, a quick search of the web came up with one supplier of kippers in Maryland: Mackenzie Limited.
And in answer to the assertion that the best kippers in the world come from the Isle of Man, I can only say that the (admittedly small) sample I have tested from other parts of the world did fail to live up to the Manx ones. I look forward to hearing from anyone else out there who has an opinion on this, especially if you try the supplier in Maryland!
To prepare and serve kippers:
Take bags of kippers (we never get filets: the Critic says they are less tasty and I say they are less fun).
Place in a deep pan of water and boil for ten minutes or so.
In the meantime, butter a slice or two of brown bread per person.
Brew some very strong tea (PG tips for preference).
If you are feeling fancy, slice a ripe tomato in two and sprinkle with salt and pepper, one per person.
Remove the kippers from the stove, use scissors to open the bags and tongs to extract the fish. Before serving, put a small pat of butter on each of the fish.
Serve and eat immediately.
Lastly, put the kipper juice, bags and carcases in a plastic bag, seal it and take out to the garbage. It doesn't smell that bad!
One last wonderful fact about kippers: you can freeze them for up to 18 months. That's why we buy in bulk.