Kippers are herring or sometimes salmon which have been split in half, cleaned, salted, and then cold smoked. The result is a highly flavorful, nutritious fish which can be eaten in a wide assortment of ways. Many people associate kippers with British cuisine specifically, as they are a popular breakfast item in the British Isles, but similar versions of preserved fish are eaten in many nations around the world. Chances are very good that there are some canned kippers in your neighborhood, as this delicacy is popular in many corners of the world.
Any food which has been salted and coldsmoked could be said to be “kippered,” and kippering is a time-honored method of preservation. The salt keeps the meat from going bad while it cures in the smoke, causing the food to shrink and become easier to handle and transport. Like other cold smoked foods, kippers should be cooked before they are consumed, just in case they contain harmful bacteria, and some companies sell pre-cooked kippers in cans for people who want to be able to serve them cold right out of the tin.
The invention of the kipper is often credited to John Woodger, a fish processor who supposedly accidentally developed the kippering process in 1843. In fact, fish have been salted and cold smoked in Europe since well before the birth of Christ, so Woodger could not have invented kippering, but he certainly popularized it, making the kipper one of the more enduring legacies of the British Isles in the eyes of many food historians.
The word “kipper,” incidentally, appears to come from the Old English word for a spawning male salmon, cypera, which comes from an older word, cyperen, which means “copper.” The copper link is probably a reference to the distinctive coppery tinge which salmon acquire during the spawning season. People have been talking about kippering salmon since the 1300s.
The Isle of Man is particularly famous for its kippers, and several processors there ship kippers all over the world to people with a soft spot for this fish delicacy. Kippers are also produced by several other fisheries around Britain and Ireland. They can also be made from fish other than herring and salmon, and some people like to make their own versions of kippers at home with their catch.
The classic use of kippers is on toast at breakfast, but kippers can also be added to omelets and quiches, sauces, and a variety of other dishes. They are high in useful vitamins and minerals, making them nutritious as well as tasty.