During the last month, I had the opportunity to speak with the young Norwegian behind London’s Hansen & Lydersen salmon smokery in several occasions. One was on a late afternoon after the smokery had closed and Ole Hansen answered his phone while playing piano, an after-work habit that reveals a lot about his joyful temperament. We finally managed to do our interview last week, in a morning when him and his team where busy wrapping freshly smoked salmon for a Hansen & Lydersen party. Now at his third year of artful salmon smoking, the food entrepreneur decided to revive the long forgotten craft of his ancestors soon after getting his degree in sound arts.
As a child, he had spent several summers in Kirkenes, a small town in Norway’s county of Finnmark, next to his salmon fisherman grandfather. It’s in that same village that his great-grandfather, Lyder-Nilsen had developed his smoked salmon recipe in 1923. Prepared with a subtle mixture of juniper and beech woods the delicacy soon became very successful around the Varanger Fjord, but the family business shut down when Ole was still a child. Without any previous direct involvement but with a great heritage to learn from, in 2010 Ole Hansen moved his great-grandfather’s method to Stoke Newington, in Northern London, becoming the city’s first salmon smoker and a supplier to some of the most selective chefs and gourmands in town.
FDL caught up with Ole Hansen for a chat...
What are the most important elements in salmon smoking?
The ingredients are the most important element. And the integrity of the production which consists in lots of details; it’s a long conversation but to sum up, if you only do salmon then you can go into detail. For example our salmon has a very low fat content because fish swim a lot. We source the beech woods for smoking from a sustainable farm in Germany and the juniper comes from my brother’s farm in Norway. The salt comes from Guérande in North-West France and there is a story about the area that says the Vikings used to exchange cod fish with this specific salt, which its sweeter and less harsh than the one of the Mediterranean. All those details make a big difference; we do our salmon in a very delicate, kind of Japanese way.
Instead of importing the salmon straight from Norway, where your family used to run the smokery, you decided to move the method to London. How did that occur?
I needed something closer (Hansen’s salmon is smoked whithin the next 48 hours from smoking). When I started my research in order to find sustainably fished salmon, I stumbled upon an amazing farm in Scotland, in the Faroe Islands. It is a family-run business and they make some of the best salmon around. So, I decided to work with them!
Why farmed salmon?
Just as intensively farmed salmon, wild salmon has a huge environmental impact. Corporations who only think about profit, they aren’t interested in the local communities, are the ones who usually fish salmon. It’s not a case if I chose to work with a family business: they do a huge effort for quality; they produce small volumes but their fish has nothing to do with what you can find around.
Do you work more with chefs or with direct customers?
We do everything: we supply restaurants, catering businesses and private customers. Each category is good for a different reason: for instance when working with restaurants you have very small margins but it’s great for exchanging ideas and discovering new, interesting products.
How do you eat your salmon?
The way I used to eat in as a child is still my favorite: just itself with some freshly baked bread from my mother. But I also enjoy in with some dill and crème fraiche.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m making a line of raincoats with oilskin manufacturer from Norway, Olessen, their business dates back in 1891 and together we are designing raincoats for urban fishermen, for the people of the cities. Another project that I've had in ming for sometime now and hope to develop soon is a mobile smokehouse made entirely in glass, so you can see every detail of the smoking.
I heard that the Norwegian ambassador is among your customers…
Yeah, Prince Charles as well! Someone gave him our salmon as a gift and a few days later I received personal thank you note, saying that he was reading an article about us on House and Garden while eating our salmon.