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Why would you play piano to a salmon?

For Ole Hansen, it's just part of the process of creating the world's best tasting smoked salmon

Why would you play piano to a salmon?

Ole Hansen runs a business smoking salmon, just as his grandfather and great grandfather did before him. Nothing too remarkable in that, perhaps, except you'll find this Norwegian's small, homemade, lean-to smokehouse in a quiet mews street in north London.

"It was about recreating something that was lost from my childhood," says Hansen of his decision, four years ago, to abandon a career as a sound artist in order to build a smokehouse in the UK capital.

He started, he says proudly, with a stove that he got for £25 (NOK215). And his smokehouse produces a vertical airflow in which his salmon sway as they smoke for 12 hours, just as they would in the wind back home in his native Kirkenes, northern Norway. "It's like the way Linie Aquavit is made in barrels that move around the world," says Hansen. "The movement gives that something special to the flavour."

It's this detail, according to Hansen, that helps produce the best-tasting smoked salmon in the world. He also plays piano to the salmon as it smokes - he favours Edvard Grieg - but that's more for his own benefit than for the fish.

He only uses local producers for his ingredients, from the sweet Fleur de Sel de Guérande used for hand-salting, to the juniper and beech-wood chips procured from a small German supplier fuelling the stove - it has to be 70 per cent beech wood and 30 per cent juniper to get the perfect blend of sweet and smoky.

The salmon is currently sourced from a family farm in the Faroe Islands, where the fish is de-stressed before it's killed - though he's now looking at another farm in Tromsø to keep things Norwegian. Scottish salmon is off-limits because, he says, none of the producers is small scale enough.

After the fastidious salting, the preparation of the wood and the 12-hour smoking process, the fish is ready. Once done, he refuses to chop the fish on plastic, insisting on using a slab of oak like his grandfather did. He's appalled by the thought of plastic touching the fish. And don't even mention vacuum packing.

The result is astonishing - a rich flavour of sea and woods with a lingering aroma. "I'll turn up to a party smelling of fish," says Hansen, "but people like it. They'll sniff my scarf and go, 'Ahhhh'."

Chefs like it, too, from Michelin-starred Nuno Mendes to the near-ubiquitous Yotam Ottolenghi. Hansen sells wholesale for £70 (NOK600) for a whole salmon or £40 (NOK345) for a 600g fillet, but you can get 100g for £5 (NOK45) at various times at east London's Broadway Market, Camden Passage in Islington or Borough Market in south London. You can even visit his smokehouse on a Thursday or Friday - and London is closer to Oslo than Kirkenes is.
www.hansen-lydersen.com


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