The Sunday Business Post By Emma Kennedy
Graham Roberts’ parents set up the Connemara Smokehouse in Ballyconneely, Co Galway, in 1979. Almost 30 years later, Roberts has donned the mantle of the family business, but the traditions and attention to detail remain the same.
Roberts’ father was a fisherman before he began the business, and his son grew up with a taste for good quality fish. The smokehouse today produces a range of smoked fish products, including four types of smoked salmon and smoked tuna, smoked mackerel and smoked trout.
Eight people work in the business, including Roberts, his wife and his mother. ‘‘Everyone involved is friends or family,” he says, something which he feels improves the quality of the product.
The fish is sourced locally, which adds to its freshness and flavour. Roberts fillets the fish by hand before the ‘‘little pin bones’’ are removed.
Next, the fish is dry salted, rather than being salted in brine. Roberts says the dry salting process removes some of the moisture from the fish, which is important for a smoked-fish product.
The salt is washed off with fresh water and the fish is then smoked for eight to ten hours. The duration of the smoking process can vary, depending on the temperature and wind conditions on the day.
The fish is smoked using beechwood, as this gives a better flavour than oak, according to Roberts.
Once it has been smoked, the fish is dried for up to ten hours in the smoking chamber and then left in the fridge for 24 hours. The final step is hand-slicing and packing.
Roberts is a member of the Bord Iascaigh Mhara Seafood Circle, a group of more than 100 people involved in the seafood industry.
He also features as a food ‘‘super-hero’’ in celebrity chef Rick Stein’s book Food Heroes.
Stein, a chef with a passion for seafood, hand-picked a number of producers for the book who he felt were passionate about food, so Roberts really is among the chosen few.