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August 23, 2020

The debate about which items are permissible in a full English breakfast is certain to get people hot under the pyjama collar.

But long before baked beans and dreaded hash browns snuck onto our plates, the humble kipper was the nation’s favourite breakfast treat.

Kippers were once so popular that Britons would happily pick bones out of their teeth at breakfast, high tea and supper – and today the kipper is making a comeback for our Sunday Brunch Bloody Mary pairing.
118403478_305984850710400_1022400594009262082_n.jpg The most time-honoured style of the kipper is the red herring, a salty and highly smoked fish which Thomas Nash described in 1567 as ‘the most precious fish-merchandise, because it can be carried all through Europe … it is every man’s money from the king to the peasant’.

And we know from his famous diary that Samuel Pepys was rather partial to beginning his day with kippers when in 1660 he wrote ‘up in the morning, and had some red herrings to our breakfast, while my boot-heel was a-mending, by the same token the boy left the hole as big as it was before’.

But it was a Yarmouth fish merchant named John Woodger who is credited with coming up with the style of kippers which made the dish so popular in 19th century England.

Various stories abound about how he ‘accidentally’ conceived his technique; one tells of fresh fish left out overnight near a smoking stove and another more dramatic tale is of him rescuing herrings from a blazing fish shed that caught fire, only to rather like the taste afterwards.

Woodger was clearly just as skilled at marketing as he was at brining and smoking his fish and his methods made him quite a celebrity and the undisputed king of kipperers.

And no doubt many of history’s more rightful Royals have been tempted by the delectable dish since, as kippers have been a consistent feature on the Savoy’s breakfast menu since the day the hotel opened 131 years ago.

So you’ll be in good company next time you order a patriotic breakfast and ask your waiter to hold the eggs and bacon and to smoke you a kipper instead.