“Welcome to Hansen and Lydersen,” says owner Ole-Martin Hansen from Norway when arriving at a secluded brick building in a side street in Stoke Newington in North London. Here Hansen has built a small smokehouse – an upgraded copy of his old great-grandfather. Delicious salmon fillets hanging on long wooden sticks are dancing in the gentle breeze from a fan.
The traditional Norwegian Smokehouse in London, Hansen & Lydersen, has in a few years developed into a successful gastronomic enterprise with regular customers that include chefs and sheiks. The salmon is salted and traditionally hung and slowly cold-smoked.
Ole-Martin uses the recipe that his great-grandfather, Lyder-Nilsen, devised back in 1923. A fishmonger by trade, he started the family business in Finnmark, Norway, and passed it on to his son Leif in the early 60s. He in turn passed his expertise on to his daughters, who chose not to continue the family business. But it was this family tradition that Ole-Martin brought to London after his musical studies in 2009.
“My grandfather, a technical engineer, believed that the energy of the wind would transfer to the salmon,” Hansen-Lydersen says with utter sincerity. “Like linie aquavit, which crosses the equator twice in an oakwood barrel, he thought that salmon should keep moving. If it’s moving then there’s an energy which changes the characteristics of the taste.” He designed as smoking chamber using fans to create a high velocity loop of air which kept his salmon moving.
Lady Bramford, known for her philanthropy as well as her sustainable approach to food production, has invested in Ole-Martin’s company. “I think it is a brilliant idea to invest in a farm to show people the future of farming,” says Hansen enthusiastically.
The salmon is sourced from his brother’s fish farm, between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic. To secure the high quality it’s prepared less than 48 hours after it has been fished. After the salmon fillets have been salted using Fleur de Sel de Guérande salt from North West France they are left for 12 hours. Then beach wood is used to create the subtle, sweet smoke which infuses the salmon with its distinctive smoky flavor.
Ole-Martin explains that he get salt from this part of France since the Vikings used to get salt from there to cure their cod.
Using sketches of his grandfather’s Finnmark smokery, Ole Martin has recreated the family business in London, and added his own touches. He plays piano every time they close the smoking chamber. That’s what I would call chamber music.
People might think he is a little eccentric, but relentless research and experimentation are central to the business, and sticking to one product allows Hansen to painstakingly perfect his techniques.
Olke-Martin’s working days are long, and his methodology is labour intensive.
Ole-Martin is using a technique that is very Japanese, since he for a while studied under the head chef at Nobu.
“It is very similar to the Scandinavian in how it focuses on heritage and respect for what you’re eating,” says Ole-Martin.
Ole-Martin supplies high-end restaurants with his produce, including Sake No Hana, The Albion, Nopi and Viajante, as well as local consumers.
But why London?
“There’s 12 million people living here, and I don’t want to go anywhere else. I have people coming from Italy, Spain and Japan. I even sell my salmon to a sheik in Kuwait who sends his private jet to buy it.”
Now he is still recovering from the two weeks before Christmas when he worked 214 hours. Hansen-Lydersen remains uncompromising in his approach and salts each salmon individually.
However, the superstar of his smoking chamber is a largely unseen, complex, fully automated and iPad-operated system of pipes, a feat of engineering that makes Hansen very proud and allows him to control every aspect of production.
“You might think it’s just pipes,” he explains, “but in fact it’s a delicate balance, and it’s about pushing the boundaries of design and engineering together.”
Ole-Martin’s dream is to go on tour. He is actually designing a shipping container, a glass cube, where people will be able to look into it from 360 degrees. It’s divided into three glass compartments: the salmon will be smoked in the middle with one end for filleting in and the other for packing. The idea is to travel around with it to show off the process.
“We might bring it to New York, or to Tokyo, or to a mountain up in Scotland, to show people the process. I think it’s grounding to watch people work. Maybe children will come and have a look through the windows, like I did when I was a child,” Ole-Martin smilkes.
The delicious smoked salmon from Hansen & Lydersen may be bought from their Stoke Newington Smokehouse, online at Hansen-lydersen or at London’s food markets: Broadway Market, Maltby Market and Lower Marsh Market.
Thank you for smoking, Mr. Hansen, written by Tor Kjolberg