The smoked salmon market in Qatar is experiencing a revolution – and it’s homegrown. Its starting point is located within the depths of the Industrial Area where you can find Qatar’s first fish processing and packaging facility, Ocean Fish.

Anders Jensen, and his father Peter bring 65 years of smoking experience to Ocean Fish’s state-of-the-art production line. Compared to modern commercial processes they handle the fish carefully, and take time over each step in the production process, which provides a smoother texture to their smoked salmon.

They decided to buy fresh fish, rather than frozen, to provide a superior quality to Qatar’s consumers. And it is certainly making a wave in the local smoked salmon market, having won contracts with many leading companies in the hospitality industry.

Smoke Mastery

Peter is a sought-after smoke master from Denmark and it is his recipe that is being used today to smoke Ocean Fish’s premium salmon fillets. The Ocean Fish facility has a modern smoke oven that allows him to regulate the temperature when he is smoking salmon.

To provide a high quality product he takes care with every element in the smoking process. Beech wood is imported from Germany because he knows how it will affect the taste of the fish — it provides a medium smokiness that appeals to the majority of consumers.

The Smoke Master is also experimenting and testing recipes to use with local fish. In Qatar there is no tradition of smoking fish, so they are going to be charting new waters. The challenge is that they have limited understanding of smoking local fish varieties such as Kannad — everything is different from the water, to the fat content and the consistency. Ultimately, it will take time to develop good recipes because all fish cannot be treated the same.

Anders is extremely proud of the smoked salmon produced at Ocean Fish: ‘Cheap smoked salmon has dark marks, fatty tissues, and a fishy taste. But with our product you can see that it is a high quality product, and it melts on your tongue. It is the first locally-smoked fish that you can purchase in Qatar…everyone loves it.’

From sea to market

Salmon is freshly caught and sent to Qatar via air cargo. It arrives a few hours later in Doha, and in less than 24 hours the factory has salmon from Norway. It is important to note that this is fish that has not been frozen, but rather it is still fresh and kept on ice which helps to maintain the quality.

It takes three to five days to salt, marinate, smoke, and package the fresh salmon. Each process has its own challenges, and even learning the correct way to fillet a fish can take more than six months.

The salmon is unpacked at the factory and a special piece of equipment is used to check the quality of the shipment. This ‘freshness meter’ provides a reading that indicates how fresh the fish is. A swab test is also carried out to check that the equipment is clean and that food hygiene standards are kept high.

A production line is set up so that the fish can be prepared within minutes. This ensures that the fish is as fresh as possible before it moves onto the salting process. The salmon is cut into fillets, and the bones and fat are removed. Any pin bones are also carefully removed by hand in order to make sure that the structure of the fillet is not destroyed.

The fish is salted using a coarse salt preparation that has been mixed with sugar. It is important that the salt used is non iodised, as the iodine can change the colour of the fish. The salted fillets are then packed together in boxes and left to cure for a day. This long curing process draws out the water and helps with the quality of the end product. Most modern day recipes don’t cure as long because the weight of the fish is reduced.

The next day the fillets are placed within the smoker, and the temperature and humidity are carefully monitored. During smoking the fish changes colour, and once it cools it will change colour again.

It is important to know that the texture of the fish differs depending on the type of smoking process being used. When you ‘cold smoke’ it is important that the fish is not smoked at a temperature higher than 28°C otherwise the meat will start to fall apart. In comparison, a ‘hot smoke’ requires temperatures to reach at least 65°C so that the inside of the fish is completely cooked.

Anders believes hot smoked salmon will be big in Qatar as spices are used to flavour the fish, which would appeal to the local palate. Currently they are experimenting with peppercorn, lemon, and chilli.

Once the smoked salmon is ready for packaging, the fillets are prepared with special machinery and tools that take off the skin and dark meat. Removing dark meat provides a higher quality product, but it also reduces the final weight of the fish fillets.

The smoked salmon fillets are then sent through a slicer machine, which accurately weighs and scans the fish so that it can adjust the angle of the knife as it slices the fillet into thin slices. This slicer is very accurate and smoked salmon portions can be accurately sliced into specific portion sizes such as 30 gram slices.

Once sliced the fish is packaged for retail and slices are weighed to provide either 100 grams or 200 grams of product. It is then vacuum packed and sealed in Ocean Fish packaging to be transported to their preferred stockists.

In the future the Ocean Fish team hope to expand their production capacity from 1.5 tonnes to 5 tonnes, which would allow them to fulfil larger commercial and export orders. Ocean Fish also hopes to open up the factory to school groups for educational purposes. They want to give something back to Qatar and its youth by teaching them about the fishing industry and food production. Visiting the facility provides an eye-opening experience to people who don’t believe they can source products that are made in Qatar.

Author: Shahmim Akram

Note: This article has been extracted from Marhaba’s Issue No 68 Spring/Summer 2017, available this April . For more featured articles, pick up Marhaba’s Issue No 68 Spring/Summer 2017 only QR20 from the nearest hypermarket or bookstore to you.

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