Halibut from the Isle of Gigha is an award-winning delicacy, increasingly found on the menus of the UK’s best restaurants. The flat fish is smoked over oak chippings containing former whisky casks to produce smoked Gigha halibut. Recently, this delicious morsel won the Golden Fork Award for the Best Scottish Product of the Year.
“It’s a lovely, well-balanced flavor between the smoke and the fish,” says Amanda Anderson, the sales and marketing director for Gigha Halibut. “It’s very flavorsome. Everybody says that it’s not too smoky, not too salty; it’s creamy, and you can still taste the fish, with its lovely, meaty texture.”
The fish are given a dry cure and a cold smoke. “Kilchoman barrels are included in our chips,” she reveals. “We do think that makes a difference. People say that they can taste the oak barrels in the smoke.”
Gigha, meaning God’s island, lies off the west coast of Kintyre and is accessed by a ferry from Tayinloan on the road to Campbeltown. The island has a diverse history of former landowners, from the Lord of the Isles in the 14th century to Sir James Horlick in the 20th century, co-inventor of another well-loved, malt-based beverage. Gigha is seven miles long and one mile wide, with a population of 130 people, and has been proudly community-owned since 2002. It has beautiful farmland and white sand beaches lapped by aquamarine water. Most of the time, you can have a beach to yourself.
The small team on Gigha can claim to be unique as the only land-based halibut farmers in the UK, rearing sustainable, organically fed Scottish Atlantic halibut in tanks beside the shore. Each vessel has a low stock intensity to ensure the fish are active and develop a firm, natural body. Wild halibut is an endangered species: when it comes to fresh seafood, chefs appreciate top-quality ingredients and understand the need for sourcing supplies with sustainable credentials. The dense, meaty flesh retains a wonderful fresh, clean flavor that I found worked perfectly with the fruit and saltiness in Oban 14 year old, a youthful Yoichi, or the rounded character of Talisker 18 year old.
Gigha Halibut can be found in the UK at good fishmongers and top restaurants. If you get to experience the Isle of Gigha this summer, make sure you book a beach-view table at The Boathouse restaurant, then retire for a nightcap before bed at the Gigha Hotel.