Free delivery on all orders within the UK over £25

Meet Justin & Georgina Staal, Staal Smokehouse

 

Meet Justin & Georgina Staal, Staal Smokehouse

 

Welcome to this month's Yorkshire food and drink scene blog! Another look at someone of great influence, and of whom we love their work! Expect some inside information and a tasty recipe!

I love this job! Earlier in the summer, I spent a very relaxed hour with Justin Staal and his wife Georgina at their home and Smokehouse near the beautiful market town of Beverley in East Yorkshire. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Staal Smokehouse is an award winning, family run business dedicated to producing the most amazing smoked fish, meat and poultry products (get on over to their website to see their amazing produce and you’ll also feel their passion for what they do). Justin and Georgina are a charming couple, and I now have house and plot envy after my visit!

We chatted at length about artisan producers, the rise and future of the supermarkets, setting up the business, family matters, and everything in between, but here’s the questions and the answers you’ll want to read! Enjoy!

A bit of background for you. Prior to setting up the business, Justin spent a decade working in a niche sector of the luxury travel industry arranging bespoke high-end holidays for avid fly fishermen and women. The work took him from Russia’s Kola Peninsula to the sand flats of the Seychelles, satisfying a wanderlust as well as an extreme passion for fishing, so I wanted to find out if prior to this Justin had a foodie background, and what, if anything, had shaped his eventual career in food.

It appeared that Justin had in the past had many different jobs which paved the way to him setting up the Smokehouse! Straight from college he ran front of house and supported the kitchen on a shooting estate in Scotland, followed by a time in the South of France, where he worked as a chef (he used the term very loosely!) preparing breakfasts and lunches on luxury yachts! After obtaining his Masters in Land Economy from Aberdeen, he worked in a restaurant, but more than those experiences, he has always loved food and always loved cooking, so setting up a Smokehouse became an extension of that. Georgina has had no particular foodie background but has always been 100% on the journey with Justin. I think she plays the glamourous assistant role very well – keeping all the balls juggling in the business and at home!

As many do, Justin saw his fondest and earliest memories linked to the food cooked by his mother at home. He was away at school from the age of 8 with rather ropey prep school food being the only offering, so coming home to food made from scratch with quality ingredients was always a huge treat and part of a food sensory bank! In particular, Sunday lunches around the dining table back at home went down very well. His mother was unfortunately terminally ill as the business launched and she never saw the Smokehouse in full operation, though she was the first person to place an order! Justin does believe that she would be amazed at how far they’ve come, but he would be the first to admit she would think they were barking mad! It does seem that smoking may have always been the plan, as the family, when up in Scotland, would always stop off at a smokehouse owned by a distant relative, so perhaps it was always in the genes!

After living in the Home Counties for a number of years, they came back to Georgina’s hometown after having their first child and wanting to strengthen those family links. It was a stop gap but they have never left! The house and Smokehouse are growing along with the boys who both sound like keen sportsmen! The garden now houses the cricket and football pitches! (Back to that plot envy again!)

Talking about family I wanted to find out a bit more about how Justin would go about getting families to try an alternative fish choice. With 80% of the UK's favourite fish being made up of the BIG 5: Tuna, salmon, cod, haddock and prawns, we’re not really showing our true worth. It’s a difficult one to tackle, or is it? As island nation, Justin and Georgina were both shocked by how little we eat fish unless it’s battered! It appears to be a whole other story on the continent. Their attitude to food markets is completely different, along with their access to incredible fish (which we should also have) and eating and cooking together as a family is much more the norm. So, the next generation learn how easy and quick it is to cook fish and are not scared of being presented with what is really the ultimate in fast food!

There also appears to be a lack of wet fish shops, though Justin does point out his two favourites in Leeds and Harrogate supplying quality fish, beautifully presented. There’s so much truth in us eating with our eyes! There are also a number dotted down the Coast, but the main barrier seems to be the marketing and promotion of this healthy food. Justin and Georgina are trying to do things differently – their website features recipes which truly show their fish off in its best light. With good photography and recipes with something for everyone’s tastes I think they’ve got it just right. Branding also helps (we love their new branding!), and as there’s no shop front to speak of, this is so important. Justin cites his experience in this area to selling fishing trips to Russia, where you can only sell it visually and get people on board (literally!) with your passion.

Getting face to face with your market is the best way to educate and get people to try ‘new’ things! Children in particular don’t think they’ll like fish, but with the smokiness it enhances the flavour and texture and you find they are on board immediately! Artisan food producers like ourselves and Justin want to create a thriving business which clearly communicates their passion, and perhaps fishmongers are not quite on the same page. But just like farmers in the same situation 30 years ago and having to diversify to survive, perhaps those same fishermen will take their knowledge and passion to promote fish and be part of a new food revolution. Watch this space.

Justin has obviously adopted Georgina’s home of East Yorkshire and its fabulous food and drink as his own! I wanted to find out what they both think makes Yorkshire such an abundant larder and gives it its strong connections to food and drink? Georgina summed it up perfectly - Yorkshire people are very passionate about Yorkshire! And I think I agree with them!

Both are very collaborative – they are always championing their fellow producers, including ourselves. Justin also smokes our rapeseed oil and it’s a firm favourite with our foodies! They believe they wouldn’t have had the same support in the Home Counties and put this down to a more transient population. Particularly in the rural communities in Yorkshire there’s a lot of old networks. But they did pose the question (and perhaps one for Gary Verity to answer!), does Yorkshire transfer outside of Yorkshire? Yorkshire is such an abundant county too, not just because of it’s size, but its diversity, with cosmopolitan cities, coastline, and untapped areas such as the Wolds on our doorstep, it’s got it all!

This led on to talks further afield than Yorkshire! With Justin’s travels around Russia, the Seychelles, France (the list goes on…), I had to find out if not Yorkshire, where would he choose to live if based solely on its culinary offerings? Well this took some thinking! If he had to live outside his beloved country, his first thought was a romantic notion to go back to New Zealand. Justin was just 18 when he first spent some time there and then later travelled back there with Georgina. But this would not be his choice based on culinary offerings – that trip would be saved for Argentina! Justin is not a pescatarian, that’s for sure! Lamb Asado and a full-bodied Malbec were top of the list for mouthwatering food choices. Though Cuba for Mojitos, Russia for Vodka (definitely not for food!) were mulled over too! I could see the delight all over his face! He’s a settled man with very itchy feet! Georgina decided she was a homegirl, so back to Yorkshire we talked!

Once food was in the conversation we chatted about ultimate foodie experiences! And I think we were all in agreement that being cooked for and the company you ate with were the most important factors in enjoying that ultimate meal. A burger in a bun, a bottle of wine always taste better with good friends in tow! Their dining area and kitchen have been planned around that very experience! I could just see and hear conversation, good food, excellent wines being part of their night in. Lucky!

Lastly, I wanted to know if Justin still managed to get out fishing and was there a favourite spot in Yorkshire. Scotland was the much-preferred destination for Justin, when Georgina allows! He spends about 3 days a year fly fishing for salmon up north, which is absolutely the best place to go. He has been invited to go trout fishing locally but his passion is always the salmon. His trips are not as plentiful as he’d like but he has been spoilt over the years, and it’s the total relaxation and escape from modern life and its stresses that he revels in. The boys are keen anglers too – Georgina not so much a fan. Too slow for her! For you keen anglers out there, I did ask if there were any tips he could pass on and the only was not to give up! Solid advice.

It was great to chat to about their back story and the future of Staal Smokehouse. Their ‘Dream’ was to set up a business that encompassed their passion for food whilst adding diversity to the existing farming enterprise and I think they’ve only gone and done it!

Staal Smoked Chicken with Pasta and Fresh Pesto.

Serves 4 and any excess pesto can be frozen. I usually make a batch of pesto and freeze in ice cube trays. This can then be taken out of the freezer for a very easy mid-week family meal.

Ingredients

2 Staal smoked chicken breasts

Pasta for 4

Fresh Pesto
200g Parmesan cheese
2 big bunches (about 60g each) of fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic
100g pine nuts
1 lemon
100ml Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil

 

Method to make pesto
Break the parmesan cheese into a food processor.
Remove the tough stems of the basil and add to the food processor.
Peel and add the garlic.
Add the pine nuts.
Finely grate the lemon zest and squeeze in the lemon juice.
Pour in the oil.
Blitz the ingredients until quite fine.

 

Cook the pasta and drain.
Add the pesto and stir to coat the pasta.
Chop the smoked chicken breasts and add giving a quick stir to mix together.
Delicious served with a green salad.

Enjoy!

 

Baked Chicken with a Smoked Crumb Crust

 

Ingredients

2 large skinless chicken breasts
80g seeded or white bread (2 slices)
4 tbsp (60ml) Oak Smoked Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil (plus a little more for drizzling)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh asparagus
A good pinch salt and pepper
12 cherry tomatoes on the vine

Method

Pre heat your oven to 200C / 180C (fan) / gas mark 6.

Tear up your bread and place in a food processer, then blitz until rough breadcrumbs have started to form. Add the Oak Smoked Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil, garlic and seasoning and blend further until all the ingredients are combined.

Place the chicken breasts in an oven proof dish and, using your hands, press the breadcrumb mixture onto each piece until they are all covered. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven and lay the asparagus and tomatoes in the dish alongside it. Drizzle a touch more of the Oak Smoked Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil over the vegetables and return to the oven for a further 7-10 minutes until the asparagus is cooked (be sure not to let it over cook).

We like to serve this with new potatoes tossed in a mint and balsamic dressing.

 

 

 

Newsletter!