Respected fish-monger Crawford Ewing enjoyed a few days relaxation last week after another hectic Christmas/New Year season for Ewing Seafoods in Belfast. The small family business saw sales of its unique smoked salmon hit new records, especially with restaurants and hotels across Northern Ireland.
The business, based on the Shankill Road for over a century, has long been the ‘go-to’ supplier of premium fresh and smoked salmon and other seafood for chefs here. It has also supplied smoked salmon for major events in London and Dublin.
“It was another hugely successful time for us,” Crawford says. “Fresh, organic and smoked salmon continue to be the popular choice with chefs, and we certainly appreciate their support over the years.
“We were able to respond to the growth in demand because of a decision to expand our fish smoker last year. It certainly proved a wise decision,” he adds.
He admits, however, that it was a decision “tinged with more than a little sadness” for the historic family business. “We were sad because it meant we had to demolish a kiln that had been used by the family for generations in the production of delicately smoked and delicious fish for high-end restaurants, hotels, corporate clients and premium seafood devotees in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland,” he says.
“But we’d no option whatsoever. We had the business and we required a much bigger and more modern smoker to enable us to respond quickly and effectively,” Crawford, a director of Ewing’s, continues.
“Our sales of organic smoked salmon, in particular, are soaring and we needed to make a significant investment to increase capacity. We needed the extra space to cure, smoke and then freeze much more of our fish,” he explains.
“There really wasn’t any alternative but to demolish the old and relatively small kiln. But it was especially traumatic for my father, Walter, who grew up with the kiln and knows more than anyone the contribution it has made to the flavour and texture of our products,” he adds.
“There’s nothing he doesn’t know about curing salmon in Ireland. We source fresh salmon locally and from premium suppliers in Scotland,” he continues.
Crawford, a motorcycling enthusiast, runs the successful business with his father and Warren, his brother.
The old kiln, located behind the famous seafood shop fronting the road, had been used to smoke fish by the company since its foundation by the family in 1911. The shop has long been the first ‘port of call’ for fish and seafood lovers since then. It’s now one of the last remaining specialist fishmongers in Ireland, claiming to “sell anything that swims”.
“The old smoker served three generations of our family by enabling us to create the finest smoked salmon in the world.
“It not only satisfied our local community and our food service business but we also regularly send smoked fish to the most influential people, including the Royal Family, and other celebrities.
“We could never have imagined that my grandfather’s old brick shed with a tin roof would become a local institution,” he says.
The business was founded by his great grandfather, William, in 1911. The ethos of business then and now is quality. “We then add our passion to be the very best at what we do and in everything we produce. As a result, we believe that our smoked salmon, in particular, is the world’s very best,” adds Crawford.
Today Ewing’s counts Sainsbury’s and many other high-end outlets among clients for smoked salmon and cod, products which have won a clutch of major national and local awards.
It is also the prime supplier of organic salmon and other fresh seafood to more than 300 of Northern Ireland’s top restaurants. In addition, organic salmon smoked by Ewing’s has been used at high profile dinners and receptions in Britain and exported worldwide.
Travellers at Belfast International Airport, furthermore, have been able to take the attractively packaged smoked salmon with them from the Food NI/Taste of Ulster shop in the Departures lounge, the only fish available in the small shop. The company is a Food NI member.
Crawford says Ewing’s has seen growing demand for its organic salmon, in particular, because of its outstanding flavour which made the decision to invest in a new smoker, new packing equipment and other modern kit a “no brainer”.
While the old kiln has now given way to a new and much larger smoker, which is also within the company’s historic Belfast factory and shop complex, Ewing’s retains its long-standing and unique curing recipe and continues to smoke slowly over oak and beech wood chips. The slow curing and smoking process takes around a week.
The new smoker, designed to the highest hygiene standards, recreates traditional methods and also features a purpose-designed high-care packing facility.
The location of the old kiln has been cleared for the construction of a huge new freezer that will support the company as it responds to the growing demand for its flavour-rich fish and other seafood, products prized, in particular, by many of Northern Ireland’s top chefs.
The excellence of the company’s approach has been endorsed by a string of national accolades for its cured fish. It has won UK Great Taste Awards for its organic salmon and a listing in the Top 50 Foods in 2014 for its lightly smoked cod loin.