Family firm celebrates 50 years of work going up in smoke

Russ Parsons: In a country blessed with many great seafood smokers, Duncannon is one of the best, shipping smoked salmon and trout to great restaurants in Ireland and beyond

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, a pretty little lime-washed cottage with bright blue trim, just up the hill on Wexford Street from New Ross’s Three Bullet Gate. The sign out front, Ronan’s Fish Shop, doesn’t give much of a hint either. But behind this humble exterior is Duncannon Smokehouse, which ships smoked salmon and trout to great restaurants in Ireland and beyond.

Nearing its 50th anniversary, Duncannon is the home, quite literally, of second-generation smoker Kai Ronan and his wife Lee. They live behind the store. In a country blessed with many great seafood smokers, Duncannon is one of the best. Its salmon is silky in texture and delicately flavoured. The salt is not overpowering and there is just enough smoke to highlight the fish’s natural perfume. That’s what drew the attention of chef Peter Everett from Everett’s restaurant in Waterford, holder of a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for the past two years.

“Their fish is very delicately smoked,” he says. “Sometimes with smoked salmon, smoke is the overriding thing, and I don’t really like that. This has a nice balance between smoke and the flavour of the fish.” To show off that flavour, Everett buys whole sides of the salmon and slices them himself. This allows him to cut it a bit thicker. “That way you get a mouthful of the fish instead of just a thin slice. Obviously if the flavour balance isn’t just right you can’t do that.”

Cutting it himself also allows Everett to use the trimmings in a very cheffy way. He removes the dark oily flesh from the skin side and squares up the tail and head ends before slicing. Those trimmings are chopped and added to a thick béchamel sauce flavoured with the salmon skin. After chilling overnight, he scoops out quenelles and rolls them in breadcrumbs to make croquettes to fry and serve alongside the sliced salmon. “But if I’m serving it at home, I usually just do the boring old brown bread and really good butter,” he says. “Still, that’s such a nice treat on a Sunday sometimes.”


Duncannon was started in 1974 by the late Frank Ronan, a butcher and fish lover, who decided there were too many butchers in New Ross already and it was time to try something else. It was Kai’s grandmother, Liane Herrling, who experimented with smoking salmon at home before coming up with a recipe much like that which is still used today. The process is simplicity itself. The quality comes not from complication, but from care.

It starts with salmon filleted by hand and then each pinbone painstakingly removed by Barry Tingle, who has been working at Duncannon for 30 years, or Chris Keogh, who has been there 18 years. The cleaned sides are salted and left for four hours before being washed and placed in the smoker for 12 to 14 hours, depending on their size. Finally, each side is sliced by hand by Tim Phelan before being vacuum-packed and sent to market.

The recipe isn’t the only thing that hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years. The big AFOS smoker is the same one Frank Ronan installed when he started the business. The chamber where the fish goes is spotless stainless steel, but the firebox beside it definitely shows its age, battered and stained black with soot from the finely ground oak powder that provides the smoke.

Duncannon still works on a small scale, processing only 200 to 300 sides of salmon a week. “We get the salmon in on Tuesday, prep it on Wednesday, smoke it on Thursday and it ships as soon as it’s done,” Ronan says. Demand is strong. Besides selling to Irish restaurants such as Everett’s, Duncannon salmon is sent all over Europe. On this day, two stacks of white styrofoam boxes filled with salmon are ready for shipping. One is going to a restaurant in Athens, Greece, the other to a restaurant in Switzerland.

Duncannon offers three grades of salmon, each coming from a different source. Their regular salmon is from farms in Scotland and Norway. Their organic salmon is from Irish farms only. They also smoke wild Irish salmon, when available. Definitely a scarce luxury. Duncannon normally gets only 40 to 50 fish every year. Caught in the spring and early summer, the whole fish is quick-frozen and stored until the Christmas holidays. Last summer’s catch is long gone, but when it was available it sold for €125 per kilo.

These days the wild salmon comes mostly from the Blackwater river near Cappoquin. That’s one major difference from the smoker’s earliest days. “When my father started, there was no such thing as farmed salmon,” Kai Ronan says. “And all the salmon we used came from our own rivers, the Barrow and the Nore, but that was a long time ago.”