This Man is Considered Chester County’s Smoked Meats King
Scott Hattersley of Sugartown Smoked Specialties has been in the business for 27 years.
Well-smoked meats and fish are the perfect building blocks for holiday hors d’oeuvres—and they’re especially compatible with champagne. Start with thinly sliced smoked duck breast served on petite rye bread squares covered with swatches of rough-cut orange marmalade. Or offer a heaping spoonful of smoked-trout spread nestled into the fold of a crunchy leaf of Belgian endive. Then perhaps a flaky hot-smoked salmon accompanied by chopped red onions and tangy cornichons, served with a tiny fork and a small stack of blini—sour cream optional.
Many of the gourmet smoked treats produced locally come from a long, low, nondescript building along an industrialized section of Westtown Road on the east side of West Chester, Pa. It’s the home of Sugartown Smoked Specialities, whose founder and owner, Scott Hattersley, can arguably be considered the king of Chester County meat smokers.
Gregarious and outgoing, Hattersley has been been in the business for 27 years— though it almost didn’t happen. “I thought I was heading for Wall Street,” says Hattersley of his post-college plans.
At the last minute, he changed his mind. “I spent six months studying the smoked-food industry,” he says. “Then I started with a little smoker, doing only trout and pheasant.”
Today, Sugartown has six employees and produces an array of products, including three types of trout, two each of Arctic char and salmon and one each of Chilean sea bass and sea scallops. The line is rounded out by smoked pheasant, duck and quail, plus an occasional smoked cheese or other product.
For Hattersley, every decision seems to have an interesting backstory. As a child, he became fascinated with smoked foods when his parents took him to an alligator farm in Florida, where he tasted his first smoked meat. His first commercial product was Hungarian-style smoked salmon. That came about when he followed a Hungarian woman he was dating back to her native country. The relationship didn’t last, but he’s still producing the spicy salmon, which is still his favorite. “I loved the spices on their smoked salmon— especially the sweet paprika,” he says.
Sugartown also does special projects. Last year, Hattersley smoked 26 tons of portabellas for a local customer. He sells his item online and at supermarkets and specialty stores like Wegmans, Janssen’s in Wilmington, Del. and the Country Butcher in Kennett Square, Pa.
Through the years, Hattersley has experimented with a variety of woods. “But hickory seems to work on every protein because it produces a mellow smoke,” he says.
Whenever possible, he sources locally, even switching from Colorado trout to the more expensive Pennsylvania-farmed variety. Of late, two New York-based producers have him experimenting with smoked pork, though there is already much competition in that market from large meat companies.
Sugartown’s smoking process is at once simple and complicated. The first step is brining. “I have a formulation for each product,” Hattersley says, adding that each usually includes water, sugar and salt.
Next comes the actual smoking, which involves determining the best temperature, smoking time and humidity. “My competition generally over-smokes their produce when all you want to do is accent—not overpower—the protein,” Hattersley says.
The final step in the process is vacuum packaging and immediately freezing the smoked specialties for shipping. There are also frequent inspections by government agencies, so strict records must be kept on humidity and smoking times.
For Hattersley, the two big sales seasons are winter holidays and spring events like steeplechase races. “Often I’ll know someone who’s planning to serve my products at a steeplechase and the orders will start coming in,” he says.
Many foodies love to smoke their own meats. A few years ago, I went foraging in California with Hank Shaw, who writes books and has a website (www.honest-food.net). Should someone gift you with a smoker during the holidays, you should take a look at Shaw’s recipe for smoked salmon, along with his general preparation tips, which include using fruit woods for smoking (if your smoker doesn’t use pellets). It helps is you’ve made friends with the owners of local orchards for access to discarded fruit-tree branches from annual pruning. Shaw also likes to add a little sweetness to his salmon—like honey and real maple or birch syrup—by basting midway through the smoking process. He also suggests using crystal salt for brining. Normal table salt has a chemical agent to prevent it from clumping and may give an off-flavor.
Any leftover smoked trout or salmon is great for spreads. Use ingredients like dill, balsamic vinegar, chopped onion, capers and sour cream. Fortunately, they also pair well with champagne.