From late December or early January, most Norwegian supermarkets have cod or “Skrei” on offer – and not just the fish itself: you can buy cod liver, cod roe and even cod tongues. The arrival of the Skrei is a yearly event and something of a happening in many parts of the country – however, you may not have discovered it yet.
So why is cod not just cod at this time of year? The Skrei (pronounced sk-rey) is normally at home in the Barents Sea, but comes to their spawning grounds along the Norwegian coast every winter. From January to April the entire coastline comes alive when millions of mature fish (normally around 5 years old) journey back from the Barents Sea. About 40% of the Skrei spawns in the Lofoten area, but you can find Skrei all the way from the Møre coast to the far north in Finnmark. The name Skrei comes from Old Norse “skrida”, meaning “to wander”. Skrei is also genetically different from the normal, coastal cod – it is a separate tribe.
And what is all the fuss about? Skrei is more nutritious, leaner, firmer and frankly better tasting than the coastal cod and besides – plentiful. Unlike the North Sea and Baltic cod, Skrei is a sustainable source and the focus of the fisheries is responsibility. Thus it provides a fish meal with no trace of bad conscience. Served with bacon and green peas or just as “mølja” (the word means a mix of different things) – fish, liver and roe with onions and potatoes, it is a joy on any table, and the restaurants are competing at making either the best traditional or most interesting untraditional versions of it. Cod tongue might be a bit more challenging to the taste buds – especially the texture – but properly fried it certainly is tasty.
Some Norwegians will tell you that Skrei should be accompanied by red wine. This is an unusual choice, for sure – but an acidic, light and low-tannined red wine is not an altogether bad choice. Arguably, an acidic, light and low-tannined wine is – more often than not - white. Traditionally, the Norwegians would of course opt for a beer and aquavit combination.
There are many ways to prepare Skrei, we have added a recipe from the Norwegian Seafood Council in order to whet your appetite:
Panfried Skrei with Peas and Hollandaise Sauce (serves 4)
800 gram fillet of skrei, no skin or bones
1 clove of garlic
2 tbs butter
100 ml white wine
2 egg yolks
2 tbs water
4 tbs butter
salt and pepper
500 grams of peas, frozen
1 clove of garlic
1 tbs butter
3 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper
Also – 100 grams of bacon
- Cut the Skrei in portions and drizzle with salt. Leave them for 7 minutes. Rinse off the salt and lightly dry the pieces of Skrei with kitchen paper.
- Heat oil in the frying pan, put the Skrei in and leave them until they are almost cooked through.
- Thinly slice the garlic and add it to the frying pan together with the butter.
- Turn the pieces of Skrei carefully and fry them lightly on the other side as well while drizzling the garlic butter over.
- Reduce the white wine to 1/3. Beat the egg yolks and then carefully beat them into the warm wine - using a bain-marie.
- When the eggs start thickening and becoming mayonnaise-like, whisk in the water.
- Then stir pieces of butter into the mixture, allowing them to melt.
- Add salt, pepper and lemon to taste.
(Another option is of course to buy ready-made Hollandaise Sauce and save yourself the trouble).
- Boil the peas until soft together with the chopped garlic. Sieve to remove excess water.
- Use a blender or food processor to mash the peas. Add butter and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Slice bacon into small cubes and put them on a cold frying pan, switch on the heat and fry it until the bacon is crispy and golden.
Serve the Skrei on top of the puréed peas, drizzle with bacon and carefully pour the sauce over. Rice or potatoes are optional.
About the author
Janne Bendiksen is a Norwegian with 12 years of own expat experience. Janne can be contacted via email.