Jewish cooks are no strangers to cod, but there’s a new cod in town.
Skrei cod is an exceptional variety that comes straight from the cold, clear water of Norway’s beautiful Lofoten Islands, and thus extends the choice available to kosher kitchens.
Sounding more like a reggae dance or one of those fiendishly difficult WIZO quiz questions, but to those in the know, Skrei is one of the best things to come out of Norway since Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons). Indeed, it’s cod, but not cod as we know it.
It is a Nordic dream of a fish: sweet, bright white flesh with a supple texture scored by obvious fat lines that melt away during cooking and allows the fish to break into tender, opalescent flakes. Rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, it is both healthy, wholesome and versatile. It also has an amazing life history.
Between January and April each year, millions of Skrei migrate thousands of miles from their home in the Barents Sea through icy, dark waters to the Lofoten Islands to reproduce. So appreciated is the fish in Norway, it has its own grading standard and only the very best qualifies for the branding, a special tag which acts almost like a seal of approval on its dorsal fin.
To meet this exacting classification, the fish needs to be caught fully grown, immaculate without scratches or bruises, packaged within twelve hours of being caught and stored on ice at precise temperature.
Cod might have been off the sustainable menu in recent years due to overfishing in the north-east Atlantic and UK waters, but in northern Norway Skrei ticks all the environmental boxes. Approved by the campaigning Fish2Fork website in association with the MSC, the quality is a reflection of the high management standards of Norwegian Fisheries which, many years ago, banned discards – which are the fish surplus to a fishing boat’s quota that are returned to the water dead or dying.
The majority of Skrei are caught with long-lines from small boats and the Barents Sea now provides Norwegians with the largest growing cod stock in the world.
Skrei can be eaten both raw and cooked. Serve it lightly cured and thinly sliced with olive oil, lemon, dill and sea salt, or roast with braised fennel and anchovy to bring out the delicate but full flavour. The most popular way to prepare it in Norway is simply poached or baked with boiled potatoes and steamed carrots; alternatively, they like to eat it with cod’s roe, tongue and liver, boiled potatoes, crispbread and aquavit - a Scandinavian spirit.
However, the popularity of the fish has not yet spread to the North London High Street. Dominic Corney in Golders Green says no customer as yet has asked for it. “Generally we only get Scottish cod and haddock, and the quality of cod has been fantastic recently. You can get it at a good price and there’s no shortage. I’m seeing cod with big, fat juicy fillets, not like the little codlings you get in the supermarket.”
Kim Williams of Stollers in Temple Fortune agrees the cod that he now gets is of better quality and more plentiful than it has been for along time. He has stocked Skrei in the past but saw little demand. “People see cod as cod, and don’t see the need to pay the extra premium for something that, frankly, I don’t think is that much different to our normal top quality fish.”
Nonetheless, Michel Roux Jr features the fish at his Michelin Le Gavroche restaurant, and is a committed fan, “I think it is fantastic, a glistening, super-fresh cod with beautiful, translucent flakes.”
Chef Mitch Tonks also became converted after a trip to Lofoten. “In my search for the finest ingredients for my restaurants I have discovered this mighty cod, one that I know I can serve with an absolute guarantee of sustainability. I won’t be surprised if Norwegian Skrei is the next big thing.”
Cod willing, he might have added.