By: Deborah Reid
We’re thrilled when Skrei cod, a culinary delicacy, turns up on our counter between January and April. It’s a premium fish, and the fillets have pristine white flesh that’s lean and firm. Whole, they average 100 cm (40 in.) in length and weigh 5 to 11 kg (11 to 24 lbs.), and are a greenish-brown colour with spots and a silvery underside. When cooked the meat has a clean, fresh sea flavour and a firm texture with large, succulent flakes. Bake it simply with cherry tomatoes, olives, fresh herbs, and extra-virgin olive oil. Marinate with coriander, chillies, and garlic and pan-fry for tacos. It’s delicious in a creamy chowder with shellfish and salt pork. Because it stores surplus fat in the liver and not in the muscles, it’s one of the leanest fish and is high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Each January, after having spent five years or more in the Barents Sea in the Norwegian Arctic, Skrei cod swim south for 1000 km in cold, rough waters to reach their spawning grounds on the Lofoten Islands. They eat little during the migration, having built up strength eating small fish and bottom-dwelling shellfish in the sea. Dried Skrei was a vital food source and trade item for the Vikings, and the fishery is still essential to the economy of coastal regions. The name “Skrei” comes from the old Norse word for “the wanderer.”
For centuries they’ve been caught at the end of their journey on frigid winter nights. Fishers brave the cold and turbulent waters and reel them in using long lines or hand lines, careful to prevent nicks and bruises. Only ten per cent of the 400 million migrating cod qualifies to be labelled Skrei. To be certified they must be fully grown (5 or more years of age), caught in the traditional spawning grounds, and be in immaculate condition. They are then packed and processed following strict quality standards and are individually labelled. The cod fishery in Norway adheres to rigorous regulations and quotas to secure stocks for the future. Skrei cod is Marine Stewardship Council certified.