Kale, chia seeds, quinoa… every year the trendy food charts predict what we shall be eating in the near future and the ingredients brought back into vogue by celebrity chefs will be adopted en masse by local restaurants, fast food eateries and supermarkets alike, as well as appearing in our domestic kitchens. A new food-fetish will make its debut in starred restaurant menus this coming winter; it comes from Norway and is the last word in white fish. Going under the name of Skrei cod (pronounced skray), this special and extremely sought-after northern cod species is fished in the Norwegian fjords before being air shipped off to kitchens all around the world where it may be consumed fresh but also, and above all, in the form of salted cod and stockfish (dried). An ingredient dating back to the Viking Age which is now being enjoyed by diners in Park Avenue and the City of London.
Italy, Norway and Portugal
Constantly on the lookout for new ingredients of superior organoleptic properties, foods that are sustainable or representative of traditional haute cuisine, the chefs of Italy and Portugal – countries which have always led the demand for salted cod and stockfish – have blazed the trail to this product’s international distribution, by picking up the threads of traditional recipes and introducing new cooking methods and unprecedented combinations with other ingredients. Enrico Crippa of the Piazza Duomo Restaurant in Alba (3 Michelin stars in Piedmont) and Norwegian chef Ørian Johannessen (winner of the 2015 Bocuse d’Or) have gone to work on an unusual yet highly successful combination with Barbera d’Asti, a highly structured red wine, creating original dishes such as Cod with tomato leaves or Stockfish and chick peas signed by Crippa and the Salted cod and potato choux with a smattering of bacon crumbs or Crisp cod with green peas and capers by Johannessen. In the native land of Bacalhau, Portugal, they have even organized a SkreiFest at Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira, where chef António Loureiro (Portugal Chef of the Year 2015) has presented dishes like his Taco with skrei confit in olive oil.
Great Britain and United States
Also in Great Britain and the United States, the first starred chefs have introduced Skrei to their winter menus and have nothing but enthusiastic comments for this ingredient. In the words of Michel Roux Jr., three-starred chef of Le Gavroche in London "It's fantastic: glistening, beautiful cod that's the freshest I've seen for a long time. It breaks into beautiful translucent flakes, which is always a sign of quality" – a Cod Bourguignonne has appeared on his menu. Meanwhile, chef Marcus Jernmark, of the Aquavit Restaurant in New York City cooks it because “New Yorkers are always looking for seasonal and high-quality products, so it was fun to combine those elements and serve something authentic, extremely seasonal and new to New York guests".
Don’t just call it cod, it would be like confusing poulet de Bresse with chicken nuggets. Skrei is a fully grown wild cod fish belonging to the Gadus Morhua species native to the Barents sea, fished off the Lofoten islands of Norway between January and April, when it swims towards the coast to spawn – this is why it is called the “fish of love”. Having migrated for vast distances, the flesh of this fish is exceptionally firm with flakes that are tender, white and compact. Skrei is a tasty fish that is low in fat, and must meet stringent requirements all along the supply chain to be graded as such: only 10% of migrating cod becomes Skrei and this makes it a premium delicacy at a premium price, comparable to products such as caviar, foie gras and other luxury food items. Similarly to many products whose quality used to be uncertified, today even the white fish category has its top level.