Chef Ben Pollinger of Michelin-starred NYC restaurant Oceana visited Norway in January 2014 to get a firsthand look at the unique culinary heritage of Skrei. Upon arrival, he was joined by chefs handpicked from Norway’s most-important cod markets around the world to get an exclusive look at the unique qualities of Skrei and understand why its annual arrival has been celebrated for centuries.
To kickoff the trip, chefs gathered at Ekspedisjon, a popular restaurant in Sortland, where they were introduced to a few traditional Skrei dishes. Following lunch, chefs headed to Myre, a fishing village with one of the busiest Skrei ports.
Fresh off the boat, Skrei is carefully packed and processed in accordance with strict criteria that guarantee the highest quality to ensure Skrei remains in immaculate condition when shipped.
After touring the processing facility, chefs visited a local culinary school where they worked with the product, each preparing a dish inspired by their homeland.
Known for his award-winning seafood, Chef Pollinger was excited to work on his Skrei dish. “Skrei is great. It’s got such a good, firm texture and full flavor,” said Pollinger. “I’m making a stew, it’s almost like a chowder. It’s a soup that we would traditionally prepare in America with cod. I’m taking the base from the soup and making it the base for the stew, so it’s going to be a little bit thick with some onions, some carrots, garlic, fennel and potatoes. I’ve taken the skin from the fish and cooked in the oven to make it crispy. We’re going to put the crispy fish skin on as a garnish.”
Chef Pollinger went on to say, “It’s great to learn where the product comes from and see how the people live who are catching it. It’s just such a beautiful place.”
The following day, chefs boarded the MS Sjøblomsten, a traditional fishing vessel built in 1915, and headed out to fish for Skrei.
When asked about how Americans might perceive Skrei, Chef Pollinger responded, “I think it’s going to become very popular, especially as more people learn about it. It’s going to take a little education, teaching people what it’s about and getting people to eat it.”
From the Old Norse word for “wanderer,” Skrei is a true culinary delicacy that is as much of a tradition as it is a source of modern culinary inspiration. While Skrei is renowned for its white, lean, flaky meat and delicate flavor, it is also sought after for its liver, roe and tongue.
In fact, the Skrei tongue is so popular, that local teens earn spending money removing the tongues. While visiting a Skrei processing facility, chefs watched closely as teenagers quickly and carefully cut out the tongues. Next, the chefs had a chance to test their tongue removal skills—a first for many of them. It was a unique experience many won’t soon forget.
The culinary immersion ended with dinner at a local family’s home where the chefs were served Skrei Mølje—a traditional preparation featuring the Skrei steaks, roe and liver.
“I think the best part of this meal is being able to share it with everyone who is here. Being in the home of someone who lives here and grew up in this area, to be able to share a traditional meal in this setting is very special,” said Pollinger.
Excited to return home and share his new experience, Pollinger shared a brief message at the end of his journey, “Hey, America … I’ve been having a fantastic week in Norway learning about Skrei … we’ve been fishing it, cooking it, learning how to cut out the tongues and having a great time up here. I’m looking forward to bringing the fish home.”
With the arrival of Skrei in January, chefs across the world will delight their guests with the beautiful white meat, delicate flake and extraordinary flavor of the seasonal cod known as Skrei. Whether served traditionally or with a modern spin, both chefs and consumers alike will appreciate this celebrated fish.