Every year, from January till April, a particular kind of fish comes – briefly – into season. This is skrei, the Norwegian Arctic cod, which sets off in massive shoals from the icy Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle, headed for the waters around the Lofoten archipelago off the coast of Norway. The name of this winter wandering cod is derived, appropriately, from the Norse word for a “walker” or “wanderer.”
The arrival of the mature fish, which migrate southwards to spawn, is greeted with jubilation by the north Norwegian fisherman and their customers. Once strictly a local delicacy, skrei is now found at top tables all over Europe. I recently heard one Spanish chef describe it as ‘the pata negra of the cod kingdom’, referencing the prized jamón ibérico of the pig world. The flesh is pearly white and unbelievably succulent, with bold, firm flakes.
I’m fairly new to skrei – you too, perhaps? I first discovered it thanks to chef Jean-Philippe Guggenbuhl at the Restaurant La Taverne Alsacienne in Ingersheim near Colmar, Alsace. Just a taste of his skrei with a citrus crust and orange butter sauce and I was hooked.
Before you round up a lynching party and set off to stage a boycott for your nearest restaurant that’s serving skrei this winter, it’s important to realize that there’s cod, and there’s cod. Overfishing of Atlantic cod is a hot topic. The Norwegian Arctic cod from the Barents Sea is another story. Here, the fisheries have been strictly regulated since 1816 when the first regulations governing skrei fishing off the Lofoten Islands were put into place. Today’s regulations cover the type of boat permitted, the size and type of nets, even the time of day fishing may start. Thanks to these measures, Arctic cod stocks are so robust that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has actually increased the recommended permitted skrei catch over the past years.
As Karin Olsen of the Norwegian Seafood Export Council explained to me by mail, “there are several different cod populations in the world, but unfortunately they are often mentioned just as ‘cod’ in the media. Therefore there is a big confusion around the question of whether cod is sustainable or not.” Invoking the careful, fruitful measures that have been taken for almost two centuries to conserve Norway Arctic cod stocks, she adds, “you can serve your skrei with good conscience.”
Jean-Philippe Guggenbuhl’s skrei with orange butter sauce and endive
For more on Norwegian Arctic cod, go to https://cod.fromnorway.com/norwegian-cod/skrei/