Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Norwegian Skrei: Sustainable & Tasty Cod

Cod is tied very closely to the history of New England, as well as the histories of other countries, such as Portugal and England. Once, cod filled the waters off the New England coast, but that is no longer the case. Out of fears of dwindling stocks of cod, recent years have seen drastic cuts to cod quotas, meaning only a small amount of cod is now permitted to be caught. For example, starting May 1, the quota of cod that can be harvested from the Gulf of Maine will be slashed by 75%.

It seems clear that cod stocks in this region need to rebound and that means that the availability of local cod at restaurants and markets will be limited. As such, you need to consider other options, and you have a number of different choices. For those who still want to enjoy cod, let me offer an excellent option, though with the caveat that it only be available for a couple more months.

Consider Norwegian Skrei, a sustainable and tasty Northeast Arctic cod that lives in the Barents Sea. Skrei, which has been important to Norway for well over a thousand years, derives from a Norse word "skrida" which means "to wander or walk." Sea, When skrei reach maturity, at about five years old, they migrate in the winter, for spawning, to the Norwegian coast. From January to April, fishermen are able to catch these mature skrei, which are sometimes called Valentine's Fish because the fish are seeking a mate, and they are available around Valentine's Day.

The skrei fishing industry is considered one of the best-managed cod stocks in the world, and they have been regulating their industry for almost two hundred years, since 1816. Currently, Norway and Russia share responsibility for maintaining the sustainability of the skrei, and they have been very successful in their efforts. All skrei are also certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

For 2015, the cod quota in the Gulf of Maine will only be 386 metric tons while Norway's skrei quota will be 401,240 metric tons. That is a huge difference, and indicates skrei will be more readily available than local cod. It is also fascinating to consider that only about 10% of the skrei that migrate to the coast are permitted to be harvested, helping to maintain sustainability, as well as showing the great size of the skrei stocks. In 2014, Norway's exports of skrei have risen significantly since the prior year, 13% by volume and 25% by value.

Skrei possess some differences from Atlantic cod, including having a longer, more pointed shape and a lighter skin color. As they swim lengthy distances to spawn, their flesh tends to possess a firmer texture, and as they eat little during this travel, their flesh may also possess a cleaner taste. In addition, the skrei healthy for you, being rich in protein, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. It might be more expensive than local cod, but you're getting a quality, tasty and sustainable fish.

How do Norwegians eat skrei? One of their traditional dishes is called mølje, which is made with cod, potatoes, cod liver and cod roe. Fishermen used to cook cod roe and potatoes in a pan filled with water, and then later add the liver and cod for a short simmer. Once it was all done, they would mix it up into a "mess" or mølje. Like Atlantic cod, skrei is very versatile and can be prepared in numerous ways, from fried to broiled.

I recently received a media invite from the Norwegian Seafood Council, in conjunction with Legal Sea Foods, to experience a dinner featuring skrei. The three-course dinner was held at Legal's Harborside location and the skrei impressed me. If you like cod, or fish in general, you'll love the skrei.    
For my first course, I had Shrimp Cocktail, five huge shrimp with cocktail sauce, set beneath a half globe of ice. It was a cool presentation, and the restaurant creates this effect by putting some water into a balloon, applying some liquid nitrogen and then freezing it. When they are ready to make this dish, they use a blow torch to burn off the balloon from the icy ball. The shrimp were meaty with a spicy sauce that enhanced their flavor.

The centerpiece of the dinner was Pan Roasted Skrei, with bacon lardons, leeks, golden russet apples, and smoked mussel chowder. The skrei has a firm texture, with flaky white flesh, and a clean taste. Simply a delicious piece of fish that will appeal to any seafood lover. The rest of the dish well complemented the skrei, from the smoky chowder to the slightly tart apples. The entire dish was well composed and balanced, and I would certainly order skrei again at a restaurant or the market. It reminded me of Atlantic cod in most ways, except it possessed a firmer texture.

The meal ended with Brûléed Chocolate Banana Tart, with coconut gelato, chocolate sauce, and toasted coconut anglaise. A sweet and pleasant ending to the dinner.

Though I often ask my readers to eat local seafood, as we eat far too much imported seafood, that doesn't mean I am completely against imported fish. Skrei is a very sustainable choice, and if you love cod, then it is a good alternative as there is so little sustainable cod available in our local waters. Give skrei a chance.

Have you eaten skrei? If so, what did you think of it?

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