The friendly waiter at the Paleo Arctic restaurant in Svolvær harbour has just put a dish of beautiful, traditional, hand-crafted food on the table in front of us. We will be eating stockfish, a product that is on more or less every menu in Lofoten and that represents the very essence of Northern Norway. You simply can't visit Lofoten without tasting stockfish.
Paleo Arctic's sous-chef, Ruben Einarsen, is keen to tell us about this amazing ingredient that, for many people, is the absolute embodiment of the northern Norwegian food culture. "We use stockfish from Lofoten with the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) designation, which is Northeast Atlantic cod fished by the coastal fleet off the coast of Lofoten. Fresh Northeast Atlantic cod is a popular dish in the winter, but most of the fish is dried to produce stockfish. In other words, Northeast Atlantic cod and stockfish start off as the same thing, but become different end products. The cod is hung on fish drying racks throughout the winter, sorted in the summer and rehydrated in the autumn — now that is what we call slow food!"
On the other side of Svolvær harbour we meet Jonas Walsøe, Manager of fishing company L. Berg Sønner. He takes us to see the fish drying racks. The racks are empty for much of the year, but from February to May they are laden with fish that have been hung up to dry. "The fish drying racks can be flat or shaped like a pyramid. The perfect stockfish is hung when the temperature is low but the product is not exposed to frost, and it needs a little sunshine and a lot of wind, snow and rain", the young fish buyer tells us.
Producing stockfish is a painstaking process, and the fish must be carefully monitored. "Just as a winemaker keeps an eye on the crop, we monitor the fish throughout the drying process", says Walsøe with a smile. "We take the fish down from the racks in spring, and then we allow them to mature — just like fine wine. Every fish must be assessed and sorted according to the country it will be exported to: Northern Italy, Southern Italy, Croatia, the USA or other markets. The stockfish grades have also taken their names from their very first marketplaces, such as "Bremer", "Hollender" and "Westre Ancona".
At L. Berg Sønner AS, tradition, craftsmanship and innovation go hand in hand, and the producer supplies many of the restaurants and grocery stores in Lofoten with stockfish ready for the pot. The company's product can also be found in selected stores all over Norway. "There is a lot of soul and history in our craftsmanship. The producers at Tørrfisk fra Lofoten AS are extremely proud of this product and passionate about always delivering the best quality", says Walsøe.
Back at the Paleo Arctic restaurant, sous-chef Einarsen gets a dreamy look in his eyes when we ask him to explain what makes stockfish so special as an ingredient. "It is absolutely unique, both in terms of its taste and all of its unique applications. It is incredibly easy to use. It's not just suitable for traditional dishes — you can also use it in salads, pizzas and street food. The possibilities are endless. Everyone has their favourite, and that is what makes it so beautiful. Stockfish offers something for everyone", says Einarsen in conclusion.