Skrei who came in from the cold

11th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Norwegian cod species enamours Spanish fish lovers

11 February 2008

MADRID -Between February and April each year, what the Norwegians call the skrei miracle takes place. When this species of cod - whose name means nomad in Norwegian - reaches four or five years of age and weighs around three kilos, it abandons the icy waters of the Barents Sea for its birthplace in the more southerly Lofoten Islands, where, thanks to the Gulf Stream, the sea is a balmy four degrees Celsius. And it is here that millions of cod repeat the annual cycle of laying their eggs.

The several hundred kilometre journey puts the cod into perfect shape. It has less fat, and its muscles are strong, producing firm, white flesh. In the crystal waters around Lofoten, skrei feed on crabs, shellfish, and herring. After depositing and fertilising their eggs, they then return to the Arctic.

This large-scale migration determines the activities of an entire human population for a period of many months, stretching well beyond the fishing period. The catch has to be transformed for preservation and used as a trading commodity throughout the year. But after decades of overfishing, Norway now imposes strict restrictions on the capture of skrei, limiting fishing to 55,000 tonnes in Lofoten, around a third of the figure in the 1940s.

Norwegians say that skrei is the best cod in the world, and have been carrying out a decade-long marketing campaign to spread the word among Spanish foodies. In Norway, the fish is traditionally eaten with boiled carrots and potatoes, smothered in melted butter, or accompanied by its eggs, liver, and tongue. In Spain, some 600 restaurants now serve it, adapting Norwegian recipes to Spanish tastes: breaded, with vegetables, Galician style, in olive oil soup, with sushi,  sesame and soya, or in tomato sauce, to name but a few of the variations.

In Spain, cod has traditionally been sold salted or dried. But whether because of the lengthy preparations involved, or the rising cost, there is growing demand for the fresh variety. And although Spain has yet to form a skrei-lovers club, as the French have done, a growing number of chefs in the Basque Country, Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia, and above all, Madrid, have become devotees to the cod. Among the top cooks won over to skrei are Pedro Larumbe, Alberto Chicote, Andrés Madrigal, Joaquín Felipe, Sacha, Paco Roncoro, Ricardo Sanz, Salvador Gallego, and Sergi Arola.

Fish lovers can find fresh Norwegian skrei identified by a special label in gourmet fishmongers and markets. This year will see a concerted effort by the Norwegians to make the fish more available throughout Spain, and an agreement with Eroski will see the fish on sale at more than 400 of the chain's supermarkets. A website,, has information on markets and restaurants with skrei on offer, as well as recipes.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / ROSA RIVAS 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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