Thursday Food is currently in Norway as a guest of the Norwegian Seafood Council, which exports the highest quality salt fish worldwide. The Jamaica Observer team and Executive Culinary Artist Oji Jaja, along with chefs and journalists from the Dominican Republic and Mexico, have spent the last four days visiting Tromsø and Alesund (where some of the best Norwegian seafood is fished) with Norwegian Seafood Council Director of Brazil and the Caribbean Øystein Valanes. For the next few weeks, Thursday Food will have a recap of each of the press trip’s five days. Plus, we will have a comprehensive look at Norwegian salt fish and its supply to the Jamaican market.
On Monday afternoon in Tromsø, Valanes and his guests travelled by cable car to Fjellstua Café atop Mount Storsteinen. After being enraptured by the view and romanticising snow (many feet of snow), everyone ventured inside the café to feast on bacalao — the traditional Norgewian way to prepare salt fish. Norwegian bacalao sees salt fish (in this case salted and dried cod. More on the classifications of salt fish later), potatoes, and olives, enrobed in a rich, plate-delighting tomato sauce.
The dish was reminiscent of Jamaican “pick up” salt fish, and though it contained no Scotch bonnet pepper, it was piquant. How? We figure that it was the olives. Olives are naturally spicy due to their high concentration of polyphenols and an organic compound called oleuropein, most of which is removed during processing. Just when we thought Norwegian bacalao taught us more ways of using salt fish, dinner proved to be a masterclass.
In the evening, Valanes hosted a private dinner at Arctandria, a seafood restaurant located in a converted “old storehouse on the quayside in central Tromsø”. There, chef Svein Bjørndal and waitress Sigrid Eduardjen seemed to serve a never-ending amount of food and drink. But before we delve into the food, a note about how Norwegians classify salt fish.
First, there’s clipfish (“klippfisk” in Norwegian), which is dried and salted cod or saithe, what we in Jamaica are most used to. Per the Norwegian Seafood Council: “The taste of Norwegian clipfish is the result of cod and other whitefish living freely in clean, clear Arctic oceans throughout their lives. After the fish is captured, most of its backbone is removed, allowing it to be folded into the distinctive triangular shape of clipfish. This makes it easier to salt the fish evenly, as well as drying and pressing it.”
Then there’s stockfish, 100 per cent dried cod. The drying method dates back to the Viking Age and perfectly preserves the fish. According to Chef Bjørndal, “It’s said that there are only two things in Europe that have a longer history than stockfish when it comes to food and drink, and those are wine and olive oil.”
Dinner began with bacalao rolls, “pizza rolls with clipfish in tomato sauce”. Who knew that salt fish pizza could even be a thing? The Norwegians. Next, we had a purée of carrot soup dotted with gorgeous chunks of saithe clipfish. The salinity of the clipfish paired beautifully with the carrot’s natural sweetness. Waitress Sigrid Eduardjen paired the soup with a bright winter Riesling bursting with green apple, citrus, and mineral notes. Perfection!
The following course — fresh cod loin served with soy, butter, cauliflower purée and pickled carrots was a revelation. The garnish of crispy fried shallots mixed with soy sauce elevated the umami quality of the dish and was oddly reminiscent of fish roe. Each bite of the meal resulted in swoons. The Château Marguerite de Bourgogne Pinot Noir paired with this dish held its own. The wine was fruity, full-bodied and had an appealing acidity.
Next, we had a Scandinavian take on bruschetta. Chef Bjørndal grilled slices of homemade seaweed bread and topped them with chunks of cod clipfish, fresh cherry tomatoes, dill dressing and arugula. Valanes commented, “It smells like the ocean”, and we agree. It was oh, so good on many levels.
Stockfish (the 100% dried fish) takes seven to nine days to rehydrate fully, changing the water four times. The rehydrated fish tastes like fresh cod, but it is more toothsome and flavourful. “From February to May, the fish hangs out by the sea, exposed to the elements of Northern Norway. With temperatures around 0°C and just the right balance of wind, sun and rain, the climate is perfect for drying fish,” says the Norwegian Seafood Council. As nature is the other main ingredient, each batch of stockfish isn’t identical in taste. Yes, Norwegian stockfish, too, has vintages. The evening’s fifth course used stockfish and has been on Arctandria’s menu for 30 years. Each year the restaurant serves over 15,000 plates of it.
Arctandria’s serves its famous grilled stockfish with a carrot stew (al dente carrots enrobed in béchamel) and crispy bacon. (Jaja, who does not eat meat, still found the dish so appealing that he did a little jig with each bite.) For this course, Eduardjen brought out the big guns. She paired it with a 2015 Reserve Rioja exclusively bottled for the restaurant.
The second-to-last dish was oven-baked saithe clipfish topped with Duchess potatoes and served with an onion and chorizo compote, green beans and mustard sauce. After all that salt fish, we still found this dish satisfying. Dinner ended with chocolate fondant (molten chocolate cake) served with cloudberry ice cream and cloudberry sauce and paired with another bottle exclusive to the restaurant; however, this time, it was cognac.
Jamaicans are passionately proud of our national dish and love salt fish with callaloo or sautéed with lots of onions and tomatoes. But the next time you cook with salt fish, experiment with Norwegian preparation. And when you delight family or guests who ask, with bright eyes and enormous smiles, “Is this salt fish?” you can proclaim, “Yes!”
Photographer: Naphtali Junior