Seafood from Norway take UK chefs on the hunt for Skrei cod

The  Staff Canteen

What happens when you take a group of top UK chefs to Norway fishing for Skrei cod?

The Staff Canteen Editor, Cara Houchen, found out when she joined them on the annual trip which is a celebration of how Norwegians revere their seafood.  

We live on an island so it’s understandable that some chefs are sceptical about using fish from other countries. But, Seafood From Norway are leading the way in championing overseas products and one way they do this is by taking UK chefs on a trip to the north of the country, where Skrei (the Norwegian miracle) spawn, to visit Tromsø and the old fishing village of Sommarøy.  

“Norway and the UK has always had a very close coastal trading relationship and that will continue,” explained Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr, the UK Director for the Norwegian Seafood Council. “We do this trip to strengthen the ties between fishermen, the producers of the excellent seafood here in Norway and chefs serving the seafood in their restaurants. I believe in connecting the chef and the fishermen to shorten the line between them.”

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Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr, the UK Director for the Norwegian Seafood Council

This year Seafood from Norway invited chefs Sabrina Gidda, Matt Pickop, Chris Garrett, Russell Bateman, Steve Groves, Henry Wandsworth, Chris Galvin and Craig Johnson. They were joined by Norwegian Seafood chef ambassadors, who just happen to be Michelin-starred Simon Hulstone and Michel Roux Jr.

“I was super excited to be on this trip,” said Sabrina Gidda, Executive Chef at AllBright. “For me it was the last piece of the puzzle, having bought the product for such a long time, to come out here and fish for it and meet all of the people involved has been absolutely amazing.”

She added: “I’ve got a serious amount of respect for exactly what goes in to procuring the product and it really is a way of life for everybody here. As a chef throughout the year there are seasonal products which are at their best and for me Skrei fits into that natural calendar – knowing you are getting such an amazing product to your kitchen in London is priceless really.”

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Sabrina Gidda, Executive Chef at AllBright

The trip gives chefs an insight into the whole process behind this sustainable fish and the opportunity to try some of the local dishes using every part of the cod. The process obviously starts at sea, so we headed out into the Arctic to catch Skrei, before finding out how they use each part of the fish and the techniques used in the factories to harvest, preserve and ship every product.

Fishing for Skrei was unique… for several reasons. One, it can only be done between January and April when the fish spawn – apparently during this time the quality of the cod and its roe and liver is at its best. Two, it’s an opportunity to watch grown men (and women) crumble as they quickly find out that they do not have sea legs! And finally, you realise how hard it is to land just one fish in freezing wind and snow – never mind the tonnes the fishermen bring in each day.

“Who couldn’t be inspired by something this amazing?” Said Matt Pickop, Regional Executive Chef of Western Europe at Gategroup. “Sustainability is something I’m really interested in – working in the airline industry which is huge, it’s global, the corporate responsibility becomes the forefront of what we do. Being opened up to how the fish is sourced, the idea of using everything and the whole process of what everyone does here has been a phenomenal experience.”

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Matt Pickop, Regional Executive Chef of Western Europe at Gategroup

From the 50,000 tonnes of Skrei cod which passes through the factory at Sommarøy, the workers there gut the fish and take the heads, the cheeks, the tongue, the stomach, the roe and the livers to sell. Any waste is sent to a larger factory and turned into salmon feed.

The tongues are a real delicacy and Simon Hulstone, chef owner of The Elephant and Seafood From Norway Ambassador, explained that by cutting them out of the head ‘youngsters in Norway can earn up to £500 a day’.

He said: “When I came on this trip last year there was a kid who could take out 36 tongues in a minute – I managed seven!”

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Taking the tongues from the cod head

There is also a huge demand for the heads from Nigeria, it’s a delicacy there and is very good for bouillon, so they are dried outside from now until May and then exported.

Henry Wandsworth won Young National Chef of the Year 2019 and part of his prize was to be invited on this trip, and he says he ‘didn’t realise Skrei cod was so abundant’ and that the Norwegians ‘eat so much of the fish’.

He said: “As a young chef it’s really inspiring to come to Norway and see how they produce and cook the cod – it’s great to see how sustainable it is.”

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Traditional cod liver 

Norwegian Skrei is the largest and most sustainably managed cod stock in the world. Every catch is monitored and there are strict quality standards from the sea to the plate. Only a small amount of migrating Skrei will be branded and certified with a quality label and to achieve this the fish must have no marks or blemishes, be packed and shipped by trained staff within 12 hours of being landed and be monitored by a third-party Quality Patrol Team.

This was the fifth visit for Norwegian Skrei Cod Ambassador Michel Roux Jr, who says every trip ‘is an adventure’.

He added: “Every year we come here we do something different and to find out why Skrei cod is such a great product I think you have to come here and see it, see the passion behind it.”

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Michel Roux Jr and Simon Hulstone next to the drying cod heads

New to the trip this year, chefs were taken to Bottarga Borealis – a small artisanal producer of Bottarga from Skrei. Their aim is to create value out of the by-product of the white fish industry. In 2014 there was 13,000 tonnes of cod roe which was landed in Norway for human consumption, so the amounts are staggering.

It is one of the most nutritious parts of the fish and Bottarga Borealis wanted to create a drying process which made the product unique, so they took the risk of hanging a sensitive piece of roe outside and leaving it to mother nature. They use the same dry racks as the cod heads, but they protect the roe with green netting. At the time of our visit they had 600 kilos drying and it will take 10-15 weeks until they are ready.

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Craig Johnson, Sabrina Gidda and Chris Galvin make their own Bottarga

The chefs were all in agreement that not only would this trip stay with them for a long time but that they would all be looking to add Skrei cod to their menus. And if they took something with them it was the versatility and sustainability of this fish.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st February 2019

Seafood from Norway take UK chefs on the hunt for Skrei cod