Skrei – The Finest Cod from Norway:
I first heard of Skrei a few years ago – but really didn’t know what it was. It sounded like the sort of thing that might appear in a Foodie pub quiz or something similar and I am sure if I’d been given a multiple choice at that stage I’d have guessed wrong. Skrei is migratory cod caught in Northern Norway after it has travelled from the Barents Sea. It is only available in season – between January and April each year – and was first introduced to the UK in 2012.
Skrei is lean and rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and has firm flesh with obvious fat lines and chunky pearly white flakes. I’ve eaten it in restaurants – in fact I make a point of choosing it when I spot it on the menu, as I did at the Landau the other week. But, I’ve never cooked with it!
I have to admit to some apprehension when a large box containing 7.8kg of finest Norwegian Skrei appeared on my doorstep. Although it had been gutted and the head removed, my Skrei turned out to be something of a slippery beast and I was lucky that I have a large worktop. Of course I’ve filleted fish before, but usually, they are closer to 1kg in size. My Skrei was about the same size as the one you can see Michel Roux proudly holding (though somehow I doubt it WAS that exact fish). However, I did eat Skrei a few weeks ago at Roux at the Landau – at the Langham Hotel.
In fact, the principle for filleting remains the same as it would do for any smaller round fish. You need a sharp and flexible knife, a pair of scissors and plenty of time. Scale the fish (or try to do so in my case) by running the edge of the knife over the skin of the fish. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Remove the fins using the scissors, then insert the knife at the head end of the fish on top of the backbone and pull the knife down gently, slicing into the fish against the bones of the ribcage. Keep going till you get to the tail, then remove the first fillet, turn the fish over and do the same thing again on the other side. With a large fish, the main challenge is the weight you are working with. The logistics are rather tricky – especially if, like me, you are only 5’1.
I portioned all the fish up. Had the fish been just a bit smaller I might have salt baked it. This one, though, was too large to fit into my oven!
The bones and bits of fish where I miss-cut went to make a fish stock, which I’ve reduced down and frozen in ice-cubes. Something that is really easy to do – I used 250ml of white wine, 750ml of water, a couple of bay leaves, a head of fennel and a couple of carrots along with the fish bones. Boil up, skim off the foam from the top, then simmer gently for half an hour before straining the mixture then reducing the liquid down as much as needed. I reduced to about 300ml and kept 100ml for one of the recipes I’ll be sharing later. The rest was frozen in an ice-cube tray, ready to be used on another occasion.
With so much fish, I did end up freezing some. The Skrei came labelled with the date it had been caught (the day before my delivery). I wanted to cook as much of it while it was fresh as possible, so I ended up making three different dishes, cooking the fish three ways for three nights in a row to see which worked best for me.
First – en papilliote. I use this way of cooking fish (and chicken breasts) a lot and I’ve adapted the classic ‘parchment sealed with egg white’ to suit my own needs. If you cook this way, the tighter the seal the more likely the meat or fish is to stay nicely moist. But, parchment is hard to seal and foil has a tendancy to cause the fish or meat to stick – even if you oil it well. So, I take a sheet of parchment and one of foil that is just a little larger. Laid out, with the parchment on top of the foil, the seasoned fish, some fresh herbs and any vegetables I want to include goes on top of the parchment just off centre. I pull up the sides of the parchment a bit, then the foil from underneath to form a cup, add a little wine, then pull up completely and fold over the parchment then the foil to make a robust seal. The advantage of this method over just parchment is that you can, if you want, check to see the food is completely cooked before serving. The foil lets you re-seal easily, while parchment is hard to seal in the first place and almost impossible to reseal once it’s been baked to a crispy brown.
I’ve noticed that you can buy parchment lined foil so I will be trying that soon as an even easier way to cook en papillote.
Skrei cooked en papillote on a bed of cavola nero with almonds is delicious and simple. The recipe is just above for those who would like to make it for themselves.
My second method is also the easiest one. One pan cooking suits small households very well – and fish lends itself very well to being cooked this way. I made a dish of fennel and shallots braised in white wine with Skrei. Preheat the oven to 180 then just slice half a bulb of fennel and a banana shallot per person, gently soften both in a little olive oil heated over the stove in a skillet for 5 minutes. Pour in a wineglass full of wine and reduce the mixture down a little for another 5 minutes. Season the Skrei with salt and pepper and place, skin side down, on top of the fennel and shallot mixture. Add more wine if the mixture looks dry, put the lid on the skillet and put the whole thing in the oven for 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and opaque. So easy it doesn’t need a formal recipe!
Finally, my favourite of all the dishes was a lighter take on a classic dish that my mother used to cook – I’m sure we’ve all had cod in parsley sauce at one time or another. Skrei with parsley sauce made with a lighter wine and creme fraiche base rather than a flour roux proved to be utterly delicious. I did mix it up a bit by adding a little dill. Served with purple sprouting broccoli it was both light and full of flavour.
Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try for yourself.
I strongly urge you to take advantage of the Skrei season and try for yourself. Whether you are lucky enough to enjoy Skrei on the menu of a restaurant or find some to cook for yourself, try it. You can find it at Whole Foods Market, Booths, Selfridges and Harrods, in addition to quality fishmongers subject to availability from February through to mid-end April 2017. Skrei is also available to enjoy in top Michelin-star and great restaurants in London and across the UK.
I’d recommend using a simple recipe – let the flavour and texture of this wonderful fish speak for itself. AND enjoy in the knowledge that it’s a low calorie, healthy option too!
Disclosure: My sample of Skrei was sent to me by the Norwegian Seafood Council