During the polar night, when the winter gets darker than dark, the cod of the Barents Sea comes to spawn in Northern Norway, bringing a well of vitamin D. This vitamin is often called the sunshine vitamin because our body produces it when we are out in the sun. Vitamin D is essential for growth and bone development. During the winter, when the sun is away, it is important to find other sources of vitamin D. And then, exactly when needed, the cod just comes to the archipelago of the Lofoten islands.
The migratory cod is called “skrei” in Norwegian. The name comes from the Old Norse skreið, meaning to stride, i.e., to move with long steps, illustrating well the rapid advance of the cod that, every winter, travels several hundred kilometers to spawn. “Skreimølje” is a traditional Norwegian dish made up of skrei, skrei roe (eggs) and skrei liver. Just like cod tongues, we eat “mølje” between January and April.
Skrei is not as any other cod. Skrei is a delicacy. The flesh of the skrei is white and firm. In France, skrei is often called “the king of the cod”. When served together with roe and liver, it is one of the most exclusive Norwegian dishes.
Traditionally, the fish is boiled in salted water with some drops of vinegar. The liver is also boiled in salted water with some drops of vinegar, peppercorns, a bay leaf and sometimes sliced onion. The roe is boiled too, wrapped in food paper (a kind of baking paper) in order to prevent the roe to break in pieces under boiling.
I am not fond of all that boiling that damages the tasty flavours… I am not fond of the dominating vinegar taste either. Further, boiled roe tends to be dry. My skreimølje is not boiled and has no vinegar. Instead, I use a 3 tier steam pot:
- On the first level, closer to the boiling water, place the smallest cod slices and the roe. Add salt and pepper.
- On the second level, place the biggest cod slices and the liver. Place the liver above the roe. The liver fat will drip on the roe preventing it from getting dry. Add salt and pepper.
Skreimølje is ready after around 20 minutes. Watch the cooking from time to time. When the flesh of the fish can be detached from the bones, it is ready. The fish should not be overcooked! The roe tastes better when medium cooked (still pink inside). So does the liver.
Skreimølje is served with “pommes de terre en robe des champs” (potatoes in field dress), i.e., potatoes boiled with skin on.
Preparation before cooking:
- Wash the fish and roe.
- Peel the liver membranes. There might be small parasites on the surface of the liver; they will be removed together with the membranes.
When not eaten fresh, cod fish is dried in the sun and wind on wooden racks which are called “hjell” in Norwegian. Dried unsalted cod fish, or stockfish, is popular in Catholic Mediterranean countries, in particular in Italy. Stockfish is called stoccafisso in Italian. It should not be confused with baccalà that is dried and salted cod. Stockfish is not salted.