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Fish Tales: Michel's Skrei Cod Adventure

Elizabeth Lloyd-Owen09 February 2016

It’s no secret that Michel Roux Jr is a keen fisherman who likes nothing better than to land his own dinner. So when he and a group of curious chefs (including Monica Galetti, Ollie Dabbous and Robin Gill) were invited to the Norwegian island of Sommarøy recently in pursuit of Skrei cod, he was hooked.

The flesh of this mighty fish is a delicacy that, until recently, our Nordic neighbours had been keeping to themselves, but Skrei (pronounced skray) is now finding its way onto UK restaurant menus.

Chefs are always in search of new ingredients to set before discerning and curious diners, but what makes Skrei stand out from all the other fish in the sea? Michel Roux Jr is a big fan, not least because of Skrei’s seasonality, traceable provenance, the fact that it is Marine Stewardship Council certified, 100% sustainable and harvested in the prime of life. To add to its star qualities Skrei is one of the world's healthiest white fish. One portion provides the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Above all, Skrei is prized for its sublime flavour, quality, and freshness and is delectable served raw or cooked. Michel Roux Jr admires its “glistening, beautiful” appearance and loves the way the cooked flesh transforms into bright white, translucent flakes.

The lifecycle of the Skrei and its brief season lasting from January to April only increases its allure. The annual Skrei migration – a journey of over 1000 kilometres - is one of the wonders of the deep. Every year hundreds of millions of fish swim from the icy, dark Barents Sea to their spawning grounds in the cold, clear waters of the Lofoten Islands off Norway’s north coast. Set inside the Arctic Circle, the islands have been an important cod fishery for over 1000 years. The spawning season is a period of intense activity in these remote coastal communities when all the inhabitants – adults and children alike - work round the clock to catch, process and pack the fish.

Thanks to Norway’s enlightened fisheries policy the Barents Sea has the largest sustainable fish stocks in the world so you can enjoy Skrei with a clear conscience. Its waters provides the Skrei with an abundant diet of nutrient-rich phytoplankton so by the time the fish reach their spawning grounds their lean, firm flesh is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals.

However, only a tiny percentage of fish earn the coveted Skrei mark. The cod are inspected rigorously for any imperfections. To make the grade these fishy superstars must be mature, fully grown specimens (at least five years of age), with skin free of scratches, bruising or injury. The fish is packed within 12 hours of being caught and stored on ice at a temperature of between 0° and 4°C. Fish that fit the bill are tagged with a SKREI® mark of authenticity on the forward dorsal fin before being sent on their way. Michel Roux Jr makes of point highlighting the provenance on his menus.

The quality of Skrei makes it incredibly versatile. The delicate flavour speaks for itself so the fish needs little adornment and minimal preparation. Skrei is delicious in ceviche or lightly cured for a delectable starter served with olive oil, dill and lemon, or as a mouth-watering main course roasted briefly and accompanied with a little braised fennel and anchovy.

Back in the freezing temperatures of Norway, where the arrival of the Skrei is aways a cause for celebration, nothing goes to waste. The locals are especially partial to fried cod tongues and enjoy nothing more than tucking into a hearty, cold-busting dish of Skrei poached with its roe in a broth of cod liver and onions. Skrei is in season now. However you choose to eat it, be sure to sample and celebrate this magnificent fish.