Everyone knows tomatoes are in season in the summer and citrus in the winter, but what about fish? Fourchu lobsters, which have gained notoriety among seafood lovers in recent years for the outstanding flavor and uncommonly succulent meat that develops in the coldest waters, are one example of seasonal fish in its absolute prime. And cod — called the "the fish that changed the world" — is no exception. Known as skrei in Norway, the seasonal cod migrating to spawn in the Northern central coastal waters are exceptionally muscular from the long journey from the Barents Sea. Its flesh is firmer than most cod, with a larger flake — so large, in fact, that a single flake looks and feels more like a scallop.
Ben Pollinger, executive chef at NYC's Oceana, sustainable-seafood advocate and author of the recent cookbook School of Fish, goes through 40 to 60 pounds of seasonal skrei each day. He spent several weeks in Norway researching, cooking and learning techniques for making the most of this high-yield fish, which is much larger than its nonseasonal brethren. One of those techniques is cutting out the skrei's prized tongues, considered a delicacy. Best of all, since skrei season follows a natural spawning migration (which means everything that's caught and eaten is replaced by the next generation), it is a 100 percent sustainable food source, beyond being healthy and delicious.
"This is something that we’ve been doing in Norway for hundreds of years," said Egil Sundheim, U.S. director of the Norwegian Seafood Council, at the Manhattan residence of Norwegian consul general Elin Bergithe Rognlie. "We just started recently presenting skrei as a fresh product to the rest of the world. Where I grew up, it’s always been a staple. We always look forward to the skrei season, because we know we’re about to have a lot of delicious food to last a long time."
Pollinger, along with chef Jostein Medhus, an advisor at the Culinary Academy in Oslo, prepared skrei several ways for a small group — in a snowstorm, no less — and spoke enthusiastically about a fish even seasoned food enthusiasts have not yet enjoyed.
"I’m in the business of fish as much as the fishermen are, and I need there to be fish in the future to cook — that’s very, very important," said Pollinger. "I’m proud to say I came in second in the tongue-cutting competition. I was taught by a 15-year-old Norwegian kid."
With strictly enforced catch guidelines and huge export output, Norway is the second-largest producer of cod in the world, and the only producer of this seasonal delicacy. Efforts to increase its exposure in the U.S. market have been successful as more consumers consider the origins of their meat and seafood with regard to sustainability, so look forward to this remarkable varietal, migrating to a fish market near you. In the meantime, travel-loving fish eaters should seriously consider a trip to Norway between January and March, when the skrei come to town.
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