Seasonality is the ultimate cook’s bait, and it’s what drew me, along with a group of the country’s top chefs to Sommarøy – a small, snow-cloaked fishing village in the northernmost reaches of Europe, 200-odd miles north of the Arctic Circle, in the blue grey haze of the polar night.
We came to fish for a very special Norwegian delicacy known as Skrei: a mature migratory cod that swims thousands of miles each year from the Barents Sea off the north coast of Russia, back to its spawning ground in the crystal Norwegian waters.
Between January and April every year, Skrei season is a cause for celebration locally in Norway and it’s increasingly gaining traction on British restaurant menus, as chefs celebrate this prime cod and its clean, muscular flesh in their kitchens.
‘We put it on our lunch and à la carte during the season, and people respond really well,’ said Rachel Humphreys, head chef of Le Gavroche. ‘We call it Skrei cod so people understand that it’s a type of cod, but then we train our front of house staff to explain its story. These days people are much more interested in the provenance of their food – it’s not just about something being tasty, it’s about where it’s coming from and why it’s on the plate. Skrei has such a great story; we love sharing it with our guests and explaining why it’s so special.’
Our fishing fleet bore witness to Skrei’s increasing gourmet cache. As well as Rachel, chefs Michel Roux Jr, Ollie Dabbous, Robin Gill (of The Dairy, The Manor and Paradise Garage), Simon Hulstone, Daniel Galmiche, Monica Galetti and Paul Shearing (head chef of Bread Street Kitchen) all clambered aboard the small ferry in their fishing gear and woolen socks, knitted for them by some local women, to fish for the cod against a stunning backdrop of snowy mountains and pearlescent clouds.