Skrei: Norway’s jewel of the sea

by Great British Chefs

Great British Chefs travels to the wind-whipped Norwegian coast with some of the UK's top chefs to learn more about Skrei – a super-seasonal variety of cod that's truly unique.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

For the fishermen of Tromsø – Norway’s most northerly city – the beginning of the year is non-stop. Despite the freezing temperatures, lack of natural light and rough, unforgiving seas, from January to April these modern day Vikings board their boats and bring ashore as many Skrei as they can catch – a variety of cod that has been the pride of the country for centuries. Alongside chefs such as Michel Roux Jr, Monica Galetti, Robin Gill and Daniel Galmiche, we travelled to the remote area to discover more about the legendary fish.

Skrei (Norwegian for ‘wanderer’) are migratory cod. They travel a thousand kilometres through the turbulent yet pristine Barents Sea every year to spawn off the north Norwegian coast, building up muscle throughout their journey. It’s this muscle that sets them apart from standard cod; the flesh becomes firm and meaty, flaking apart in huge, jagged pieces, while the bright pearlescent flesh turns a dazzling white once cooked. This is why Skrei is almost always served simply; the fresh oceanic flavour, incredible texture and stunning appearance means it’s best served as naturally as possible. Michel Roux Jr doesn’t even cook the fish, choosing to serve it as a finely chopped tartare with a spoonful of caviar on top.

After braving the rough seas and landing some giant, healthy looking fish, local cooks showed the group how Skrei is enjoyed in Tromsø. Every single part of the fish is used – tongues are dusted in seasoned flour and fried; roe is lightly simmered and the liver is reserved for its oil, which contains plenty of much-needed vitamin D.

Michel Roux Jr
Top chefs such as Michel Roux Jr travelled to Tromsø to learn more about this incredible fish
The pristine waters around Norway contribute to the pure, fresh flavour of Skrei

Fish for the future

Sustainability is incredibly important to the Skrei fishermen. The fish are always caught when they’re fully grown (around five years old) and everything is fully approved by the Marine Stewardship council. Quality control is also a top priority; the fish aren’t deep-frozen but stored on ice the second they’re caught, before inspectors check them over for any scratches, bruises or injuries. If they pass the rigorous tests, they’re given the certified Skrei badge and packed by specially trained staff – all within twelve hours of being caught. No tankers or industrial-scale fishing boats are allowed anywhere near the Skrei; everything is done by net or pole and line for the few months they are available.

Tromsø’s locals rely heavily on the Skrei’s return to their shores – which has happened for thousands of years – every winter. Their arrival supports the local economy, is an event to look forward to in the bitterly cold, dark months of January to April and provides plenty of food at a time when there isn’t much else available. But whether you’re enjoying it straight out of the sea in a remote Norwegian fishing village or buying some from the fish counter right here in the UK, one thing’s for certain; Skrei is no ordinary cod.

If you want to try Skrei for yourself, it is available now in Wholefoods, Selfridges and quality fishmongers across the UK, with Harrods stocking the fish in the next few weeks. It’s also on the menus at Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Britain.