There’s Something Fishy Going on Around Here

Drying food is the oldest method of food preservation, and tørrfisk (stockfish), with a storage life of several years, has been one of Norway’s most profitable exports over the centuries, starting in the Middle Ages.

This ancient technique is fascinating and is still in use today.  Unsalted Codfish is hung out on wooden racks called “hjell”, and dried by the cold air and wind.  The fish is cured/fermented, similar to the maturing process of cheese.

If you’re visiting Northern Norway and see this type of drying rack, I encourage you to stop and take a closer look.  I did this past week and was intrigued by this ancient method, so foreign to a woman from the potato state.

Wooden Drying Racks, Hjell, Nordkapp, Norway
Tørrfisk - Stockfish, Honningsvåg, Nordkapp, Norway

fish heads, exported to Africa for use in soups

fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads

fresh cod hung to make boknafish (for a future post)
cod for boknafisk

And if you happen to remember the Fish Head song by Barnes and Barnes, well it’s been stuck in my head ever since ()

24 thoughts on “There’s Something Fishy Going on Around Here

  1. I did see racks like those when I was travelling in the far north, but never knew what they were for. So thanks for that. I thought you would simply have all your fish frozen.:-)

      1. Stevie D… I was thinking that the racks were probably empty when you were here. The fish has to be dried when the temperatures are below 0ºC. The fish will rot in warm temperatures.

  2. Fantastic! I experienced the process of drying salmon in Fort Yukon, Alaska when we lived there, but now I can brag that us Norskies are the real kings of dried fish! But it begs the question, “so why lutefisk?”

    1. Thank you! I’ll have to check out the “lutefisk” thing. It may be that it was a good way to preserve the fish in the summer months, as stockfish is dried in colder temperatures. I’ll let you know when I find out.

    1. Thanks Karen. And yes, the racks are huge – literal towers of fish. It was fascinating and a bit surreal. I asked for permission from one of the employees, but I still felt like I was trespassing. There was a special atmosphere there. I wasn’t really able to capture that in the photos.

    1. I know! When I got up close to the racks, it was a bit overwhelming. I talked to an employee who was hanging up some fresh fish who told me all of it will soon be exported to Africa. And speaking of eating fish, I’m going to share a few recipes that use stockfish and klippfish (salted and then dried). Have you ever heard of a Portuguese dish called “bacalao”? It is wonderful!

      1. I will wait to see what you post! Recipes are always welcome. My partner is Filipino and always makes a dish called ‘Sinagong’ (sp?) which uses Tamarind and is kind of sour. I usually leave the house til its over.

      2. I think I might leave the house too 😉 But bacalao is tomato based, spicy, with capers, potatoes and green olives. When I make it I’ll take photos and share the recipe.

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