02/03/2007

Fish and seafood in Iceland

Being an island, Iceland naturally relies on the sea that surrounds it and the economy is still more or less based on fishing and fish processing (although other industries are becoming more important). Traditionally fish is either cooked and eaten fresh or preserved by salting (söltun), drying (þurrkun), smoking (reyking), or partly drying (siginn fiskur). Skate (skata and tindabykkja) and shark (hákarl) are fermented (kæsing).

The most common fish caught off Iceland's shores is cod (þorskur), which is mostly exported. The majority of Icelanders prefer to eat haddock (ýsa). My own favourite is halibut (lúða, heilagfiski). The traditional way of serving fish, whether fresh or preserved, is as soðning: plain, boiled fish, served with potatoes and sometimes with melted sheep's tallow with cracklings. Cod roe and liver are considered a delicacy by many. These are seasonal treats, and so is the fatty flesh of the male lumpfish (rauðmagi).

Other common species include capelin (loðna( which is mostly processed into fish-meal, herring (síld), saithe (ufsi), ocean perch (karfi), plaice (skarkoli) and ocean catfish/wolf-fish (steinbítur), to name a few. Mackerel (makríll) and tuna (túnfiskur) fishing has recently begun.

Anglerfish.
Anglerfish (skötuselur) and dogfish (háfur) also find their way into the trawls and nets of Icelandic fishermen, along with some more exotic species like moonfish (guðlax).

Crustaceans include arctic lobster/langostines (leturhumar), arctic shrimp (rækja) and many species of crabs. Only lobster and shrimp are caught commercially. Many types of shellfish are found - the only widely caught species is the scallop (hörpuskel) - but there is also some clam (kúskel) fishing and recently a company in Stykkishólmur has begun commercial breeding of blue mussels (bláskel) .

Fermented skate w/potatoes, rye bread, crackling and melted tallow.
Grey skate and starry rays (skata, tindabykkja) and Greenland shark (hákarl) are mostly eaten on special occasions. Salted and fermented skate - the smellier, the better - is a popular meal on the feast of St. Þorlákur on December 23rd. Shark is a typical "gross-out food", offered to unsuspecting foreign visitors along with a shot of Brennivín schnapps. It is traditionally eaten at Þorrablót feasts, cut into very small pieces, although some people keep it in the house and eat some every day.

Freshwater fish also provide a part of the diet of many Icelanders. Arctic char (bleikja), brown trout (silungur, urriði), and Atlantic salmon (lax) are all indigenous to Iceland, and so is eel (áll), but few people bother to catch eels. The most popular introduced species is rainbow trout (regnbogasilungur).

Iceland is home to some of Europe's most famous salmon rivers. A testament to the clean environment of the country is the fact that a good salmon river runs through the capital, Reykjavík.

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