Stockfish – how is it made?

Stockfish, stoccafisso, tørrfisk – different names for a unique Norwegian product.

In Lofoten, the climate is perfect for stockfish production outdoors. In the drying season from February to June it is not too cold, nor too warm. The fish is naturally dried in the sun and wind, and in Lofoten, there is always a light breeze that gives the optimal drying conditions.

We don´t know exactly when the Norwegians started to produce stockfish, but the drying of fish is the oldest known preservation method, and dried fish can be stored for several years. The Norse sagas tell us that the Vikings brought stockfish for food on their journeys. The tradition of drying cod has been handed down from generation to generation in the Lofoten Islands.

Stockfish is unsalted fish cut in specific ways and hung in pairs on wooden racks. The racks are called “hjell” in Norwegian. The method is cheap and effective, and the work can be done by the fisherman and his family. The production method of stockfish is very conservative and has not changed much for hundreds of years. The traditional method is still in use today and some places there hang thousands of fish on the racks.

The fish hangs on the racks for almost 4 months. The dried fish is then matured for 2-3 months indoors in a dry and airy environment. During drying, 70 % of the water in the fish evaporates. The stockfish still has the nutritional content of the fresh fish, only more concentrated. The dried fish has low weight and volume and is easily transported to the markets. Stockfish is Norway’s longest sustained export commodity.

The stockfish is sorted in more than 20 different qualities where “Ragno” is the prime grade. The stockfish is cured in a fermentation process that matures the fish, like the maturing process of cheese. This gives the fish a distinct smell and taste appreciated as a delicacy around the world. Stockfish from Lofoten has gained the status as Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in the EU.

The largest markets for stockfish from Norway today are Italy and Nigeria.

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