Lofoten is an archipelago off the north west coast of Norway, just above the arctic circle. The islands are warmed by the Gulf stream which makes them a climatic anomaly for this latitude. The Gulf stream means the warm sea is rich in nutrients which attracts migrant cod in the winter months. Since the time of the Vikings these islands have been at the heart of Europe's fishing industry.
September in Lofoten can be warm but the weather can change quickly from sunny to intense, persistent rain and storms. We have seen both during the days we have spent here.
The islands have a fascinating history. Vikings colonised the fjords until the late 11th century with many interesting relics and ruined settlements remaining. The Viking museum at Borg is sited on the ruins of one of the largest longhouse ever found. It provides a remarkable reconstruction of how a Viking Chieftain lived with fine glasses imported from the UK, beautiful woven and embroidered cloths, wine and good food.
After the Vikings, Lofoten is best known for its role in North Atlantic fishing where it has been at the centre for more than 1, 000 years.
From mid-February until the end of April millions of Arctic cod migrates from the Barents Sea to the spawning grounds near Lofoten. Here it is caught, processed and exported around the world either as fresh or dried fish.
Since the Viking times cod has been hung out to dry in the unique climatic conditions of low temperatures, dry air and a low rainfall. The wind and air temperature are also important. Too cold and the frost will destroy the fish and too warm and flies will lay eggs in the flesh. This natural drying process cures and preserves the fish which can last for many years.
If you visit Lofoten it will not be long before you see racks of cod drying outside on large tent shaped wooden racks. The dried fish is referred to as stockfish.
Stockfish is dried without adding salt and its name derives from Germanic Stokk, which means “stick”. In ancient times, fishermen used a skewer to open and clean fish on a long wooden stick.
These days the fish is beheaded and left drying in the sun before it is opened up, gutted and then hung up to dry. Fish is hung to dry during February and March and taken down in June.
Only Arctic Norwegian cod (gadus morhua) or “Skrei” can be used for stockfish. It is caught between February to April and is considered a much finer product than cod dried using salt.
Many famous Italian recipes, especially in the Veneto region, actually call for Norwegian stockfish however many recipes used the two types of dried cod interchangeably.
Stockfish needs to be soaked in water for several days before it can be used. The water has to be changed several times and the bones removed, usually after the first day of soaking.
The hydrated fish is often served in beautifully prepared fish stew with tomatoes, garlic, potatoes with mediterranean vegetables.
The photographs below were taken in Lofoten and show stock fish hanging up to dry and old fishing boats used to catch fish.