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Fish and Seafood

Recipe last added: April 6th, 2002.

Being an island, Iceland naturally relies on the sea that surrounds it, and the economy is more or less based on fishing and fish processing. 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 allowed to ferment  (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. 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 carpelin (loðna - 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. Angler (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 (humar), arctic shrimp (rækja) and many species of crabs. Only the 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. 

Skate and shark are mostly eaten on special occasions. Salted and putrefied 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), trout (silungur, urriði), and salmon (lax) are all indigenous to Iceland, and so is eel (áll), but few (if any) people bother to catch it. 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.

Fiskrönd - Fish loaf Steiktur fiskur í raspi - Crumbed fish
Fiskibollur - Icelandic fish balls Síldarsalat - Herring salad
Síld í kryddlegi - Marinated herring Plokkfiskur - Leftover fish in white sauce 
Lúðubuff - Fried halibut  Kjarnorkufiskur - Nuked fish 
Grafinn Lax - Gravlax  Graflaxsósa - Mustard-dill sauce for Gravlax 
Pepperoni ýsa - Haddock in pepperoni sauce Ofnsteiktur fiskur  Fish casserole
Fiskisúpa - Fish soup Fisklummur - fried fish-pancakes
How to make "rotten" or fermented shark



Steiktur fiskur í raspi - Crumbed fish

This is an old family favourite.
2 kg.  fish*  – skin and bones removed 3/4 cup.  breadcrumbs**
1 ea. egg or eggwhite 250 gr.  margarine/butter
1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. fish spice mix***
dash pepper 1/2 a medium onion, sliced
a splash milk (optional)    
* Sole, flounder, cod, haddock or other white fish.
** I generally use Paxo, but homemade crumbs are also good.
*** use your favourite blend, or substitute with Season-All.

Break the egg and beat to break the yolk, add a splash of milk (if using) and mix well. Mix salt and spice with breadcrumbs. Cut the fish into pieces, across the fillet. Width of pieces can range from 2 1/2 to 5 cm (1-2 inches), depending on taste. (Just make the pieces uniform in size.)
Set up your workplace: first, a plate with fish pieces, then a bowl with beaten egg, then a bowl with breadcrumbs, then the heated frying pan on the stove.
Melt half the margarine/butter (or use equivalent in cooking oil) on a medium hot frying pan. When the margarine stops frothing, add the onion slices to the pan and fry until it begins to brown. Remove from the pan, and add the rest of the margarine. 
Now you can start frying the fish: Coat a piece of fish in egg, roll to cover in breadcrumbs, and put on the pan to fry. Continue until all the fish is on the pan. Turn when the underside of the pieces begins to brown, and fry on other side until golden brown.
Arrange the fish pieces on a serving plate, quickly heat the onions through on the pan, and pour onions and the remainder of the frying fat over the fish. If you want the fish to be less greasy, you can serve the onions and fat on the side.
Serve with lemon wedges, a fresh salad and cooked potatoes. 

This salad is also good with crumbed fish:

2 med. Tomatoes
½ cucumber
1 tblsp. Mayonnaise

Cut tomatoes and cucumbers into 1/2 cm thick slices, then cut slices into narrow strips. Put in a bowl with the mayonnaise and stir to coat the vegetables.

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  Fisklummur - Fish-pancakes

My mother sometimes deliberately cooks more fish than is necessary for one meal, and uses the left-over fish and potatoes to make these pancakes. They are popular with the whole family, and an excellent way of both using up leftovers, and getting finicky eaters to eat fish.
This is really more of a guideline than a recipe. It recipe will yield enough pancakes for 2 people.
Take leftover cooked fish pieces (preferably plain boiled fish, about 1/2 a fillet), remove any bones and flake with a fork.  Put in a bowl with finely chopped, cooked potatoes (2-3 small ones); one small, finely chopped onion; and garlic to taste. Stir in some flour (approx. 3 tblsp. in a recipe for two), and 1 tblsp. potato starch. Flavour with salt, plus your favourite fish-spice (I use flavour enhancer (Aromat), and Season-all). Add one beaten egg. Thin to the desired consistency with milk (should be like thin porridge). Fry on a medium hot skillet until golden, and serve with potatoes and melted butter, and tomato wedges on the side.

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Síld í kryddlegi - Marinated herring

This marinated herring is a family favourite, although I must admit that we prefer to buy it ready made rather than make it from scratch. 
3 ea.  salted herrings  200 ml.  white vinegar 
1 medium  onion  200 ml  water 
6 ea.  black peppercorns  100 ml  sugar 
1 ea.  laurel leaf, broken into pieces     

First, the salt herring must be de-salted: Wash the fish under cold, running water. Soak in plenty of cold water for 24 hours, changing the water every few hours. Fillet and soak in cold water for 1-2 hours. 

Cut each fillet diagonally across, into finger-wide pieces, OR roll up, beginning at the tail end. Slice the onion. Put the herring into a sterilized jar, layering with onion slices and spices. Stir together vinegar, water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour over herring until covered. Close the jar, and give the herring a few days to marinate properly.

Serving suggestions:

-serve with hot, cooked potatoes and rye bread 
-arrange on a slice of rye or pumpernickel bread with slices of sweet apple, banana and hard boiled egg. Serve with or without this sweet curry sauce:
Mix some mayonnaise with half as much sour cream. Add some honey to make it slightly sweet (don't use too much, or the sauce will be too sweet). Add some mild or medium hot curry powder to taste. The sauce should be creamy and smooth, with a definite curry taste and a hint of honey. Pour over the fish and fruit on the bread and top with slices of hard-boiled egg.
-cut the fish, egg and fruit into small pieces and mix into the sauce. Serve as a salad. 
-You can also make herring salad.

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Plokkfiskur - Leftover fish in white sauce

There are jokes about this food - it can be either a delicacy or a disaster. During the "good" old days, when (in some homes) fish was served - ad nauseam - five days a week, this was the standard way of using up leftovers. If you didn't finish the fish at lunch, this was what you could expect to be served for dinner. I sometimes get it at my grandmother's, who rarely throws away leftovers.
ca. 700 gr.  cooked fish  ca. 500 gr.  cooked potatoes 
50 gr.  margarine/butter  50 gr.  flour 
750 ml.  milk  1/4 tsp.  ground pepper 
Any kind of cooked fish can be used, but to make this authentic, use cod, salt cod, haddock, or halibut. 
Remove all skin and bones from the fish and flake with a fork. Cut the potatoes into small pieces.
  Make white sauce: Melt the margarine/butter over medium heat. Stir the flour into it, until smooth and thick. Continue stirring and add a small amount of milk. When the mixture boils, add more milk. Repeat this process until all the milk is used up. When the sauce is done, add the fish and potatoes and warm through. 
-add some onion to get more flavour. Chop it finely and cook along with the sauce. 

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Lúðubuff - Fried halibut steaks

Here's one way to prepare my favourite fish. 
1 1/2 kg.  halibut (or turbot, sole or other flat fish) 4 tblsp.  flour 
2 tsp.  salt  1/3 tsp.  ground pepper 
150 gr.  oil, butter or margarine  100 gr.  onion 
Take one small, whole halibut. Cut off the head, tail and fins. Scrape off the slime and loose scales under cold, running water. Cut the fish into slices, about as thick as your thumb is wide. Mix together flour, salt and pepper. Coat the slices with flour mixture and fry in the hot fat until done (3-4 minutes on each side). Remove from the pan and arrange the steaks on a serving dish. Slice the onions and brown in the fat, remove and put on top of the fish. Pour some water on the frying pan, roll it around and pour over the fish. Serve with cooked potatoes, green salad and lemon wedges. 
-Try grilling the fish steaks: cut into large cubes and thread onto skewers with onion pieces, fresh mushrooms and pieces of red bell pepper (capsicum).

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Kjarnorkufiskur - Nuked fish

My grandmother was the first in the family to buy a microwave oven, and uses it a lot. This is her recipe for a quick fish gratin with vegetables:
Take 1 fish fillet, preferably haddock or cod - but any firm, white fish will do. Skin and cut into pieces. Take some raw potatoes, carrots, a small rutabaga and some cauliflower. Slice carrots, cut cauliflower into small florets and chop rutabaga and potatoes into bite-size pieces. Layer into a microwave-safe casserole dish. Break a couple of eggs into a bowl, add some milk and spices (salt, pepper, and fish-spice mix). Mix well. Pour egg mixture over the fish and veggies. Top with grated cheese. Nuke on High until the vegetables are tender and the egg mixture is cooked. 

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Grafinn lax/silungur  - Pickled salmon/trout (Gravlax or lox)

The Norwegians and/or Swedes invented the Gravlax, and it is a national dish in both countries. This pickled salmon is an excellent entrée and has in recent years become a necessary part of any cold buffet in Iceland. It is almost always served in the same way: thin slices on toast with mustard-dill sauce. 
      I'm including two gravlax recipes here, one with MSG and another one without it. I'm also including two recipes for mustard-dill sauce, one simple, the other not so simple. The pickle mix is just as good when used with trout. 
The following pickle is enough for two medium salmon fillets (from a 3-4 kg. fish). 
4 tblsp.  fine salt  1/2 tsp.  ground pepper 
1 tsp.  fennel  1 tsp.  MSG 
3 tblsp.  dill weed (fresh)     
Mix all ingredients together. Apply an even layer of the mix on the fish. Wrap each fillet in plastic wrap and then in kitchen foil, skin down. Leave in the refrigerator for 4 days. Remove the gravlax from the packaging and gently scrape off the spice mix. Cut the fish into very thin diagonal slices, across the fillet, and serve on toast with mustard-dill sauce
You can use the spices from the fish to make the sauce, but I would only do so if it will be eaten right away. If you need to store the sauce for more than a few hours, use fresh dill. 
The second recipe:
This spice mix is good for two 400 g. fillets of salmon. 
6 tblsp.  coarse salt  4 tblsp.  sugar 
24 ea.  black peppercorns, ground    enough dill weed to cover the fish 
Mix up a batch of the pickle mix (don't mix in the dill), and divide in half. Cover the bottom of a serving dish or other container with dill. Lay a salmon fillet on top, skin down, and cover with one batch of the pickle mix. Put the other half on the other fillet. Cover the first fillet with dill weed and lay the other fillet on top, skin up, head end  to tail end. Cover and weigh down, for example with a heavy cutting board. Keep in the refrigerator for about 48 hours, turning every 12 hours or so. When ready, gently scrape off the pickle mix and pat dry. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator, or a couple of months in the freezer. Serve as above. 

Graflaxsósa - Mustard-dill sauce for Gravlax

This sauce is also good with marinated herring
Recipe 1 (simple gravlax sauce):
250 gr.  mayonnaise  1 tblsp.  mustard 
1 tblsp.  honey  1 tsp.  dill 
to taste  salt  to taste  ground pepper 
Mix mayonnaise, mustard and honey. Add dill, salt and pepper, or pickle mix from the gravlax.  If using dried dill, allow the sauce to stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.  
Recipe 2 (Deluxe gravlax sauce):
2 tblsp.  sweet mustard  1 tblsp.  Hot (Dijon) mustard 
1 tblsp.  sugar  1 tblsp.  vinegar 
1 ea.  egg yolk (optional - makes the sauce smoother)  to taste  salt and white pepper 
1/2 cup  vegetable oil  to taste (use plenty)  fresh dill, chopped 
Mix together mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and egg yolk (if using). Add the oil slowly, while beating constantly. Continue until the sauce is creamy and smooth. Add the dill. 
-if you don't like dill, leave it out of the sauce, and scrape it off the fish before eating.

Serving suggestions for Gravlax:
-Serve the traditional way: top some toast OR rye/pumpernickel bread with thin slices of gravlax and pour or spread the sauce on top.
-serve it New York-style: spread cream cheese on a fresh bagel and top with gravlax. In New York (and probably other places in the U.S.A), gravlax is called lox.
-At a  website I visited (sorry, can't remember which), it was suggested that gravlax be eaten on thin slices of black bread, with lemon and pickled cucumber salad on the side, in addition to the sauce.
-Another site suggested serving it with asparagus: Arrange the gravlax on a slice of toast and top with spears of asparagus.

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Fiskibollur - Traditional Icelandic fish balls

Fish balls are one of the many ways in which Icelanders like to cook fish, and the recipes are numerous. When I was little I loved to eat fish-balls in pink sauce (see recipe below), mostly because of the colour of the sauce!
1 large fillet white fish (cod, haddock or saithe are traditional), skinned and de-boned
1 medium onion 150 ml. flour
50 ml. potato flour 1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs as needed milk
Finely chop or grind the fish fillet and onion. Mix together in a bowl (or just throw both ingredients into a food processor and let it do the work). Add the dry ingredients, mixing well. Add the eggs and then the milk (the fish-dough should be just thick enough to stick together when you form it into balls). Form small balls with two tablespoons or use your hands. Fry in oil or butter over low heat, until done. Serve with fresh salad and boiled potatoes. Ketchup also goes well with fish-balls.
-If you must have some sauce on your fish-balls, serve with melted butter, brown gravy or cocktail sauce,  or make pink sauce.
These are two ways to make pink sauce:
-1. Make basic white sauce and add ketchup until it turns pink. Serve with fish-balls.
-2. When the fish balls are just about done, add 250 ml. water to the pan. Take 1 1/2 tblsp. flour and 100 ml. water or milk and mix into a smooth paste. When the water on the frying pan boils, add the flour paste. Add 1 tsp. fish stock powder and 50 ml. ketchup or tomato sauce. Cook for 5 minutes.

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Fiskrönd – Baked fish loaf

This recipe uses the same basic fish dough that is given in the above recipe for fish balls.
Press 400 gr. fish dough into a loaf pan (fill the pan no more that 3/4). Cover with aluminium foil to avoid burning. Pour boiling water into a roasting pan (or usa a Bain Marie) and add the loaf pan with the fish dough. Cook in a 180°C oven for 40-50 minutes, making sure that the roasting pan is always at least half full. When ready, remove from the loaf pan. Serve upside down, decorated with sliced lemon, cooked shrimp, tomatoes and salad leaves. 
Serve with white sauce, melted butter, caper sauce, shrimp sauce, asparagus sauce, or sauce Hollandaise.

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Síldarsalat - Herring salad

This herring salad is a fresh and unusual addition to a brunch meal or cold buffet. 
1 ea. apple (Red Delicious or other sweet variety) 5-6 slices pickled red beet
2-3 fillets marinated or spice pickled herring 1/2 - 2/3 cup mayonnaise
Take about half a cup of mayonnaise and stir well to prevent it from lumping. Cut the herring into small slices and the apple and beet into small cubes. Add to the mayonnaise and mix well. The salad should be a rose-pink colour - if not, add some of the juice from the beets.
-serve with rye bread or crackers. Top with slices of hard boiled egg (optional).
-replace half the mayonnaise with sour cream for a healthier salad.

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  Pepperoni-ýsa - Haddock in pepperoni sauce

This is a fairly unusual dish which I occasionally make. The sauce is also good on pasta.
400 g. haddock 50 g. mushrooms, sliced
50 gr. onions, chopped 25-50 g. pepperoni sausage (depending on how strong it tastes), sliced and chopped
125 ml. cream 1 1/2 tsp. tomato paste
as needed sliced cheese flour mixed with salt, pepper, garlic, fish-spice
Cut the fish into slices, about 2,5 cm (1 inch) wide. Cut each slice in half. Roll in spiced flour and brown in hot oil. Remove from the pan and arrange in a casserole dish. Fry onions, mushrooms and pepperoni until onions and mushrooms are soft. Add tomato paste and cream to the pan and stir well. Pour over the fish, top with silces of cheese and bake at 180°C for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve with pasta or rice, garlic bread and a fresh salad.

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Ofnsteiktur fiskur með lauk og osti –  Fish casserole with onions and cheese

400 gr. Fish fillets (white fish), boned and skinned ½ tsp. Salt
1 medium Onion 1 tblsp. Bread crumbs
2 tblsp. Cheese, grated 25 gr. butter
Cut the fish into chunks and arrange in a greased casserole. Add salt. Finely chop the onion and sprinkle over the fish. Sprinkle bread crumbs and cheese on top, and dot with small pieces of butter. Bake in a 175-200°C oven for 20-30 minutes. Serve with boiled potatoes and a salad.
Variation: Put the salted fish in the casserole with the chopped onion and butter. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 175°C. In the meantime, mix together 50 ml. cream, 100 ml. milk, 1 tblsp. breadcrumbs, and 2 tblsp. grated cheese. Pour over the fish and continue baking for 15 minutes.

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