Norwegian Spring Cod (Plukkfisk)
This is one of the dishes I chose to showcase on MasterChef. I had to cook a dish which represented family, so I chose a dish which embodies my grandmother's family in Norway and their rural, living-off-the-land lifestyle. Although I made a few attempts to glamourise the dish, by adding Norwegian brunnost cheese, and presenting the dish like a Norwegian mountain scene (which didn't exactly impress the judges), the heart and soul of this dish is simple and it's genuine. This dish, called 'plukkfisk' in Norwegian, is especially popular in the many coastal settlements of Western Norway. It's proper home food, though I did find it on a menu in Bergen when visiting a couple of years ago, a nice pub called 'Pingvinen'. If you're passing through, it's a good place to try it.
This dish embodies Norwegian food, and many are surprised to find Norwegian food so rustic and simple. Norwegian food is incredibly similar to Irish food, it's simple, inexpensive food from the land and earth. A long time ago Norway was actually one of the poorest countries in Europe, which cultivated a culture of home-growing produce, hunting for meat and fishing. Some of these traditions still exist today - some of my family in Norway, especially the older generation, live in the countryside, and are skilled in hunting, fishing, sailing and carpentry. They built their own houses and can live for weeks when snowed into their towns over Winter. Norwegians are incredibly self-sufficient and their food - proper Norwegian home food - reflects what life in Norway used to be like
The essence of the dish is mashed potatoes, enhanced with fresh green herbs like parsley and dill and copious amounts of butter. An alium note is added with spring onions or sautéed leeks. Finally, the dish is topped with soft fillets of flaky cod, some whipped through the mashed potatoes and some sat atop. The dish is meant to be presented in a heap, topped with crispy-fried smoked bacon and a fish gravy. This dish is also zero waste: the milk use to poach the cod makes a light, silky fish gravy for pouring over; the herbs also used to poach the fish are added to the mashed potatoes. This is a gorgeous comforting winter dish with a nod towards spring. Nice on a cold, windy day in March.
- 2 cod loin fillets (sustainably sourced pretty-please)
- 1 litre whole-fat milk
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 1 bunch fresh dill
- 5 spring onions
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
- 1kg potatoes (King Edward, Rooster
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- Smoked, streaky bacon
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
- Thai Fish Sauce/Worcestershire sauce (optional, to taste)
- Rye Crackers to serve
- Preheat the oven to 200C. Now it's best to start with the potatoes. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the peeled, quartered potatoes to cook for 20-25 minutes, until a knife slides through easily.
- In the meantime, place the cod loins in an ovenproof dish and add 1 litre of milk, or enough milk to just cover them. Add 2 teaspoons of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper, a chopped bunch of fresh parsley and dill and chopped spring onions. Coax everything down so it is submerged and soaked in the milk (otherwise it will burn). Place the whole dish in the oven and the fish will poach in 20 minutes.
- While the fish is poaching, fry some rashers of streaks bacon until crispy.
- If you started with the potatoes, they should be cooked through before the fish. Drain the potatoes and add them back to the pot you cooked them in. Add a tablespoon of butter to melt over the potatoes.
- After 20 minutes, remove the fish from the oven. Carefully pour out the poaching milk into a jug, without taking any of the fish or herbs. A sieve or a colander might help. Pour roughly 150-200ml of the poaching milk into the buttered potatoes and mash until you have a smooth, creamy mash.
- Take the chopped herbs and spring onions left behind in the fish-poaching dish and stir them through the mashed potatoes. Also snip up some of the crispy-fried bacon into the mashed potatoes and whip everything through. Add more salt to taste if desired.
- Take one of the cod fillets and gently break it up with your fingers into the mashed potatoes. Gently fold it into the mashed potatoes, being careful not to mash the fish, but keep it as big flakes. Leave it to stand with a lid over to keep it warm.
- To a saucepan, add a tablespoon of cornflour and add a tablespoon of the leftover poaching milk. Mix to a paste before gradually adding the rest of the milk. Heat this mixture up until it thickens to form a light fish gravy. Add a dash of Thai fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce to add a tangy, fermented note if you prefer. Leave the gravy to stand once thickened.
- Scoop dollops of the flecked mash onto serving plates. Gently flake the remaining cod fillet over the top of each mound of mash. Decorate with rashers of crispy bacon. Pour over the fish gravy. Best eaten in your warmest woolies and some rye crackers to dip in.