My Citizens! Apologies all ’round for being dark these last 2 weeks – I have been extensively traveling throughout Iceland and Finland on my annual journey to my favorite places on the planet! While it is currently roasting in San Francisco at 107 degrees Fahrenheit (!) it was a cool and comfortable 45 degrees in Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland.
Now that I have returned to my Sanctum Sanctorum, I have a renewed sense of drive and purpose! As such, today allow me to tantalize your tastebuds with a seemingly humble dish I enjoyed in Iceland for the first time – a recipe that may even be properly called a National Dish of the country: creamy fish stew!
Plokkfiskur (which literally means “plucked fish”) is – at its simplest – a combination of mild ocean fish, potatoes, onions and béchamel sauce.
It is a firm favorite in Icelandic kitchens, a traditional dish and a true comfort food. A dear friend of mine took me to visit the restaurant Þrír Frakkar (Three Jackets), a restaurant where she worked for several years as she was getting her Doctorate.
This restaurant is very famous in Iceland for its traditional dishes, and I was privileged to dine on one of the rarest Icelandic delicacies: the sky blue eggs of the Auk, a seagoing bird that nests on high cliffs and whose eggs are truly delicious, unique and dangerous to gather!
They are only available 2-3 weeks in June when the birds are nesting – and before you ask, no they are NOT endangered in any way.
In addition to my favorite Icelandic langoustine soup, I also dined upon Plokkfiskur for the first time – a speciality of Þrír Frakkar, it was uniquely flavored with rich Béarnaise sauce, gratinéed cheese and – wait for it – CURRY POWDER.
This is a totally unexpected ingredient to be found in a traditional Icelandic dish – I can only assume curry powder was introduced to the Island by whalers in the 19th century and it became a rare and coveted ingredient.
It’s a flavor surprise – but by all the ancient Gods of Culinary Wisdom, it WORKS. Apparently, this “fancy version” of the plokkfiskur recipe served at Þrír Frakkar is famous throughout the country, and while much humbler versions are eaten throughout the island, this is the ultimate and the variant I will share with you today.
As noted on noseychef.com:
Plokkfiskur has its origins in the most noble of food principles – using up leftovers. When we bought fish in Iceland (from Fiskbú∂in at Sundlaudavegi 12), the cuts were all presented as whole sides, so it might not be unusual for an Icelandic family to end up with leftover cooked fish.
In the UK, we buy in much smaller cuts; so in the NoseyKitchen, we had to do the whole shebang from scratch. Plokkfiskur can be bland if not seasoned up the wazoo, which might be why 3 Frakkar add curry.
Traditionally served with the sweet, dense Icelandic rye bread known as rúgbrauð (Roog-braeth), this is as rich, decadent and satisfying as any fish stew you’ll find.
Being the supreme Sovereign of all things superlative, I of course have based my version of this classic dish not on the simple fisherman version, but the uptown-style served at 3 Jackets.
One very optional tweak I have made to the standard plokkfiskur recipe is to use a bit of smoked Haddock, also known as Finnan Haddie, in addition to the standard Cod or Haddock (you can buy some at the link). I find a tiny bit of this ingredient in the stew really adds to the total flavor gestalt – but you can easily omit it. I also call for the unmatched Icelandic butter (best in the world!) and rare wild Arctic Thyme – you can order both from the links.
Rúgbrauð is the classic accompaniment – you can order it at the link. Please note that you should NEVER eat more than two slices at a time of this sweet and dense bread. If you’re not used to it, indulging in more than a few slices of this fiber-rich item will cause you to understand the reason for its well-deserved nickname of “Thunder Bread”!
I hope you enjoy plokkfiskur, a truly delicious taste of the North, my Citizens – this dish is absolutely fantastic and a must-try!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Ultimate Icelandic Fish Stew – Plokkfiskur
- Total Time: 0 hours
- 1 lb. cod (or haddock or any other codfish)
- 1/4 lb. smoked haddock (Finnan Haddie) (TFD change here, original was just regular cod or haddock, but I like the smoky flavor)
- 1 lb. Russet Burbank or Kennebec potatoes
- 1 large white onion, finely chopped
- 11 oz. whole milk
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 oz. Icelandic butter, if you can find it – Smjor is my go-to brand, although Kerry Irish butter makes a good substitute
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 tsp. mild yellow curry powder or to taste
- Béarnaise sauce:
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
- Grated cheese to taste, TFD uses 50% Emmental and 50% cave-aged gruyere (about 1 cup total)
- Salt, white pepper and course black pepper to taste
- Wild arctic thyme for garnish
- Snipped Chives for garnish (optional)
- Rye Bread
- First, make the béarnaise sauce:
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and a pinch of salt and pepper; stir to coat. Stir in vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vinegar is evaporated, 3-4 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low and continue cooking shallots, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer shallot reduction to a small bowl and let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, fill a blender with hot water to warm it; set aside. Melt remaining 1 cup butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is foamy. Transfer butter to a measuring cup.
- Drain blender and dry well. Combine egg yolks, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water in warm, dry blender. Purée mixture until smooth. Remove lid insert. With blender running, slowly pour in hot butter in a thin stream of droplets, discarding milk solids at bottom of measuring cup.
- Continue blending until a smooth, creamy sauce forms, 2-3 minutes. Pour sauce into a medium bowl. Stir in shallot reduction and tarragon and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
- For the stew:
- Peel the potatoes, then boil with bay leaves until fully cooked. Drain, discard the bay leaves and let cool.
- Bring plenty of water to a boil in pot: Put the cod and smoked haddock in, put the lid on and leave the fish in the water for about 10 minutes.
- Skin, bone and break up the fish into flakes – if using fillets, just flake the fish.
- Slowly heat milk in a saucepan almost to a boiling point.
- Meanwhile melt the butter and sauté onion over medium heat until soft. Do not allow it to brown. Add curry powder and stir.
- Sprinkle flour over the butter and onion, stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add warmed milk, stir and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
- Add fish and stir to break up the flakes. Season with salt, pepper and curry powder.
- Cut boiled potatoes into small bite-size pieces and fold into the stew.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F.
- Put the almost ready Plokkfiskur into a baking pan or gratiné pan. Pour béarnaise sauce on top of the fish stew. Then, put grated cheeses on top of it. Bake in the oven until the cheese turns golden brown, 3-5 minutes.
- Served with dark sweet Icelandic rye bread and plenty of butter.
- Prep Time: 0 hours
- Cook Time: 0 hours
- Category: Recipes
- Calories: 1060.4 kcal
- Sugar: 7.34 g
- Sodium: 1213.43 mg
- Fat: 83.54 g
- Saturated Fat: 50.81 g
- Trans Fat: 3.06 g
- Carbohydrates: 36.04 g
- Fiber: 4.63 g
- Protein: 43.77 g
- Cholesterol: 379.4 mg
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