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From poor mans fare to gourmet food?

NORWAY - Stockfish was once poor man's fare in Italy. With time, the consumption of stockfish has gone down, and the price up. This is the first article in a series about Norway's oldest export product.

Claudio Sadler at work with a stockfish dish. You can see the result in the picture below.

Stockfish is perhaps Norway's most special food. The characteristic taste develops through the several-month long drying processing.

Most of the stockfish that is produced in Norway is eaten in Italy, but today, it is a small niche product compared with what it used to be.

No one knows whether stockfish will survive in a changing world where ever-new products provide tougher competition.

Giving stockfish status
Stockfish was once poor man's fare. Now it has become expensive seafood, and has also reached the gourmet restaurants.

Claudio Sadler has high status, with two of three possible stars in the Michelin Restaurant Guide. And in the Guide, he has chosen to emphasise precisely stockfish.

"Why stockfish?"
"Stockfish represents very well our philosophy of bringing out special and traditional Italian raw materials that we can reinterpret with our creativity", says Sadler.

The gourmet chefs can be important for the future of stockfish in the Italian cuisine. For that reason, Sadler is one of the partners of Norwegian Seafood Export Council (NSEC).

Amongst other things, he develops new dishes of stockfish that are prepared in classes that NSEC holds for food journalists. In the next round, the special history of stockfish and recipes will be presented in newspapers, magazines and TV.

Sadler has two restaurants, in Milan and Tokyo, respectively. He also runs a cooking school, where everyone who has an interest in food can develop their skills.

Purée of stockfish with fresh ravioli filled with beans, and salami typical for Milan.

Roots and traditions
When he works to create new dishes with stockfish as an ingredient, he compares it with fashion designers searching in wardrobes for designs and colours from days gone by.

There they discover old fashions, which are brought out and developed further.

"Stockfish is about roots and traditions. We had a period in the 1970s and -80s where the French cuisine was the ideal for many Italian restaurants. But in the 1990s, the interest for Italian food traditions became increasingly stronger", he says.

"Stockfish is traditional poor man's fare. We had forgotten it, along with salted fish and clipfish. Now, we're bringing these products out again and using them in new ways."

"It's about understanding your own raw materials and own traditions. And we regard stockfish as Italian", says Sadler.

Expensive and demanding
Sadler believes that stockfish is a food that fits well in today's modern cuisine. But that it's an expensive and demanding product.

"Stockfish is expensive, and there are also lots of pieces left over. It's different with a fillet of salted fish where we can use everything. Stockfish requires lots of preparation before it can be used."

He feels that the big obstacle in using more stockfish is the time-consuming rehydration, which can take up to 10 days.

"The stockfish industry clearly has a challenge because this is a demanding and expensive product."

Because the consumption of stockfish dates back in Italy, increased awareness is important.

"What cooks and chefs do and say affects the consumers' choices and the development in the food market. We can help create increased interest for stockfish", says Sadler.

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