Description / Shipment and Storage
Stockfish is unsalted fish, especially cod, dried by cold air and wind on wooden racks on the foreshore, called “hjell”. The drying of food is the world’s oldest known preservation method, and dried fish has a storage life of several years. The method is cheap and effective in suitable climates; the work can be done by the fisherman and family, and the resulting product is easily transported to market.
Cod is the most common fish used in stockfish production, while other whitefish, such as pollock, haddock, ling and tusk, are used to a lesser degree.
Over the centuries, several variants of dried fish have evolved. The Stockfish (fresh dried (not salted)) category is often wrongly mixed with the Clipfish or salt cod category, where the fish is salted before drying. After 2–3 weeks in salt the fish has saltmatured, and is transformed from wet salted fish to Clipfish through a drying process. The salted fish was earlier dried on rocks (clips) on the foreshore.
Stockfish is cured in a process called fermentation where cold adapted bacteria matures the fish, similar to the maturing process of cheese. Clipfish is processed in a chemically curing process called saltmaturing, similar to the maturing processes of other saltmatured products like the Parma ham. The fish is prepared for salting by removing the head, backbone and interiors.
Stockfish is Norway’s longest sustained export commodity.
Preserved cod fed Iceland for centuries, to the extent where it has been described as a local equivalent of bread.
Stockfish is extremely popular and is widely consumed in Catholic Mediterranean countries.
The science of producing good stockfish is in many ways comparable to that of making a good cognac, parma ham, or a well matured cheese. The slow food movement insists that all these artisanal products must be made on a small scale and given time to mature.
The fish is prepared immediately after capture. After gutting the fish, it is either dried whole, or split along the spine leaving the tail connected. The fish is hung on the “hjell” from February to May. Stable cool weather protects the fish from insects and prevents an uncontrolled bacterial growth. A temperature just above zero degrees Celsius, with little rain, is ideal. Too much frost will spoil the fish, as ice destroys the fibres in the fish. The climate in northern Norway is excellent for stockfish production. Due to the stable conditions, the stockfish produced in Lofoten is regarded as the best. The traditional cod harvest in Lofoten also takes place during the best drying time. Due to a milder and more humid climate, salted/dried whitefish (Clippfish) was more common in the fisheries districts of Western Norway.
After its three months hanging on the “hjell”, the fish is then matured for another two to three months indoors in a dry and airy environment. During the drying, about 80% of the water in the fish disappears. The stockfish retains all the nutrients from the fresh fish, only concentrated: it is therefore rich in proteins, vitamins, iron, and calcium.
After sorting by quality, most of the stockfish is exported to Italy, Croatia and Nigeria. In Norway and Iceland, the stockfish is mostly used as a snack and for lutefisk production. In Italy, the fish (called stoccafisso) is soaked and used in various courses, and is viewed as a delicacy.
Low-quality stockfish is also commonly used as supplemental food for pets, primarily as dog food or dog treats.
Shipment / Storage / Risk factors
Fresh Salted Codfish is carried in bulk. Wet Salted Codfish in bales, care should be taken to avoid pressure damage.
Sundried Salted Fish — the holds and bilges must be thoroughly cleaned and dried; sides, bulkheads and floors overlaid with thin wooden battens about a foot apart, secured in position by nailing to ceiling and cargo battens. The floor is then covered with sawdust to a depth of about 4 inches and then with clean separation cloths; the sides, bulkheads, pillars, etc., being also covered with separation cloths, as the fish quickly deteriorates if permitted to come into contact with metal. The ‘tween decks are prepared in a similar manner.
Bales or “parcels” of fish are stowed, without wood ventilators, one over another. The drainage from “Sundried” is comparatively light.
Fresh Salted Codfish — the ground is covered with a layer of salt and stowage proceeds, each layer of fish being covered with salt, stowing as compactly as possible, approximately one ton of salt for every five tons of fish. Check for infestation.