3 November 2010

Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk Fiskesuppe) - Recipe

As I look outside the window these days, all I can see are grey sheets of icy rain. The weather in Oslo at this time of year is truly execrable - the mild days of early autumn are well and truly behind us, yet the beautiful snow of winter is yet to arrive. Instead, we live in this cold, windy, and wet limbo.  It is what I like to call 'soup weather'. There's nothing more comforting on days like these than a big bowl of steaming hot soup. It is the culinary equivalent of a chunky woollen jumper or a roaring log fire. I especially like to make soup on those chilly and wet weekends, when you've barely managed to get out of your pyjamas, and it seems like a major achievement to have emptied the dishwasher.

One of my favourite soups is the famous fish soup from Bergen, on the West Coast of Norway. Although the soup originates from Bergen, it is consumed and loved all over Norway, and it seems that everyone has their own version of it. Think of it as Norway's chicken noodle soup - perfect food for warming the soul.

Bergen fish soup is a velvety mix of cream, fish, and root vegetables that is lifted with a touch of sugar and vinegar. The trick with this soup is to taste as you go along to get the right balance of sweetness and sourness. Everyone will have different preferences, so feel free to experiment, but there should be just a subtle sweet-and-sour taste to it. The ultimate quality of the soup, though, is totally reliant on you using really good quality fish stock (preferably homemade from fish trimmings) and impeccably fresh fish - it doesn't really matter what type you use as long as it's not too oily; I think a mix of cod, salmon, halibut, and monkfish works best. Although not strictly traditional, and I haven't here, you could also add a few mussels to the pot 3-4 minutes before the soup has finished cooking. Another little optional extra is to add fish dumplings. Here, I made my own dumplings, but in Norway most fishmongers make their own excellent fiskepudding that you could use instead.

So, why not try making this simple soup - the very essence of the sea - which warms and soothes during these damp, chilly days.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)
  • 2 ltrs good quality fish stock
  • 2 carrots, diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 small celeriac, diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 parsley root (or parsnip), diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 125g cod fillet (skin and bones removed) cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 125g halibut (skin and bones removed) cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 125g salmon (skin and bones removed) cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 125g monkfish tail cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 125g fiskepudding (or homemade fish dumplings. Optional, but see below for recipe)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp good quality red wine vinegar (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp sugar (to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • A handful of chopped chives to garnish
Method
  1. Bring the fish stock to boil in a large pot
  2. Add the chopped vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes
  3. Whisk the flour into the cream and add to the soup, and bring to the boil
  4. Add the sugar and the vinegar gradually and taste to get the right balance between sweet and sour
  5. Add the fish and fiskepudding/dumplings and simmer until the fish is just cooked (around 6-7 minutes)
  6. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground white pepper and sprinkle with some finely chopped chives
  7. Serve with lots of crusty white bread to dunk in the soup
For the fish dumplings (optional)
  • 125g cod fillet (skin and bones removed)
  • 1 small egg
  • 1 tbsp corn flour
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
Blitz all the ingredients in a food processer so that it forms a smooth paste then, using a spoon, form the mixture into small balls and add to the soup just after adding the fish - they should float gently on the surface of the soup.