Stockfish frames, Svolvær

Svolvær has a distinct smell when the wind blows in the right direction — stockfish. Stockfish is Arctic cod that has been air dried on wooden frames (hjell) outdoors for three months, then a further two or three months indoors. As the cod starts to dry, it develops a rich and buttery sea like smell.

Warning: this point contains images of dried fish heads and bodies. You may not want to scroll down much further if you are squeamish about that sort of thing.

Cod hanging on wooden frames

Side view stockfish frames

I’m not sure how many frames are here but they must hold tens of thousands of cod heads and bodies. And these frames are huge! You only get a true sense of scale when someone stands underneath.

Me standing under cod frame

Closeup of stockfish

Cod tied to wooden frame

I’ve been eating stockfish in Norway and it’s delicious. No wonder, it spends several months drying outdoors in crisp, fresh air from the mountains and fjords surrounding the Lofoten Islands.

Fish with mountain background

Looking up at hanging cod

Hanging cod

Scott was further ahead of me and called out, “you’ve got to see the heads!”. Heads!? This is your last chance to stop reading before the head photos.

Fish with mountain background

Multiple heads are strung in bundles on a separate area of the frame. They do not smell so good. I thought seeing chopped heads might be a bit gruesome but it was actually very interesting. I’ll probably never get another chance to look a cod in the eye!

Close up cod head

Closeup of fish eye

Seeing cod bodies hanging was one thing but the heads made me feel a bit green. Having said that, I like knowing how food is made (gory details and all) so I can decide whether I really want to eat it or not. The heads are used to make other things and the flesh from the body is eaten as a fillet of fish.

Fish heads on string

Fish heads on wooden frame

View inside cod frame

I’ve been looking at Lofoten history books and these frames have been a feature of the landscape for hundreds of years. I wonder how many people would be living here today if it wasn’t for cod? Probably not many. That’s something to think about next time I’m tucking into a plate of stockfish.

2 Comments

    • Gemma Evans

      Now you mention it, they do look like bats! The heads were not so pleasant but the bodies didn’t really look like fish anymore because they were quite dry.

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