Stockfish used to be for people who couldn’t afford any better. Now Børsen Spiseri in Svolvær makes stockfish dishes that are fit for a king. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise, because they are also one of Lofoten’s biggest stockfish exporters, and they know what they are doing.
Børsen Spiseri is housed in an old wharf on Svinøy, where stockfish has been traded for generations. Low ceiling beams and walls clad in sanded rustic planks form an effective contrast with the elegant tables bedecked with crystal glasses and linen napkins. This is the place to come to see how many different ways you can cook stockfish.
Royalty inspired a signature dish
Børsen’s signature dish is Stockfish Royal. This was first served at Børsen to Queen Sonja in 2007 when she came to the area to open Lofast, the mainland connection to Lofoten. It contains steamed stockfish fillet, creamed carrots, egg butter and baked Serrano ham. The Serrano ham replaces the traditional bacon and adds salt without overpowering the lovely taste of the fish. When fiskespon is available, the little flakes of fish that are left over after the stockfish has been sawn up, these are added to the cooking water to enhance the taste of the fish even more. A recommended wine to go with this dish is a red from northern Italy, a Barbera d’Alba. Thousands of plates of Stockfish Royal have been carried out of Børsen’s kitchen since 2007, and it is the only dish that is always on the menu.
Stockfish dominates the menu
Stockfish dominates the menu, and is served in a huge variety of ways. A favourite is stockfish fillet fried in lard with beetroot risotto and a meaty hazelnut gravy. The restaurant also has its own tapas plate, with specialities of whale meat, fish and cheese, all from Lofoten. Boknafisken, the semi-dried variant of cod, is served with creamed peas and potatoes, and is a summer favourite. Stockfish croquettes are a speciality inspired by the Mediterranean. Mølja, which is fresh cod, liver and roe, can be sampled in the mølja season from February to March.
We had a go at preparing the signature dish
We were allowed to help prepare Stockfish Royal. Chef Christian from Dresden is an old hand at preparing stockfish and boknafisk, and showed us the lovely ingredients used for stockfish and the semi-dried boknafesk. Stockfish has to steep for 24 hours, and is then cut into attractive portion-sized pieces and gently poached in water with a little onion and leek. The Serrano ham is baked in the oven until it is crispy. It is then served with creamed carrots and potatoes; refined and simple at the same time, traditional food with a modern twist — definitely fit for a queen.
The stockfish stores are big business
Svinøya in Svolvær has been owned by the Berg family since 1828, when it was home to one of the first businesses in Svolvær. The original old rorbu fishermen’s cabins are now inhabited only by tourists, but stockfish production continues as it always did. We were given a tour of the stockfish store. The stockfish is stored on the concrete floor in 50 kilo (110 pound) bundles — the standard unit for sale. The stockfish is hung on racks in March, and taken down in June. Around Midsummer, the Italian buyers come to town, and inspect the Berg family’s stockfish store. They usually tour the archipelago and know more about the various stockfish producers than the producers know about each other. The whole buying process is conducted with a good dose of Latin temperament and drama. Long-standing relationships are also important.
Slim or fat stockfish? To each their own.
Stockfish is not just stockfish. The Arctic cod migrate from the Barents Sea to West Lofoten in January, and at that point they are lovely and plump. It is not until March that they reach Svolvær, by which time they are much slimmer. This means that stockfish from Røst and Reine are big and round, while stockfish from Henningsvær and Svolvær are finer and thinner. Northern Italians prefer the thin variety, while the southern Italians like the round, fat ones.
Eating at Børsen
Svinøya is a few minutes’ walk from the market square in Svolvær, over Svinøy Bridge with its great view of the Svolværgeita rock formation. Most people pass though reception to the rorbu complex, and see the original shop from the boom years of the traditional stockfish trade.
For all the information you need about visiting Lofoten, including Børsen in Svolvær, simply check out the Visit Lofoten webpage.