Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stokvis

Stokvis, or stick fish, not to be confused with fish stick, is a dried piece of cod. Fresh cod is caught, cleaned and stuck on a stick and left to dry in the cold Northern wind. Several months later, you have a dried up, leathery, rock-hard piece of fish. The main reason to dry fish is, ofcourse, to preserve it, often up to a year. In order to make the fish palatable again, it needs to be soaked for at least 24 hours in water to soften the tissue, refreshing the water every six to 8 hours. 

Who in the world would want to eat that? I'm glad you asked. Stokvis is quite popular in a variety of cultures: northern countries such as Norway and Sweden, southern regions like Portugal and Spain, and ofcourse Holland, or the Netherlands are all countries that regularly integrate the delicate flavor of this dried-up finny food into their daily meals.

Stokvis is hard to find in the United States but the salted bacalao, known in Dutch as klipvis, available in the seafood department of larger grocery stores, will do just fine for this purpose: the only difference between one and the other is that bacalao has been salted extensively and the skin, tail and bones have been already removed. Soaking and refreshing the water becomes even more important in this case.

Up until the Second World War, stokvis was very popular in Holland. It was very affordable and the high amount of protein provided a very nutritious meal. The lengthy prepare time and the characteristic smell made it eventually an unpopular dish. Nowadays, it is one of the more expensive foods to consume, but it has never reached its pre-war popularity.

Stokvis is traditionally served on New Year's Day in various provinces, like Friesland and Zeeland. Steamed white rice, boiled potatoes, fried onions, a lick of mustard and warm creamy buttersauce are side dishes to the fish. It doesn't sound like much, and the color combination is terrible (white, yellow, brown, yellow and beige....not appetizing!) but once you mix the buttersauce in with the rice, mashing the potatoes and mixing in the onions, it all of a sudden becomes a very honest, almost heartwarming meal and most certainly worth the effort.

Stokvis
1 case of cod
Plenty of water
1 cup of white rice
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 stick of butter
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
White pepper to taste

Soak the cod in cold water for 24 hours, refreshing the water every eight hours or according to instructions on the box. The fish doesn't take long to cook once it's soaked so time it accordingly. Both rice and potatoes usually take about twenty minutes, that's enough for the fish to be ready.

Boil rice per instructions (usually one cup of rice on two cups of water, bring to a boil, cover, simmer for twenty minutes) as well as the potatoes (add enough water to a pan to cover, add a teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil, cover and medium boil for twenty minutes or until done).

Fry the onion slices in one tablespoon of butter until golden. Set aside. Melt the rest of the butter in the pan but do not brown. When it's warm, add half a cup of water, bring back up to temperature. Add the cornstarch to a little bit of water, mix and stir into the warm sauce. Stir until it thickens and makes a nice creamy sauce.

When all is done, place a  piece of fish on a plate and surround it with rice and potatoes. Pour the warm buttersauce over the rice and potatoes, add some fried onions on top and sprinkle some white pepper to taste. Add some mustard if you wish and enjoy your meal!



3 comments:

  1. Made this today and it was delicious :) Brings back a lot of memories from my childhood. We would only eat this 2-3 times a year because it was/is very expensive in Holland. Turns out, it much more affordable here in the US. We mostly ate it when we were visiting my grandma as stokvis is only sold in the southern parts of Holland. It was impossible to get in the Amsterdam area.

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  2. Oh btw.. the fried onions and the mustard are not really something we would eat. We would just mash the potatoes, rice and butter sauce together, add some white pepper (not black pepper as that's too sharp) to add some more taste.

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  3. For us Portuguese the salted cod we eat still holds skin and bones. The main bone is one of my favorite parts, I will break each little part and suck the liquid and small marrow inside. The bones keep the pieces of cod whole when cooking and the skin is delicious when crispy by frying or gilling the cod pieces.

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