10. Lutefisk (LEWD-uh-fisk) is dried cod that has been soaked in a lye solution for several days. This traditional dish is from Norway, Sweden, and parts of Finland. But those in the old country do not eat it anymore. Rather it’s become a holiday treat for Scandinavian-Americans. In Scandinavia, cod were dried to preserve them for later consumption. The lutefisk origin story says that a drying rack filled with dried cod caught fire, leaving wood ashes (or lye) that changed the cod forever. Lye is a caustic alkali that may raise the pH of the fish to 10! Do not eat this. To make the lutefisk edible, you must first soak the lutefisk in water to remove the lye. The soaked lutefisk is then gently poached or baked because of the jelly-like consistency. It is an acquired taste, says the Norwegian bachelor farmer. Others describe it as a foul and odiferous gooey fish with rancid oily taste. Best served with lots of butter. Uff da!
9. Surströmming. If lutefisk is not an appealing fish for your bucket list, try Surströmming, which is soured herring, or its cousin Rakfisk a fermented trout. Herring, trout, and salmon are fatty fishes and drying is not an acceptable preservation method. Fermentation, however, will preserve the fish indefinitely.
Surströmming is only produced in northern Sweden where herring are harvested in spring, and gutted and salted. They are then packed in barrels with a strong (17%) brine solution and allowed to ferment. The pyloric caecum is left intact in the gutted fish. This provides proteolytic enzymes that facilitate a month-long fermentation. The low temperatures (68̊ F) and brine are critical elements to the fermentation, which produces strong smelling acids. It’s the smell of the surströmming that appeals to its proponents. I mean, what else could there be to make this appealing? Are you man enough to try it? Closest I have gotten is watching others open a can; watch this video1 or this video2. [Vomit Alert on video2!]
8. Kusaya is similar to surstromming, but is a Japanese delicacy made by taking a fish like mackerel, soaking it in brine solution for a day, then laying it out in the sun for a few more days. Some kusaya makers pride themselves on having used the same brine over several generations to make their stinky fermented fish. Although the smell can be overpowering, the taste is actually quite mild. Can't wait to try it.
|Kusaya is fermented mackerel. Source|
7. Kæstur hákarl and Hongehoe are other versions of fermented fish. The national disk of Iceland is the Kæstur hákarl, which is a fermented Greenland Shark. The Greenland Shark has high content of urea and trimethylamine oxide, a mixture that facilitates osmoregulation. However, after fermentation, the urea becomes ammonia and the hakarl has a fishy taste and an ammonia-rich smell. Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizzare Foods, described the smell as "some of the most horrific things I've ever breathed in my life." In Korea, a skate is fermented to create a treat called Hongeohoe. I’m told it’s edible as long as you don’t breathe.
|Hongeohoe is fermented skate. Source|
|Shiokara is salted, fermented fish guts in malted rice paste. Source|
4. Gefilte fish are ground fish patties that were at one time stuffed back into the fish skin and baked. Gefilte fish is a Jewish tradition that later morphed into fish-shaped fish patties and even fish balls. The gefilte fish, which is often carp, pike or whitefish, is poached in fish broth. You can use the whole head of a large carp to make the jellied broth, or buy a prepared fish broth. There are lots of options if you aren't planning to make it like your grandmother did. Gefilte fish is also available as a ready-to-eat product from Manischewitz. The Gefilte fish has morphed into many versions of fish meatballs. Take ground fish (of any type), mixed with egg, breadcrumbs and herbs. Poach it very gently in salty water.
|Ready made Gefilte Fish. Source|
3. Shirako are cod sperm eaten in Japan. Romanians also eat carp milt, or Lapți, and the Russians eat herring milt, or Moloka. Cooked or raw, fish sperm is also an acquired taste, so you may never know if you like it unless you try it.
|Shirako are cod sperm. Source|
2. Dried anchovy. Ever eaten anchovies? Anchovies are a healthy, sustainable food choice, that can be used in many recipes. Cooking methods depend on their size. Big ones are only a few inches long and are called "Dasi-myulchi" in Korean. These are usually used for broth, while the small ones, called "Bokkeum-myulchi" are stir-fried for unique dishes. Dried anchovy can be also served without cooking as a snack. Try this spicy anchovies recipe for a snack, or Myeolchi-muchim for a meal with rice and kimchi.
|Dried Large Anchovies. Source|
|Fuguko Nuka-zuke Source|
The origins of many in the top ten are related to the fact that fish flesh spoils quickly. Consequently, different cultures dried, salted, fermented fish between harvests before ice and refrigeration were widely available. We don’t have to use these techniques today. But we do because people find these foods interesting or tasty or both.
There are many good reasons to add more fish to your diet. Eating more fish has been linked to lowered risk of depression, heart disease, and brain health in high-risk individuals (Marckmann and Grønbaek 1999; Morris et al. 2003; Li and Zhang 2015). Fish provide the opportunity for a highly diverse, healthy, and interesting diet. If you don’t like my fish bucket list, then write your own. Or you can eat bugs!
Li, F., X. Liu, and D. Zhang. 2015. Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2015-206278
Marckmann, P. and M. Grønbaek. 1999. Fish consumption and coronary heart disease mortality. A systematic review of prospective cohort studies. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53(8):585-590. DOI: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1600832
Morris, M.C., D.A. Evans, J.L. Bienias, C.C. Tangney, D. A. Bennett, R.S. Wildon, N. Aggarwal, and J. Schneider. 2003. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Archives Neurology 60:940-946.
Morris, M.C., J. Brockman, J.A. Schneider, Y. Wang, D.A. Bennett, C.C. Tangney, and O. van de Rest. 2016. Association of seafood consumption, brain mercury level, and APOE ε4 status with brain neuropathology in older adults. Journal of the American Medical Association 315(5) doi:10.1001/jama.2015.19451