Plokkfiskur – Icelandic Fish Stew
Plucked…fish? 🤔 pulled fish? mashed fish? a thick fish stew! Call it whatever you want.
Plokkfiskur or “plokkari”, as it’s often called, is a simple dish. Traditionally it serves a purpose: to make do with yesterday’s leftovers. Iceland’s ‘cucina povera’.
It brings up mixed feelings. Usually made from the dry-boiled haddock and potatoes from the day before and put into a sauce made of milk and flour. Hurray…
Back in the day, well probably still today, especially in families with strong ties to the fishing industries, fish was on the table three to four times a week. Always on Mondays! So a lot of people don’t have the fondest of memories of plokkfiskur but they usually come around it once they stop being babies. Just like people get around vodka a few years after THAT party.
It’s usually made with haddock since cod, the most caught fish, is/was too valuable to be brought home. Instead, cod was salted and sent to Spain. ¡Lucky Spaniards!
That’s how grandma did it!
As with every “traditional” dish, families have their own way of making plokkfiskur. The most basic version is potato, sauteéd onions, haddock, bechamel, and pepper. You can play around with every ingredient, of course, from switching to cod or any other white fish, use the fish stock with less milk, skip the flour and use blended potatoes to thicken it. Use a different kind of pepper. The possibilities are endless!
In Iceland it’s getting very popular to use curry powder and to gratinate it with cheese on top and if they want to “class it up” put bearnaise sauce underneath the cheese. Haute cuisine meets cucina povera. It’s regarded blasphemous, of course, by traditionalists.
Plokkfiskur is not an Icelandic dish as such, though we doubt it’s consumed in as much quantity anywhere else, per capita. It’s a dish we probably learned to make from Norwegians or danish people. Plukkfisk is the Norwegian equivalent, our very limited research suggests it’s somehow connected to the town of Bergen. They also seem to use bacon! Always one-upping us! The British have their fish stew which isn’t far off from plokkfiskur, but with a lid, and usually, have some smoked fish in it. The Mediterraneans have their versions in Occitanie and east Spain, Brandade de Morue and Brandada de bacalao respectively. A stockfish and olive oil emulsion flavoured with herbs and spices.
We’re going to stick with the “original” version but feel free to do whatever you want. Like putting szechuan peppers in, using cream or grilling a T-bone steak instead.
Recipe for Plokkfiskur
- 500gr pollock, haddock, cod
dockor any other white fish
- 500gr potatoes
- 1 large yellow onion (or 2 small, or 3 even smaller)
- 50gr butter
- 3 tbs all-purpose flour
- 300ml milk (or more if you prefer it thinner)
- 1tsp salt
- 1tsp white pepper.
For dairy-free version substitute butter with olive oil and milk with oat milk (or other non-dairy alternatives).
- Boil and peel potatoes.
- Poach your white fish according to instructions.
- Put aside.
- Sautée onions in butter at medium heat until translucent.
- Add flour to the butter and onions and whisk until it becomes a paste.
- Whisk in milk – a ladle at a time until it’s a thick sauce.
- Congratulations you made bechamel!
- Break up the potatoes and fish and add it to the mixture.
- If you’ve used up all the bechamel and you feel it’s still too thick you can add milk or the poaching water to thin it out.
- Season to taste!
For the real authentic Icelandic experience eat with rúgbrauð with lots of butter whilst singing like Björk.