Finally! I’m finished with my Master’s thesis, done with a season of climbing in the Rockies, and settled into my new life Norway. That's right. I moved to Norway. It’s been a busy couple months, and at long last it’s time to focus on what’s really important: food. This post was inspired by a recipe for fishcakes passed down from my great-grandmother "Nan Fitz" on the Newfoundland side of the family (scroll to the bottom or see the recipe here). A comfort food true-and-true, the recipe was for me welcome fodder as a recent Newfoundland expat. And as circumstance would have it, salt cod, or klippfisk as it’s known as in Norway, is a traditional food in my new home, too. This post tell the story of how salt cod connects distant shores and offers a recipe for Newfoundland fishcakes in celebration of its trans-Atlantic history.
Northern fish with Southern charm
Collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery
As a Newfoundlander, I’d be remiss not to mention the tragic collapse of the cod fishery in 1994. The celebrated marine biologist Carla Safina wrote about it with eloquent distaste in his magnum opus, Song for the Blue Ocean. He called the event "apocalyptic" and "the worst fishery disaster of all time." Still, he was careful not to apportion blame squarely onto fishermen's shoulders and instead shed light on the role of government and scientific management.
Apocalyptic may not be so extreme. Newfoundland's population dropped sharply after the moratorium announcement and has yet to fully recover.
Two decades later, though, and through diligent scientific management, the cod fishery is slowly making a comeback, albeit far from the vigour of the old days. This summer I had the pleasure of many weekends spent in Conception Bay, Newfoundland fishing for cod during the recreational cod fishery. The fishing was great, the best I’ve ever seen it. On the docks, carrying heavy coolers, even the old timers were grinning ear to ear, saying it was almost like the old days.
Start one day ahead. Soak the salt cod overnight in a bath of cold water, pouring in enough water to cover the cod. In the morning, refresh the bath, swapping the now-salty water with fresh water.
Add the butter to a medium sauté pan and place over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until they gain some colour, about 12 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, boil the peeled potatoes for 20 minutes or until a fork stuck in one comes out immediately. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Drain the salt cod and rough cut the flesh into ¼ inch (5 mm) pieces. Add the salt cod to the mashed potatoes and mash until smooth. Add the sautéed onion and savoury and mix thoroughly. Set aside for at least 30 minutes cool.
Remove potato mixture from the fridge. Heat a non-stick fry pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tbsp of butter. While the butter is sizzling nicely, scoop out potato mixture with a tablespoon and shape them into ¾ inch (1.5 cm) thick discs on the fry pan. Fry for about 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown.
Serve hot or at room temperature with sour cream and a fresh salad.
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.