Those who have read my food articles know that I am pretty adventurous about food. It began at a very young age. Yet I have not written about my love affair with the Stockfish.
In Nigeria, we have particular delicacies that, once combined, create the most aromatic of soups and also the most pungent.
Mind you, our soups are not the blended soups of Europe, America – to name a few.
Assorted meat or Dried Seafood combo
In our soup, we combine choice parts of meat (the beef, entrails(haggis to the Scottish! cow foot, cow skin) that we call assorted meat or smoked fish, Stockfish, crayfish and shrimps with green leaves and okra. Many combinations make the most delicious soups – efo riro, efo elegusi, edikaikong, etc.
My particular addiction is the Stockfish, one of Norway’s most famous exports, making many Norwegians extremely rich. Stockfish comes from Cod, Pollock, Tusk, Haddock and a few other varieties. The most popular and expensive one is the Cod.
As crazy as it sounds, one of West Africa’s most extraordinary delicacies can only be found in Norway. This is because their waters are abundant with fish during the spawning season.
The country’s cold, dry climate is the best for air-drying the fishes in wooden stocks; hence, they are called Stockfish. The process takes over three months outdoors and about 12 months indoors with no chemical processing, which means the fish can last long. We soften Stockfish by rehydrating through hours of soaking in water or slow cooking it.
Stinky and fit for a Queen or King!
I wish I could say it is a humble fish for the poor. Certainly not! It is sold in weight, and a large stockfish can set you back about £20 to £50. It is a delicacy fit for ‘Kings and Queens’ and Norway’s ‘white gold’!
The head of the stockfish, which I imagine the Norwegians used to toss in the bin, is a particular favourite in many parts of Nigeria. It is popular in the east as it adds an extra flavour that enriches the soup.
I also wish the fairy tale would end there, but in revenge for being so tasty, the Stockfish is also one of the smelliest in the world. It is a heavy, intrusive smell that has visitors gagging and frantically searching for the hidden rotten corpse in a home. I love eating Stockfish! To avoid the smell, you could soak it for a few days, but it could mean a loss of some of the intense flavour.
When I make by stockfish rich soup, I add dried ground crayfish or shrimp, which are equally as smelly and used instead of the msg polluted stock cubes favoured by some.
The Marvelous Locust Beans
If crayfish or prawn and the Stockfish are not enough, I add my favourite msg avoiding flavour, iru. Iru is fermented locust beans. Now, most of you know that gone off beans is already evil-smelling. Locust beans once fermented smell like the sweaty foot odour of a roomful of athletes locked in a storage cupboard. It is also highly nutritious.
The largest importer
Nigeria is the largest importer of Stockfish in the world. They go through tons of them each year as we could never have enough. The Norwegian seafood Council in Nigeria celebrated the first Seafood Festival in October 2018.
Thelma Obaze’s Stockfish adventure
Stockfish is eaten in many countries like Portugal, Croatia, Italy, Russia, and Dominica. Still, Nigerians have ensured they take it with them wherever they emigrate.
So far, I have named three savoury things that I use to make my soup — Stockfish, crayfish, and iru. How do I cook my soups?
What I cook
Suppose it is efo riro (green mixes like spinach, kale, and other ones). In that case, I ensure I blend the scorching hot scotch bonnet pepper (smoking!) with tomato and some large onions. I would have brought my Stockfish to life by slow cooking it till it is close to tender but will not go into too many cooking details here. Once combined — the sauce, Stockfish, ground crayfish, iru, and greens look amazing. I would sometimes add blended melon seed(a particular type) that we call egusi. Which means the soup is now called efo elegusi.
Due to its drying process, Stockfish retains concentrated nutrients, including 80% protein, marine oils, fatty acids, iron, calcium, and vitamins. Excellent food for old people and pregnant women.
My visitor might, at this point, do a double-take and perhaps hold their breath when they come into my home. But give them some pounded yam with the soup or amala (fermented yam powder) or rice. Your visitor is smiling from ear to ear, and of course, I am thrilled!
Remember to have several glasses of water nearby; my soups are hot and not for the faint-hearted. Bon appetit!