Those that have read my food articles would know that I am quite adventurous when it comes to 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. There are tens of combinations to make the most delicious of soups - efo riro, efo elegusi, edikaikong, etc.
My particular addiction is the stockfish - one of Norway’s most famous exports and has made 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 greatest delicacy can only be produced in Norway because their waters are abundant with the fishes during spawning season.
The country’s cold dry climate is the best one 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 and means the fish can last a long time. 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 most especially the east as it adds an extra flavour that enriches the soup.
I also wish the fairy tale would end there, but in revenge from 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 strong flavour.
When I make by stockfish rich soup I add dried ground crayfish or shrimp which are equally as smelly and used in the place of msg polluted stock cubes favoured by some Nigerians.
The Marvelous Locust Beans
As if crayfish or prawn and the stockfish is not enough, I then go on to add my favourite msg avoiding flavour. We call it iru, and you call it Locust beans.
Iru is fermented locust beans. Now, most of you know that gone off beans is already evil-smelling. Locust beans once fermented smells like the sweaty foot odour of a roomful of athletes locked in a storage cupboard. It is also highly nutritious and contains blah blah blah….
The largest importer
Nigeria is the largest importer of stockfish in the world. They go through tons of them each year. We could never have enough of it. The Norwegian seafood Council in Nigeria celebrated the first Seafood Festival in October 2018.
Stockfish is eaten in many countries like Portugal, Croatia, Italy, Russia, Dominica but Nigerians have ensured wherever they emigrate they take it with them.
So far, I have named three pungent things that I use to make my soup — stockfish, crayfish, and iru. How do I cook my soups?
What I cook
If it is efo riro (green mixes like spinach, kale, and other ones), 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 much cooking details here. Once combined — the sauce, stockfish, ground crayfish, iru and the greens look amazing. I would sometimes add in 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 inclusive of 80% protein, marine oils, fatty acids, iron, calcium and vitamins. A great food for old people and pregnant women.
My visitor might at this point do a double-take and perhaps hold their hand over their nose when they come into my home but give them some pounded yam with the soup or amala (fermented yam powder) or rice, and your visitor is smiling from ear to ear and of course, I am thrilled!
Do remember to have several glasses of water nearby my soups are hot and not for the faint-hearted. Bon appetit!