Winter’s touch has arrived. The forest is laden with dreamlike snow sitting atop its branches. The fireplace flickers against the walls as woolen blankets are strewn about for warming layers. The cold and blue tones of outside are juxtaposed with the warmth and gold tones from inside. It’s the most koselig time, when coziness is felt in every inch of the season from the fires and warm sweaters to the smell of pine and crunch of snow under the feet. The atmosphere of koselig extends to the table, where simple meals garnished by candlelight nourish the body and feed the soul. One such holiday feast is the traditional juletorsk, poached “Christmas cod”.
Juletorsk has been documented back to the 1800s in Norway and is said to have originated in Sørlandet and Sør-Vestlandet. Yet, the tradition of serving fish for Christmas Eve and other feasts has been, and continues to be, a tradition in many homes. The meal is a celebration of the resources found within the nearby waters that have a quality unmatched and an incredible taste. It’s a luxury accessible to most of us nowadays, even those who do not live along the coastline of Norway.
The crisp, crystal clear and cold waters of Norway are home to Norwegian Cod, known as white gold. It’s renowned for its delicate white color, flaky structure and superior flavor. With such incredible quality, it doesn’t need much preparation other than a simple bath in salted water. Perhaps this is why a classic dish like juletorsk continues to find its place at the holiday table time and time again.
To ensure the cod is dressed for the occasion, it’s served with sandefjordsmør – a dreamy and delicate butter sauce, which is a simplification of the French sauce beurre blanc. It’s said the sauce originated from a former hotel director in Sandefjord, who had studied cooking in France but chose to eliminate the shallots, white wine, and vinegar in order to create his own Nordic version of the French classic. It worked out well (very well, in fact) and is one of the favorite sauces paired with seafood today.
Juletorsk, with all of its accompaniments, is a dish that anyone can easily make in a short amount of time with only a handful of fresh ingredients. So, gather loved ones, set the table and light the candles, and fill the room with joyful conversations while embracing togetherness this holiday season. As the Norwegian cod is served, each bite will draw you to the waters of Norway – bringing the koselig feeling that has spanned generations straight into your home.
You can choose to use cod steaks or a whole cod for this dish. If using a whole cod, cut the steaks into slices about 1-inch (2 ½ cm) thick. Serve juletorsk with boiled potatoes and carrots.
Juletorsk (Poached Christmas Cod)
For the sandefjordsmør sauce:
- ½ cup (120 ml) heavy cream
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 g) cold butter, cut into cubes
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Sea salt
For the cod:
- 4 Norwegian cod steaks
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 ½ tablespoons of salt per 4 ¼ cups (1 litre) of water
In a small saucepan, cook the heavy cream over medium-high heat, whisking frequently, until reduced by half. Lower the heat, then whisk in the cold butter cubes, a few at a time, until just melted. Remove from the stove. Stir in the lemon juice and parsley, and season with salt.
In a large pot filled with cold water, add the bay leaves and 3 ½ tablespoons of salt per 4 ¼ cups (1 litre) of water used, and bring to a gentle simmer, but do not let it boil. Gently slip the cod steaks into the water, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and poach the fish for 10 minutes or until the flesh separates easily from the bones. Carefully remove the fish with a slotted spoon and place on a serving tray. Serve immediately while warm with the sandefjordsmør sauce and sides.
Have the potatoes and carrots ready while poaching the cod to ensure everything is hot when served.
You can keep the sandefjordsmør warm over the lowest setting, if needed, being careful not to overheat it.