Drying flake ('hjell') in Norway.

Stockfish is unsalted fish, especially cod, dried by cold air and wind on wooden racks on the foreshore, called "hjell". The drying of food is the world's oldest known preservation method, and dried fish has a storage life of several years. The method is cheap and effective in suitable climates; the work can be done by the fisherman and family, and the resulting product is easily transported to market.

Cod is the most common fish used in stockfish production, while other whitefish, such as pollock, haddock, ling and tusk, are used to a lesser degree.[citation needed]

Over the centuries, several variants of dried fish have evolved. The Stockfish (fresh dried (not salted)) category is often wrongly mixed with the Clipfish salt cod category, where the fish is salted before drying. After 2–3 weeks in salt the fish has saltmatured, and is transformed from wet salted fish to Clipfish through a drying process. The salted fish was earlier dried on rocks (clips) on the foreshore. The production method of Clipfish (or Bacalhau in Portuguese) was developed by the Portuguese who first mined salt near the brackish water of Aveiro, and brought it to New Foundland where cod was available in massive quantities. (q.v.). Salting was not economically feasible until the 17th century, when cheap salt from southern Europe became available to the maritime nations of northern Europe.

Stockfish is cured in a process called fermentation where cold adapted bacteria matures the fish, similar to the maturing process of cheese. Clipfish is processed in a chemically curing process called saltmaturing, similar to the maturingprocesses of other saltmatured products like the Parma ham.



Stockfish warehouse in the village of Forsøl, Norway
Stockfish from cod in Venice, Italy

The word stockfish is a loan word from Dutch stokvis 'stick fish', possibly referring to the wooden racks on which stockfish are traditionally dried or because the dried fish resembles a 'stick'.[1] 'Stock' may also refer to a wooden yoke or harness on a horse or mule, once used to carry large fish from the sea or after drying/smoking for trade in nearby villages. This etymology is consistent with the fact that 'stockmaß' is German for the height of a horse at the withers. 'Stockfish' and 'Stockmaß' therefore refer essentially to the same basic length.


Stockfish is Norway's longest sustained export commodity, and the socioeconomically most profitable export over the centuries. Stockfish is first mentioned as a commodity in the Icelandic saga "Egilssaga", when the Chief Torolv Kveldulvssøn in year 875 AD, shipped stockfish from Helgeland in mid Norway to Britain. This product represented most of Norways national income from Viking age throughout medieval age.

Preserved cod fed Iceland for centuries, to the extent where it has been described as a local equivalent of bread.[2]

Stockfish is extremely popular and is widely consumed in Catholic Mediterrenean countries, notably Italy. (Stockfish is called stoccafisso in most Italian dialects, but confusingly baccalà -- which normally refers to salt cod—in the Veneto).

Manufacturing and usage

The science of producing good stockfish is in many ways comparable to that of making a good cognac, parma ham, or a well matured cheese. The slow food movement insists that all these artisanal products must be made on a small scale and given time to mature.

The fish is prepared immediately after capture. After gutting the fish, it is either dried whole, or split along the spine leaving the tail connected. The fish is hung on the "hjell" from February to May. Stable cool weather protects the fish from insects and prevents an uncontrolled bacterial growth. A temperature just above zero degrees celsius, with little rain, is ideal. Too much frost will spoil the fish, as ice destroys the fibers in the fish. The climate in northern Norway is excellent for stockfish production. Due to the stable conditions, the stockfish produced in Lofoten is regarded as the best. The traditional cod harvest in Lofoten also takes place during the best drying time. Due to a milder and more humid climate, salted/dried whitefish (klippfisk) was more common in the fisheries districts of Western Norway.

After its three months hanging on the "hjell", the fish is then matured for another two to three months indoors in a dry and airy environment. During the drying, about 80% of the water in the fish disappears.[3] The stockfish retains all the nutrients from the fresh fish, only concentrated: it is therefore rich in proteins, vitamins, iron, and calcium.

After sorting by quality, most of the stockfish is exported to Italy, Croatia and Nigeria. In Norway and Iceland, the stockfish is mostly used as a snack and for lutefisk production. In Italy, the fish (called stoccafisso) is soaked and used in various courses, and is viewed as a delicacy.

Low-quality stockfish is also commonly used as supplemental food for pets, primarily as dog food or dog treats.


The baccalà alla vicentina, an ancient and traditional Italian dish native to Vicenza, is made from stockfish (confusingly not from salt cod, although salt cod is known in standard Italian as baccalà) and is served on or next to polenta. Dishes made from stockfish (locally called bakalar) are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve in Croatia, especially Dalmatia.

Stockfish is popular in West Africa, where it is used in the many soups that complement the grain staples fufu and garri. The Bakweri, who are a fishing people of the English-speaking part of Cameroon, use stockfish in flavoring their palm nut or banga soup, which is eaten with a cocoyam pudding called kwacoco. The name okporoko for stockfish, among the Igbo of Nigeria refers to the sound the hard fish makes in the pot and literally translates as "that which produces sound in the pot".

Both stockfish and salt cod can be made into lutefisk.


See also


  1. ^ Kurlansky, chapter 3; cf. OED s.v. 'stockfish': "the reason for the designation is variously conjectured"
  2. ^ Kurlansky, chapter 9
  3. ^ Kurlansky, chapter 2


  • Kurlansky, Mark (1997). Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. New York: Walker. ISBN 0-8027-1326-2.

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  • stockfish — [stäk′fish΄] n. pl. stockfish or stockfishes (see FISH) [ME stokfysshe < MDu stokvisch < stok, stick (see STOCK) + visch,FISH] any fish cured by being split and hung in the open air to dry without salt, as cod, haddock, etc …   English World dictionary

  • Stockfish — Stock fish , n. [Cf. D. stokvisch.] 1. Salted and dried fish, especially codfish, hake, ling, and torsk; also, codfish dried without being salted. [1913 Webster] 2. (Zo[ o]l.) Young fresh cod. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • stockfish — ⇒STOCKFIS(C)H, (STOCKFISH, STOCKFISCH)subst. masc. Morue séchée à l air; p. ext., poisson séché. Un fort relent de friture, de stockfish, de saucisses chaudes bouillies, qu on enveloppe dans un petit pain, de gaufres, de beignets, de mangeaille… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • stockfish — /stok fish /, n., pl. (esp. collectively) stockfish, (esp. referring to two or more kinds or species) stockfishes. fish, as the cod or haddock, cured by splitting and drying in the air without salt. [1250 1300; ME stocfish < MD stocvisch. See… …   Universalium

  • stockfish — noun /ˈstɒkfɪʃ/ a) A cod (or similar fish) having been cut open and cured in the open air without salt. , 1819: So the Prior of Saint Botolph’s hobbled back again into the refectory, to preside over the stockfish and ale, which was just serving… …   Wiktionary

  • stockfish — /ˈstɒkfɪʃ/ (say stokfish) noun (plural stockfish) fish, as the cod or haddock, cured by splitting and drying in the air without salt …   Australian English dictionary

  • stockfish — noun Etymology: Middle English stokfish, from Middle Dutch stocvisch, from stoc stick + visch fish Date: 13th century fish (as cod, haddock, or hake) dried hard in the open air without salt …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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