From Iceland — The Crafty Crustaceans of Höfn

The Crafty Crustaceans of Höfn

Published August 23, 2017

The Crafty Crustaceans of Höfn
Ragnar Egilsson
Photo by
Ragnar Egilsson

“Langoustines Are the New Foie Gras,” exclaimed a recent Bon Appétit article, and langoustine certainly fits the bill as a new, obscure luxury ingredient to elevate your food cred. Firstly, the langoustine is like a sizeable crayfish, and is therefore the definition of quality over quantity compared to its lobster brethren; secondly, it is pricey, even if you are fortunate enough to find yourself on a northern shore, staring wistfully at the North Atlantic; and thirdly, it brings that coveted Scandinavian culinary pedigree to complement your minimalist, urban lifestyle. Simply put: it’s an extra bougie lobster—a pheasant of the sea—and if you aren’t eating a langoustine while reading this, we can’t be seen with you.

The southeastern fishing village of Höfn is the langoustine capital of Iceland. The town embraced those crafty crustaceans back in the dark ages of the 1980s, when the rest of the country still treated them as bycatch. The name Höfn literally translates as “Harbour” and is basically a stretch of road curving around a fishing harbour overlooking a tranquil bay dotted with grassy islets. The air hangs heavy with the smell of processed fish, or what’s known as ‘peningalykt’ (money smell) in Icelandic.

“Almost everything on the menu has langoustine in it. The only safe haven is the dessert.”

Claws of fury

In Höfn, there is no place more dependable for a fresh piece of langoustine than the restaurant Humarhöfnin. The restaurant is housed in a building from 1936 that originally housed a catch-all co-op where farmers would drag their sheep straight from the highlands to barter them for coffee and rope (symbolic items for the choice an Icelander must make every winter morning).

Humarhöfnin was opened in 2007 by two cousins, Firðrik Gottlieb Ólafsson and Eik M. Aradóttir. While they were more langoustine enthusiasts than trained chefs, the family has a firm understanding of how to prepare the sweet, delicate flesh of the langoustine. The catch is served from sea to table during the summer langoustine season by the Sigurður Ólafsson, a boat which moors 60 feet from the front door.

Langoustines are uniquely perishable and during the off-months the restaurant must rely on a technique where the process of decomposition is stalled by beheading the crustaceans, placing them in cold water onboard the vessel and then freezing them on restaurant premises.
Some places attempt to keep the langoustine alive in tanks, but they’re notoriously territorial, and so those attempts ended in tears (as Zoidberg would say: “Why always the fighting?”)

The grub

The langoustine soup at Humarhöfnin veers from the traditional narrative. It’s pale in comparison to the usual recipe, and goes easy on salt and cream, omitting saffron, and using potatoes as a thickener. Humarhöfnin’s mutton prosciutto comes courtesy of a farm, Klettur, and is derived from the semi-feral sheep raised in the Skaftafell National Park, which graze on herbs that lend the meat a uniquely aromatic profile.

There’s also a dense, thin crust lobster pizza, or langoustine baguettes served with cocktail sauce or what they’ve dubbed “black magic sauce,” which seems to be some variation on a Japanese tonkatsu. Almost everything on the menu has langoustine in it. The only safe haven is the dessert, and that’s simply because they haven’t figured out how to pull it off (although we did suggest they serve a Michelada with langoustine juice).

Did we mention they serve langoustine?

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