If like me, you haven’t got over the scallops at Óx and the glistening medallions of cod at Dill, or been enthralled by the sea urchin at the threeMichelin-starred Frantzen in Stockholm, chances are you’ve sampled some of the best seafood Iceland has to offer.
It is with these memories swirling through my mind that I excitedly reach out to Nora Seafood, a Westfjords-based seafood processing company that has in its six-year reign made gainful strides in the world of fine dining while also straddling concerns about sustainability and innovation.
Its young founder and CEO, Viðir Ingþórsson, has graciously offered me a tour of their fishing operations, topped off by a meeting with Sveinbjörn Hjálmarsson a.k.a. Simbi, their famed diver who hand-harvests sea urchins from local fjords. An educational, gastronomic afternoon awaits me.
Nora Seafood’s curated quality
The phrase “lifið er saltfiskur” (“life is salted fish”) frequents my mind while in the Westfjords. Currently ranked 15th globally in production, Iceland has long been a fishing nation. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that it is a saturated market, so how does one stand out here?
Viðir admits that the industry is rife with many that lack the education and/or skill to handle seafood efficiently. “The majority are driven by volume and not necessarily quality,” he confesses. “To use Icelandic products in a creative fashion, there was definitely a window there. We take great pride in our fish.”
“[Every fish] is so precious, you have to handle it like a treasure,” he continues. “You have to cool it down and get it in the hands of your customer as soon as possible.” Nora prides itself on on these speedy deliveries, regularly transporting live shellfish from Iceland to the swankiest restaurants in Europe.
“At Nora, everything starts for us at the very beginning. For a beautiful cod going to the finest restaurants in the world, it’s a matter of one hour in the sun. That determines whether it’s going to be the best meal you will serve for your clients or something insignificant.”
Sustainable epicurean delights
By now we’ve arrived in Ísafjörður, where Nora Seafood has its operations base. It’s but a quick stroll onto the dock, where a sprightly Simbi is waiting for us, all smiles.
One of Nora’s unique offerings are their sustainably harvested sea urchin, scallops and mahogany clams. Simbi single handedly scours the ocean floors throughout the year, no matter the weather, for these decadent delights.
In their quest for sustainability, Simbi only picks sea urchins to order. He cracks a still-alive urchin open to reveal persimmon-hued uni. It is such an incredible privilege to be able to savour fresh uni for its floral, briny sweetness that we all enjoy it in a moment of silence and smiles. “These are quite the aphrodisiac,” Simbi winks.
We also sample some ‘Princess Scallops’, so called for their palm-sized size. The glistening morsels are miles apart from their sorry cousins, which most of us encounter in restaurants. Mahogany clams, the grand dame of the shellfish world, are like crunchier scallops—their feisty muscles snapping shut tight making it quite a feat to open them.
How such an enterprise will adapt to a COVID or post-COVID reality is clearly on Viðir’s mind. “Life is just sweet and sour you know? The times before COVID were incredible and we learnt a lot, but now it is sour and we will continue to use that knowledge to experiment and grow,” he smiles.
On my way home, something Viðir said earlier plays over in my mind. “I choose to respect nature and respect the raw material, each tail of the fish, each eye of the fish. I’m blessed to be able to do this everyday,” he relayed. This drive and attention to detail is what sets Nora Seafood apart from its competition.
For those who might be left with a hankering to try some of Nora’s fares, Fiskinn Heima home-delivers a selection of frozen seafood from the Westfjords across the country. For more information, check out Nora Seafood at their website and their Facebook page.
Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.
You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!