Your friends at The Reykjavík Grapevine sure love them some fermented skate. We dropped in at a rotten lunch party earlier and got the skinny on skate from a verified skate expert.
As you will probably know, today is December 23rd, the day before December 24th (which happens to be the day most Icelanders commence their Christmas celebrations). The 23rd is not without its celebratory aspects either. It is known as Þorláksmessa (“St. Þorlákur’s Mass” – Þorlákur is Iceland’s patron saint as it were) and is widely celebrated by the eating of putrefied skate, shopping and heavy drinking (in no particular order).
From our ‘Encyclopaedia of Icelandic Xmas’:
“The consumption of kæst skata, or rotted skate, on the 23rd of December is a holiday tradition derived from the West Fjords of Iceland. The dish—which many swear by, and others find especially foul—is most often imbibed at special skate gatherings around noon on the 23rd, and is often served along with potatoes, butter, rye bread and shots of brennivín (most West Fjords experts recommend drinking milk with the skate, as the fish is “intoxicating in and of itself”).
The skate is a chondrichyte, and therefore ferments when allowed to rot, as its urine is distributed through its flesh and goes through a chemical change over time. They are in fact poisonous if eaten before the fermentation process is complete. It is fermented by throwing it in a box and letting it lie for three weeks.”
The above video depicts a skate party filmed earlier today at skate expert Halldór Hermannsson’s house in Ísafjörður. The 76-year old retired fishing captain attributes the rotted delicacy’s popularity to the fact that in a long-ago interview that was broadcast on Iceland’s National Radio, he remarked that the skate had sexually stimulating powers as could be witnessed by the fact that most West Fjords children are born in the month of October. “And everyone started going crazy for skate after that, all over the country. It’s like the Japanese, when they hear something is an aphrodisiac they can’t get enough of it!”
Happy fermented skate day, everyone!
Read more about Icelandic holiday traditions in our ‘ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF ICELANDIC HOLIDAYS!’
Full disclosure: The skate expert interviewed is your friendly Grapevine editor’s grandfather. Other people’s grandfathers probably know a lot about skate too, but Halldór is frequently consulted by Icelandic newspapers on all things skate.