Tag Archives: Iceland

Putrified, Rancid Skate: An Icelandic Delicacy


Speaking of putrified skate, I had an opportunity to smell one, many years ago. I was on vacation in Long Beach, Washington, and while beachcombing one day, encountered a dead skate upon the beach. It was the worst goddamned thing I ever smelled. In fact, it became the standard to which I likened the smell of fresh-cooked lutefisk (which I haven’t written about here, yet).

Having had this experience, I shuddered involuntarily when I happened upon an article extolling the gustatory virtues of Skata, a “timeless” Icelandic standard, which falls under the loose and ill-defined category of “fermented animal products.” Quite simply, before cooking and consumption, the skate must be prepared by being “kept for weeks under stones and turf and then being hung out for drying in the cold climate.”

Sounds like rotten fish, to me. However, the author of the article “Strange Smelling Delicacy” at The Iceland Review online insists that “…it is by no means rotten or damaged. It is only fermented like cheese, and is very healthy…”

I would like to take a moment here to correct a misconception that this author is promoting, as countless others have done before him–

There are a number of animal-based foods from different parts of the world that are described as being “fermented.” However, the term is erroneous when applied to such foods because fermentation properly means the decomposition of carbohydrates, and since animal tissues are composed of proteins and lipids, and contain at most only traces of carbohydrates, the operative processes in the transformation undergone by these foods are actually putrefaction and rancidification. (source)

So, Skata, its “health benefits” and “gustatory delights” notwithstanding, is a putrified, rancid skate. Which is exactly what I would expect to result from burying a dead fish, and then hanging it out to dry. That’s why it’s “strong smelling.” Because it’s freakin’ rotten.

Me – I’ll opt for a nice fresh piece of halibut grilled in butter, any day.

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Baked Sheep’s Head

Baked Sheep’s HeadI like lamb (lamb chops, leg of lamb, rack of lamb, etc.) and this particular Icelandic specialty probably doesn’t stink (at least not to an omnivore), but I find it disgusting, so I decided to post it.

I know people who have problems eating meat off the bone, but this is eating meat off the skull. I can’t manage it, Jack. Can’t eat something that’s looking up at me off the plate. This calls to mind the rule of thumb some employ, of not eating anything “with a face.” Pretty much cuts this out.

I have a friend who was an exchange student in Iceland many years ago, and has visited once or twice, since. After one of her visits, she returned with a videotape bearing footage of the “baked sheep’s head experience.” For some reason, this combination of sheep’s head, mashed turnips, and mashed potatoes is sold primarily at the bus station, in a kind of freaky Icelandic variant of the fast-food theme. So, the tape shows her and her party purchasing the goodies, wrapped up in cellophane to go, and then taking it back to the apartment, where one of the guys promptly ate the sheep’s eye, for the camera….

Those Viking-types are still tested-tough.

What could be nicer?

Photos from Alabama Thunderpussy Open Fire

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