ELLA WALKER joins celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr on a trip to Troms0, to better understand the Scandinavian delicacy skrei.

It's rather extraordinary to be 300km north of the Arctic Circle, in the land of the Northern Lights, eating fresh cod - so fresh it was still swimming the fjords a couple of hours ago - with two-Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr. But this isn't just any old cod (and it's certainly not battered).

Roux is a Norway Seafood Council skrei ambassador, and we're in Troms0 (alongside a group of talented UK chefs) for skrei cod season, which runs from January to April.

The fish are muscular, hulking things, with red rimmed eyes and scales the colour of razor clam shells - and they're a national delicacy.

Fishing for a skrei supper involves patience and thermals

Roux visits Troms0 for skrei season year after year, but promises: "It doesn't lose any of the magic."

Out on the fjords surrounding Sommar0y Island, an hour north of Troms0 airport, and squeezed into thickly padded onesies to ward off great sprays of seawater and the freezing temperatures (it's minus eight-degrees), you can see his point. We're flanked by ragged, snow-dusted mountains, the sun barely cresting their summits.

Our Sommar0y Cruises crew explain how the blackly swirling waters are invisibly divided up. Each fisherman has their own patch - the higher up the fishery food chain, the better your spot, and the newer you are to the skrei game, the further out your slot.

Captain Ketil Voll instructs us to reel our lines out - no bait needed - until we can feel the weight hit the sea bed, and then swoop our rods back and forth in big, arcing motions ("You have to work to get the cod's attention").

My first catch is a silvery slip of a thing - and sadly not a skrei ("Cat food," announces one of the crew), but my next two are; heavy on the line and wrestling powerfully until hoisted over the edge.

In previous years, the skrei would be sharing the water with orca, as well as whales feasting on herring, but this year the herring are absent, the water not being cool enough, which means no whales. Sea eagles still roil and whirl overhead though.

There's an art to preparing and cooking skrei

Back on dry land, we tramp round Sommar0y fish factory, Ivan Lorentzen Fiskeforretning. The family-run enterprise - four generations and counting - has been in skrei production since 1896, and process around 2million kg of skrei each season.

We watch a trio of fishermen, luminous in bright waterproof overalls, unload nine tanks of skrei from the belly of their boat, tipping the fish - which are bled on board as soon as they're hauled in from the nets, to keep the flesh as milky as possible - into a vat, before their bodies are lugged up a conveyor belt to be immediately processed and packed in ice.

The operation is slick and mechanised, but the skrei tongues are still cut by hand - and, when the catch is unmanageably large, local kids are paid to help out after school. Sharp knives - with a slippery ball inlaid to avoid damage to the roe - are used to slice out the cod tongues ("It's not really the tongues, it's more like the whole throat," explains Roux), which are then spiked on a stick as the next fish awaits its fate. It's a strangely hypnotic process to watch.

At the nearby Sommar0y Arctic Hotel, we eat them deep-fried in breadcrumbs alongside cold king crab legs, whose sweet flesh falls in perfect snow-white shards from their sunset-orange carapace.

A traditional skrei meal means poached fish and potatoes

Wearing thick woollen fisherman socks that our hosts, the fish factory's owners - sisters Unni Lorentzen and Torbj0rg Lindquist, and Unni's husband, Trond Lorentzen - have warmed on the radiator for us, we settle down to a meal of skrei m0lje, a traditional Norwegian dish that uses every available morsel of the cod.

Served with amber glasses of aquavit, we start with corrugated curls of butter on brittle, nutty crackerbreads before being presented with wedges of barely grainy, pale pink skrei roe. Roux explains that "the pinker the roe, the more shrimp the cod must have eaten - just like flamingos".

There's also steamed, skinless potatoes and the cod flesh itself, poached, luminous white and flaking succulently at the slightest nudge of a fork - we liberally grind over fresh black pepper and sprinkle on finely chopped raw white onion.

A tray of stuffed cod stomach, gelatinous with a slightly spongy crust with a rubbery wobble to it, prompts Unni to admit: "The flavour, if you have not tried before, is...", at which point her sister finishes with a laugh, "Interesting!"

"Go on - be brave," Roux says, passing the platter, and well, it's not totally unpleasant, although a little chewy.

A fragrant bowl of skrei liver appears, greyish blobs of it floating lightly in an oily liquor. I'm sceptical again, but people heave huge dollops of the stuff onto their plates. "The best way to eat it, if you're nervous, is to squash a potato, add a bit of pepper, and mix the liver in like butter - it melts," Roux tells me - and he's right, it dissolves into a rich, umami dressing that's not fishy at all.

"It's so, so simple, and the fish is so clean," says Roux. "When it's this fresh, nothing is so good."

  • Ella Walker was a guest of the Norwegian Seafood Council. Skrei is available during the January-April season from Harrods, Selfridges, Booths, Whole Foods Market, quality fishmongers and top restaurants (season timings according to the migratory progress of the skrei).