The front roe – new treat for passengers
The fishing season for vendace (Coregonus albula) along the Norrbotten coast of the Baltic Sea in north Sweden opens each fall on 20 September. From Haparanda in the northeast to Piteå in the south, boats set off at 2am to fish for vendace in the Bay of Bothnia archipelago and continue long into the afternoon.
“The season officially closes at the end of October, but most boats usually stop around the 25th. It’s a five-week period of intensive fishing,” says Kent Karlsson, a fisherman and part owner of Guldhaven Pelagiska AB in Kalix.
They did install a machine a few years ago. But the caviar it produced was not of the same quality, so they’ve gone back to doing it manually. You don’t get much more from each fish than could cover your thumbnail,” Karlsson says.
They’ve been fishing for vendace, a white fish, for generations in the north of the Bay of Bothnia, but for a long time the fish was not thought of as anything special. In the mid-20th century however, the caviar gained in status and started being served at the best restaurants in Scandinavia.
Kalix löjrom is not only delicious, with a sublime color and texture, it has also been scientifically proven to be special. The environment in which the fish live, in cold brackish water, differentiates them from conspecific fish. Analysis shows that the caviar from Kalix contains minerals not found in vendace roe from other locations.
“The characteristic taste is due to the mineral-rich freshwater from the rivers that feed the Bay of Bothnia,” Karlsson says.
Since 2010, Kalix löjrom has enjoyed Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, in similarity with other European regional delicacies such as Parma ham.
Naturally, SAS Head Chef Peter Lawrance wanted to be able to offer such a Scandinavian specialty to the airline’s passengers, although it would turn out to be easier said than done – Kalix löjrom is in great demand and the fishing is strictly regulated. In the case of a potentially large customer, it takes more than simply picking up the phone and placing a huge order. Especially if such an order also includes odd requests, such as that the caviar should be packed in about 50,000 small glass jars.
“The caviar is usually packed in 500g or 1kg plastic tubs. Eye-catching presentation is irrelevant, it all gets bought. Why should they spend loads of time packing the caviar in small glass jars for SAS?” Asks Lawrance.
So two years ago, he started his quest to Norrbotten to meet fishermen and suppliers, because as there’s only a limited amount of caviar available, you need to forge a personal relationship based on mutual respect.
“It’s been a long journey. One that called for numerous, long, nightly calls. Plus one or two shots of whiskey perhaps,” Lawrance says with a laugh.
In February, SAS was able to start serving Kalix löjrom in SAS Business on its long haul flights from Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen.
“It has been a fantastic success. We’ve never had anything that has been photographed or Instagrammed as much as this specific product,” Lawrance says.
New signature dish
Hot smoked vendace from Kalix will be served on SAS European flights with a salad of Swedish winter apples, potatoes from Tollby Farm, Horn of Plenty mushrooms, carrots with cold-pressed rapeseed oil from Julita, and poppy seeds and a Kalix löjrom emulsion, all served with roasted langoustine oil and granulated cabbage.
The next step in the partnership started this month. In SAS Business, the dish will be served as it was last winter – Kalix löjrom, topped with organic crème fraiche and chives, served in a small glass jar with crispbread baked with Västerbotten Cheese. This year though, SAS has purchased an estimated six months’ supply, twice as much as last winter.
The concept will now be expanded to SAS Plus passengers on certain routes in Europe, and the whole of the fish will now be used, not just the caviar. Historically, only a small proportion of the vendace was used for food. After stripping the female of her eggs, the rest was either discarded or used as animal feed.
One important reason for this is that the vendace is very small. Quite simply, the fish involves a great deal of work.
‘It’s all about the quality of the raw product, not how good it may look’
“As a fish for eating, it’s much underestimated, even though it’s a member of the salmon family. It strikes many people as being on a par with the kind of expensive fish that costs SKr300–400/kg,” Karlsson says.
SAS Head Chef Lawrance agrees, and with a supply contract in place, the processing factory in Kalix has installed new machinery to fillet and smoke the fish to be served on some SAS European flights. “It feels wrong to discard fish purely because of size. For us, it’s all about the quality of the raw product, not how good it may look. It’s going to be fantastically tasty and that’s what’s most important.”
Text: Jens Kärrman