Beloved soup gets a healthy makeover
An updated take on Bergen fish soup makes it accessible to those with dairy sensitivity
Taste of Norway Editor
Bergen holds a special place in my heart. It’s the last bit of Norwegian land my father and grandparents stepped foot on before sailing to America. It’s the city that holds the mystery of a moment, that bit of time when they stepped from land to ship, a leap in a journey that would change the course of a family. Perhaps that’s why I love Bergensk fiskesuppe—Bergen fish soup—so much.
When I mention this soup on my Facebook page where we talk about all sorts of Nordic foods, people invariably gush about how much they love Bergen fish soup, often attached to their own fond memories of eating it in that lovely city. Many people are sensitive to dairy, however. I’m convinced that dietary needs should not prevent people from enjoying a version of some of their favorite foods, and I wanted to see if Bergen fish soup could withstand a dairy-free conversion. I needed to remove the cream.
Adapting a classic recipe requires respect—an understanding of what it is supposed to be and a commitment to reproducing it in a way that honors the past while making it suitable for one’s particular guests or personal needs. In the case of Bergensk fiskesuppe I had my work cut out for me: the cream provides richness and the texture that’s part of the very essence of the soup.
This beloved classic dish from the west coast of Norway typically features a silky base studded with pieces of tender fish and a medley of vegetables. To see if I could replicate part of that creaminess, I first began by making a roux, that base that thickens many sauces and gravies and lending a creamy consistency. The first round tasted great. But it wasn’t quite what I hoped for in reproducing that satisfying taste and texture of Bergen fish soup. So I tried whirring a couple of cooked potatoes with water in a blender and stirring them into the soup toward the end.
I’m delighted to say that it worked. Of course it’s not going to taste exactly like the soup that a fine restaurant in Bergen would serve, but to be honest I’m going to keep eating it this way. I’ll save the cream for when I’m eating the soup in Bergen someday—and I’ll savor every bite.
Dairy-free Bergen Fish Soup
While I love adding a little salmon and prawns for color, I’m keeping it simple in this recipe with cod. Feel free to use additional types of fish and shellfish if you’d like.
3 tbsps. dairy-free butter substitute
1 leek, thinly sliced, white part only
4-6 cups best-quality fish stock
2 cups peeled & diced root vegetables (mix of carrots, parsnip & celeriac)
¼ cup white wine
1½ pounds cod, cut into 1.5-inch pieces
2-3 tbsps. red wine vinegar
½ tbsp. sugar
salt, to taste
curly-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
Begin by cooking the potatoes in a medium pot until they’re soft. Remove from the water and set aside to cool, reserving ½ cup or so of the cooking water for later.
In a large pot, melt butter substitute over medium-high heat. Add leeks and sauté a few minutes, until they start to lightly brown. Add the fish stock and vegetables, and simmer until the vegetables are beginning to become tender, roughly 10-15 minutes (keep in mind they’ll keep cooking as you continue making the soup).
Meanwhile, whirl the cooked potatoes and the reserved cooking liquid—which should now be lukewarm—in a blender until creamy. Stir the blended potatoes into the soup along with the white wine.
Add the cod, and simmer gently until the fish is cooked through.
Add the vinegar and sugar and a little salt. Taste and adjust those last three ingredients as needed—you want a subtle sweet-and-sour flavor, one that’s balanced and flavorful but not so strong that any of the single ingredients will be prominent.
Pour in bowls and garnish with a sprinkling of parsley. Serves 4-6.
Daytona Strong is The Norwegian American’s Taste of Norway Editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo), Twitter (@daytonastrong, Pinterest (@daytonastrong), and Instagram (@daytonastrong).
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.