A rich creamy soup with tender pieces of perfectly cooked fish, leeks, and potatoes. A warm comforting meal inspired by my travels to Iceland.
This past weekend we woke up to an unseasonably cold, rainy, and dreary Sunday, Jordan turned to me and said, “It feels like Iceland”. We traveled to Iceland nearly a year ago and since our return, the words, “It feels like Iceland” have become code for “I love this day”.
Iceland is not a sunshine and sand type of vacation, it is moody and mystical, foggy and chilly, and utterly spectacular. It is a place that calls for warm, comforting, life-affirming food. For adventure and curiosity.
So this Sunday I stepped into action to make our day feel as much like Iceland as possible. The time had come to recreate our favorite Icelandic fish soup. The fish soup that I ate nearly every day of our week-long visit. Off to the market, pup in tow, with one mission in mind. Fiskisupa!
Fish soup is a generational staple in Iceland made in cozy farm homes across the country. It varies a bit in flavor and type of fish but a few qualities remain consistent; the fish is melt in your mouth tender, mild, and extraordinary, the broth is rich with a subtle hint of curry, and the vegetables are fresh and local.
Fresh ingredients are key to this simple 5 ingredient soup, so we made our way to the farmers market. At this time of year the only fresh produce tends to be of the root variety, so that's what made it into my fish soup.
Our local fishmonger had one piece of gorgeous halibut left. It was expensive. I was smitten. You can use whatever fish is fresh and local. A white fish preferably but I was told that salmon and arctic char are equally good in this recipe.
I was surprised when I was researching to learn that the base of traditional Icelandic fish soup is not always made from the seafood. If you make a shellfish version of this soup then I would recommend saving your peels and shells and various odds and ends of your seafood to make a flavorful shellfish broth. If you are using white fish, chicken broth will do just fine, as would seafood stock if you had it, or even vegetable broth.
This soup, as delicious and crave-worthy as it is, is really a strong sense memory food, a reminder of one incredible week spent in a very magical place.
Last May, Friends and family arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland to celebrate the marriage of my baby sister, Becky. Why she chose Iceland as her wedding destination (a question we have all been asked no less than a billion times) is somewhat unknown. It just spoke to Becky and Mike (her now husband). It was announced with a text message 3 months earlier:
“Dear family, Mike and I have decided to get married in Iceland in May. We would love it if you could join, no pressure though.”
My mother called me in a panic, “This is a joke right? They aren't really getting married in Iceland?!” Yes mom, yes they are. Guess who bought her plane tickets first? My mother barely regained consciousness before I had a place booked for all of us to stay and plane tickets purchased. Once you lay eyes on the photos, you will understand why they were drawn to this place. I say unabashedly that my baby sister has THE most amazing wedding pictures in the history of the world (the wedding photographer was the unbelievably talented storyteller Kristin Maria Stefansdottir).
The entire experience was perfect, from start to finish. Iceland is a place unlike any other. At times it feels as if you have landed on the moon, rather than a tiny Island in the middle of the Atlantic. The people are warm and lovely, the landscape is out of a fairytale, and the food was right up my alley. Warm bowls of rich and creamy soup, fluffy sourdough bread with a thick smear of the worlds greatest butter, and fresh baked goods that rival the croissant mastery of France.
After the truly perfect wedding festivities, Jordan and I stayed a bit longer and wandered off on our own to explore a different part of the island, Snæfellsnes peninsula or Snuffleupagus as I affectionately called it.
In the Snæfellsnes peninsula, there is a small fishing village named Hellnar with a year-round population of 10 people (that is a legit number). Hellnar was a recommended stop for the day for one reason, a tiny cafe named Fjoruhusid.
Nothing more than a small house perched on a cliff overlooking the peninsula. The cafe has five tables, enough for the entirety of the village to gather. Fjoruhusid is known for their creamy, warm, comforting seafood soup that is overflowing with fish and scallops plucked right out of the ocean directly off the peninsula.
It was a typical spring day in Iceland, rainy and cold and that tiny cafe was an oasis of comfort. We gobbled down our soup and bread and then ordered what everyone else in the restaurant had on their tables. Waffles with fresh cream and berry jam. (Pro travel tip: if everyone in the restaurant is eating something, order it. You won’t be disappointed).
Belly full, heart full, happiness seeping out of my pores, I was ready to get back to Reykjavík and pack up for the journey home.
When I think back on the trip there was one thread of consistency throughout, fish soup. It was my first and last meal, it was served at the wedding (exceptionally I may add). Fiskisupa marked moments of discovery, joy, and ultimately familiarity.
Fiskisupa is Iceland. It’s the union of my baby sister and her true love, it’s rainy mornings and miraculous moments of sunshine. Pink skies at midnight and waterfalls that seem to sink down to the center of the earth. Rocky coastlines and green hilltops, horses with fabulous hair, and cozy farmhouses with yarn covered chairs.
So if you gasp at the cup of heavy cream this nutritionist put in her soup know that I’m eating pink skies and waterfalls and elves called window peepers and pools that drown witches. Remember that food is memory and information and nutrition and is made up of so much more than just calories.
When you spy the extra dollop of whipped cream on top of this fiskisupa remember that the Icelandic people believe in fairies and that you can swim in blue lagoons and watch mysterious geysers spew hot sulfuric water. That there are puffins, and black sand beaches, and a yogurt named skyr. Most of all remember in a sweet apartment in Brooklyn New York there is a newlywed couple snuggled up on a green sofa underneath a hand painted golden mural, cuddling cats named Puppy and Nino. Know that they are so fiercely in love it’s palpable and contagious. Remember that this soup was served on the day they said, “I do”. I do to adventure, devotional love, and eating fish soup with cream on top.
Icelandic Fish Soup - Fiskisupa
- 1.5 lbs halibut or other white fish like cod or striped bass
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 leek, about 1 cup sliced
- 3 stalks celery, about 1/2 cup diced
- 1 medium onion, about 1.5 cups diced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 32 ounces chicken stock
- 3/4 lb potatoes, cut into 1" chunks about 4 small yukon gold potatoes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped (optional)
- 1 tbsp chopped chives
- celery leaves
- In a large stock pot over medium heat melt butter and olive oil together. Add sliced leeks, celery, and onion. Cook for 7 minutes until soft and translucent.
- Add salt, curry powder and tomato paste. Stir well and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes.
- Add chicken stock and potatoes. Cook until potatoes are tender, 15-25 minutes.
- While your potatoes are cooking prepare your soup garnish. In a small bowl add 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream. Using an electric mixer beat until soft peaks form. Set aside.
- Add halibut (or other fish) and cook for 2-4 minutes, until just done. Please do not overcook your fish, that would make me sad.
- Turn off the heat and slowly swirl in 1 cup of heavy cream.
- Serve the soup with a spoonful of homemade whipped cream, chives, and celery leaves.
- A thick cut of fish works best in this recipe. If you are using a thinner fish cook for just a few minutes until tender.
- Shellfish works equally well, shrimp, scallops or lobster. In Iceland they allowed the hot broth to cook the lobster, no additional cooking was necessary. It was perfection.
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