Earth baked Birch Salmon

Every day, boats come in and out of the harbor, dropping off fresh fish to be sent to the fish market in the neighboring fjord of Borgarfjörður. Fishing, hunting, and meat production in Iceland is strictly monitored by the government. No one owns an animal, instead, quotas can be purchased from the government. The idea is to restrict the amount of meat an individual can farm or hunt. As a result, quotas are sold and traded so that fish boats can continue to bring in crates of fish on a daily basis.

As part of the monitoring process, fisherman are not allowed to sell fish directly from the docks, instead, fish is sent to a market on a neighboring fjord. I was disappointed when I first found this out, it seems like a waste of energy to have to drive an hour to buy fish that where fished right here in Seyðisfjörður.

Luckily, I learned that, just as the fishermen bend the quota rules, they also have found ways to allow for local fish distribution. I was very kindly gifted fresh salmon, which is excused from the strict rule of fish sales.

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Fish is traditionally the mainstay of the economy in Iceland. It was not until recently that the income generated from tourism surpassed the fishing industry in Seyðisfjörður. This has lead to a huge change in how the town functions, as fishing boats have become second place to large ferries. However, fish still remains the largest export in Iceland, along side (surprisingly) Aluminum. Raw material is shipped from Australia to Iceland; traveling from one remote island to another, on the other side of the globe, in order to produce Aluminum here, where energy is so abundant and cheap. I found it appropriate to use aluminum and fish while making this dish, a true testament to global Iceland.

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I collected Birch wood, Cow’s Parsley, Icelandic Thyme, Dandelion Greens, Rowan berries, Sweet Cicely, and other wild herbs from the fjords. I used some fresh to season the fish and set aside a collection of stems and dried herbs to use in the fire. After coating the fish with my foraged bouquet, I wrapped it up tightly and set it aside.

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What a relief it was when I woke up and saw that the sky was blue. After a week of rain and wind, I had prepared a fire pit and kept it covered with a tarp, daily I would have to drain the pools of water that threatened to dampen the rocks and prevent a successful fire.

Luckily, the sun was out and the air was crisp and dry. The fire was easy to maintain and I felt if to burn and roast the leeks and cabbage while I prepared the Flaikaka with Rowanberry Jam.

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We let the fire die down before dropping our wrapped fish into the pit. After covering the fish with a cutting board to prevent it from damage, we refilled the hot pit, burying the fish under ground with the hot stones. The dirt was moist and cold, as we piled it on top of the earth-made oven, air holes released steam and the exposed earth became warm. I was reminded of Myvatn, the geothermal region three hours from us, and the raw energy that sizzles and steams the earth, with rocks so hot you could fry an egg on them. I was told that if you drill a hole a mile into the earth, anywhere in Iceland, enough energy will come out to power Reykjavik for at least 40 years. It is hard to believe it until you see the sublime power and heat that radiates from the earth in so many regions of the country.

 Myvatn

Myvatn

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 After the fish was in the earth, we all sat in the sunlight, for what was most likely the last time this year, and enjoyed the sun and the fresh snow on the fjords.

After the fish was in the earth, we all sat in the sunlight, for what was most likely the last time this year, and enjoyed the sun and the fresh snow on the fjords.

After two hours, we pulled the fish out of the earth, and with it emerged a last sigh from Mother Nature, in the form of a puff of smoke.

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We pealed back the “skin” of birch wood and saw that the salmon was cooked and ready.

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Creating the fire and working as a team to prepare and cook the food left everyone feeling connected to and invested in the performance and installation of the food. While people were originally reserved and hesitant to cross the boundary that seperates sculpture (don’t touch the art) and food (taste, touch, smell), once the fish was put on the table, everyone rushed to fill up their flaikaka plates and try the fish that they had all participated in the creation of. After three hours of preparation, the fish was gone in minutes.

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