Not just a salmon replacement anymore
Many dismiss farmed trout as “the other salmonid” to buy when they can’t get salmon, but chefs in the U.K. are trying to change that perception, and the market there may be shifting to accommodate the “lesser” species.
“It’s wrong to think of fjord trout as a replacement for salmon; it is a different fish in taste and texture and there’s plenty of scope for chefs to put both on the menu,” according to Frederik Hald, head chef with the Leroy Seafood Group, Norway’s biggest trout producer.
Norway first began the commercialized farming of trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in its icy-cold fjords in the 1960s, the same time as it began farming Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). While the Scandinavian country’s salmon has become a global product, accounting for a large proportion of the 400 salmon meals consumed worldwide per second, its fjord trout has remained relatively niche – most has traditionally been exported to Japan.
Other markets have opened up in recent years, though. Among them, the United Kingdom and particularly its hotel, restaurant and catering sectors.
“Fjord trout has been available to the U.K. market for about three years now and this year sales have really taken off,” said Jack-Robert Moller, director U.K. for the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC).
U.K. imports of Norwegian trout grew from 175 metric tons (MT) in 2012 to around 275 MT in 2014. However, for the first five months of this year, sales were already at 155 MT, compared with less than 60 MT for the corresponding period of 2014.
“These sales are obviously quite modest when compared to our other seafood exports but the growth shows the market is buying into the product,” said Moller.
The product also opens up yet another revenue stream in the country for Norwegian seafood. Last year, the United Kingdom became the biggest growth market for Norwegian exports, importing more than NOK 4 billion (EUR 455 million; USD 509.5 million) worth of products, an increase of NOK 1.2 billion (EUR 136.5 million; USD 152.9 million) on the previous year. By volume, fresh Atlantic salmon (gutted and fillets) led the sales traffic at almost 60,000 MT, up from just over 45,000 MT in 2013, followed by various formats of cod and haddock.
Moller explained that the fjord trout trade has been helped along by the year-long Russian import ban, extended further by President Vladimir Putin last week, which has made the product more readily available and competitively priced for the U.K. market.
There’s also been a lot more interest in the product from chefs, said Laky Zervudachi, director of sustainability for fresh seafood supplier Direct Seafoods.
“We were one of the first to offer fjord trout and have definitely seen an upturn in sales this year,” said Zervudachi. “With supplies of a menu favorite like wild seabass drying up to conserve European stocks, it offers chefs another viable alternative – a high-quality product; something with a story, provenance and sustainability.”
Norwegian fjord trout is smaller than salmon with shorter fibers in the meat, resulting in a delicate fish with firm flesh. It also has a stronger red color than its compatriot.
Trout store fat differently than other salmonids. The majority is stored in the abdomen, making the fish lean and rich in taste. This not only makes it good for smoking, marinating, grilling, frying etc., but highly suitable in raw forms such as sushi and sashimi.
“It’s a very popular fish in Japan because of the flavor of the fat content. They also like the redder color,” confirmed Hald. “The fish is a bit sweeter than salmon. It’s also soft and hard at the same time – you feel the velvety softness when you put it into your mouth, but the texture is firmer when you bite.”
According to Hald, Leroy is the only company that can supply fresh fjord trout 52 weeks of the year. It is also the biggest sushi producer in Norway, manufacturing between 30 and 50 million pieces per year, and has seen trout overtake salmon as its most used species in the cuisine.
To facilitate this trend, filleting takes place immediately after slaughtering and pre-rigor because it results in better, “non-metallic” tasting trout sashimi and sushi, he said.
Leroy’s trout production currently stands at 26,000 MT, which represents around 30 percent of the global supply. Most of this is reared in an area of western Norway.
Its main hatchery is located by the 10,000 year-old Folgefonna glacier, which provides “a perfect temperature and pH level for juvenile trout,” said Hald.
“This is important because if the water gets too warm the fish rest and are not in the best condition. If it gets too cold, the growth is not so good.”
At around 12 months of age, the fish are transferred to three nearby fjords – Rafjorden, Sorfjorden and Osterfjorden – each with minimum water depths of 400 meters. The fish are harvested between one and two years later at sizes of 2kg and above.
According to Hald, the cage environment is 98 percent water and 2 percent fish, which results in high-quality trout, each with full traceability.
“Our trout also bears a quality label, which is very important for us because it outlines the differences that the fish have compared with other products like lake trout and salmon. As a package, fjord trout have qualities which make it a very flexible and increasingly sought after product in today’s market,” he said.