Icelandic Halibut soup recipe

Gisli Matt 29 November 2021

Rising star chef Gísli Matt of Slippurinn, a famous Icelandic restaurant, shares his grandmothers recipe for the fabled halibut soup

“Halibut soup is one of the few recipes that are only found in Iceland, yet it was very nearly forgotten. Only older Icelanders remember it being served and most do not have very fond memories of it. Some of the flavours—dried bay leaves, vinegar and prunes—are not particularly Icelandic but were among the first products that were imported to Iceland.

The most traditional way of preparing it is to boil the halibut head and bones with milk and other ingredients. To eat it, everyone would suck on the bones right out of the soup. The head of the table, the father, would get the head first, and then the mother and children would follow.

I still use my grandmother’s recipe for halibut soup, though I’ve adapted it to the ingredients I have access to. I use fresh herbs that we forage on Heimaey and also add fresh apples instead of dried apples, which she uses in her version. My grandmother used to put a splash of sherry in her broth, but I serve it on the side.

It’s one of the only seafood soups in Iceland that doesn’t have a tomato base and added spices. It’s a rich fish broth that is unique in Iceland and has probably never appeared on a restaurant menu before. If we hadn’t started making it, the recipe probably would have faded away over time.”

Serves 4

Ingredients:

20 fresh bay leaves

10g pink peppercorns

10g fennel seeds

Vegetable oil, for frying

4 onions, chopped

12 cloves garlic, finely chopped

300ml white wine

30ml apple cider vinegar

3L Fish stock

500ml cream

250ml milk

350g butter

8 g xanthan gum*

Lemon juice

280g halibut or other flatfish fillets

1 green apple

Dried fruits, such as prunes

Sea salt

Method

In a mortar crush the bay leaves and grind the peppercorns and fennel seeds with a pestle.

Heat a bit of oil in a large pot over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and start to cook, then add the spices.

After cooking for 10 minutes add the white wine and the vinegar. Cook until the whey is almost evaporated.

Add the fish stock and reduce by half. Add the cream, milk and butter and blend with a stick (immersion) blender.

While blending add the xanthan gum to thicken the soup a bit. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste.

Right before serving, cut the fish in desired portions and add to the soup. The fish should cook for 2–3 minutes.

While it’s cooking, peel and cut the green apple into about 4mm (generous ⅛-inch) dice.

To serve, put the apple, dried fruit and fish into shallow bowls, then pour over the soup.

*food additive for thickening which can be found in stores such as Tesco, Wholefoods and Amazon

Taken from Slippurinn: Recipes and Stories from Iceland by Gísli Matt is published by Phaidon, £39.95 (phaidon.com)

Photography by Karl Petersson

Read more: Explore Iceland

Read more: Key European phrases for vegans and vegetarians

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