Chef Frida Ronge grew up in the city of Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden. She currently lives in Stockholm and is the Culinary Director of Restaurant TAK and UNN – one of Stockholm’s biggest restaurant groups. TAK is a Nordic/Japanese restaurant and Frida has been working with Japanese flavours and techniques since 2007, using local and sustainably sourced ingredients. In recognition of her commitment to ocean stewardship, Frida became a Marine Stewardship Council Ambassador for Sweden in 2018, helping to inspire people to use sustainable products from the water, both in restaurants and home cooking.
In 2016 Frida published her first cookbook, Rå som sushi with a focus on sustainable seafood made with Japanese techniques. Her newest book, Food Retreat about smart green food and seafood is available online.
AS. Why did you make a career out of cooking fish?
FR. My father ran a fisherman shop from the time I was a child and I subsequently worked there as a teenager. I’ve always preferred eating seafood and vegetables, more than meat. We lived on the coast in Sweden, so I grew up eating a lot of fresh fish and I always thought it was delicious. I think this is why I began to focus on the ocean. In 2004 I began to work as a sushi chef and I knew I wanted to work with local Swedish fish and seafood rather than frozen imported fish from other parts of the world. In those days, it was unique, because most of the fish used for sushi was imported from Japan.
AS. There is a lot of discussion about sourcing, especially since so many people watched Seaspiracy. As a person devoted to seafood sustainability and an MSC Ambassador, what are your simple rules for buying ethically sourced seafood?
FR. Seaspiracy was good in that it opened up a dialogue about the seriousness of global overfishing. The film can be unfairly biased, but it’s great to have fuelled this awareness about seafood sustainability.
I’ve chosen to trust that the Marine Stewardship Council, the largest global fish stewardship organization, has the best ability to inform the consumer about how to make the right choices of what to eat and protect our oceans. This certification tracks the fish population along with how species are being fished and how the stocks are being controlled. They want to ensure a sustainable fish population for future generations. Buying local fish is a solution, but you still need to ensure the sustainability of the fish stock and that there is a plentiful population.
I also believe that land-based farmed fish is a fantastic development and I hope we see more of that in the future. It produces better quality and more flavourful fish.
Seasonality is also important regarding fish and seafood. Mackerel, one of my favourite fish, is only available between May and September in Sweden. So this is the only time I will eat it or serve it in the restaurant. The nice thing about maintaining the flow of seasonality is that you long for the flavour and anticipate the time you should be eating something.
Another thing to consider is that fish or seafood doesn’t have to be the main ingredient on our plate. A smaller portion, 150 grams or less, can be an accent or add flavor to a more robust portion of vegetables.
I believe it’s important to live and work using an ethos of sustainability. At the core of everything I do is to make the best choices I can both personally and professionally.
AS. People are passionate about zero waste but of course fish is a little harder for the home cook as it’s a bit intimidating. What are your tips/easy recipes for using the whole fish head to tail?
FR. At the restaurant, we prepare dishes of whole fish – we try not to simply serve the fillets of fish, although currently we have to, because we are a large restaurant. Even though in the Nordic countries, people typically only eat the fillets, it’s the power we have as chefs and food professionals to teach people that whole fish can be delicious and inspire people to want to cook it for themselves.
It’s also important that fishmongers make more parts of the fish widely available. As a consumer in Sweden it’s super hard to get cod cheeks and impossible to order tongue or fish fins . If you can, it is always a good thing to buy whole fish because you get out more protein for your money, and you can make great fish stock with the bones.
AS. What is your favourite fish to cook at home?
FR. One of my favourite fish to cook at home is pan-fried plaice. All year round, served with tartare sauce, as a fish taco or cooked whole in the oven. Always delicious.
For a family dinner or a summer party a whole grilled turbot is hard to say no too, and as I mentioned, eat local mackerel when it is in season – it’s hard to beat.
Arlene Stein, Stifado.