Icelandic Salmon Soup

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This lovely salmon soup from Iceland is something of a cross between a chowder and a soup, with just a touch of dairy. It’s warming and comforting without being overly heavy, which I like. And what’s more, it can be made quite well with either fillets, or the meat left on the bones of salmon or trout, so you waste less.

A bowl of salmon soup
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I got the idea for this salmon soup from the awesome cookbook Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir. Similar soups exist throughout Scandinavia, most famously the Finnish Lohikeitto. All use dill, a little dairy, and fresh salmon

Iceland still has good populations of Atlantic salmon, but of course, being in California, I use our local chinook salmon instead. Any kind of salmon or large trout, or several smaller trout, will work for this salmon soup. 

Salmon Soup Stock

Must you make salmon or trout stock to make this salmon soup? No. You can use chicken broth instead, or some other fish or seafood stock. This is actually epic when made with crab or shrimp stock

But in many cases, you have the carcasses of the fish you caught. Why not use them? I know, most cooks will tell you not to do this because salmon broth will be strongly flavored. But this is a salmon soup, after all, and you’re not storing the broth for more than a couple days, so you won’t get that awful “salmon stink” everyone knows and hates.

I also have a separate recipe for salmon stock, which you can also use if you want. 

Salmon heads and trim for salmon soup
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

What Meat? 

Sure, you can go buy a fillet of salmon for salmon soup, and that’s perfectly OK. But a better route is to pick off the leftover meat from making your salmon stock, using that for the finished soup.

Meat that is close to the bone is fattier and more tender, and the salmon flaked off bones, and especially in the bellies and collars will make a much, much better salmon soup; cheek and head meat is fantastic, too. 

Finishing the Salmon Soup

Bulking out the soup are few root vegetables or potatoes — rutabagas are a favorite of mine for this soup — and when they’re done, add a little cream, a few fresh herbs, and you’re good to go.

There is one special ingredient that really makes this salmon soup, however: whey. This tart byproduct of cheesemaking adds the brightness that this soup needs — it’s a common ingredient in Nordic cooking, one I’d love to see more Americans use.

How to get whey? Easy. Buy some milk and make some homemade ricotta cheese. (Here’s how to make ricotta cheese at home) You can then use your ricotta any way you’d like, but I might suggest using it in venison lasagna.

Of course, you can skip the whey if it’s too much trouble. But it does make this soup extra special. A decent substitute would be to whisk in some full-fat sour cream into some broth in a little bowl, then adding that to the salmon soup. 

Everything else is easy to find and uncomplicated. This is, actually, something of a chowder — although I have a Pacific Northwest rendition of salmon chowder elsewhere on this site. 

Closeup of salmon soup in a bowl
4.67 from 9 votes

Icelandic Salmon Soup

This is a simple salmon soup that uses salmon bodies to make a quick broth, then meat picked off the bones for the soup itself. Any salmon, trout or char works well here. I like this soup with crusty rye bread. 
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Scandinavian
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients 

SALMON BROTH

  • Head and bones from a large salmon, about 3 pounds of bones and meat
  • 2 carrots, chopped small
  • 1 small onion, chopped small
  • Stems from a bunch of parsley, chopped
  • Stems from a bunch of dill, chopped
  • Stems from a bunch of lovage, chopped (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups whey (optional)
  • 1 quart water
  • Salt

SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, sliced thin
  • 1 pound small potatoes (or rutabagas, peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1 pound salmon meat
  • 1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs, like parsely, dill and lovage
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • black pepper to taste

Instructions 

  • Bring all the broth ingredients to a boil in a large pot. Drop the heat below a simmer and let this cook gently for 30 to 45 minutes. Strain and keep warm. Pick off salmon meat and reserve.
  • In a soup pot, heat the butter over medium-high heat and cook the sliced onion until wilted and transparent, but not browned. 
  • Pour in the broth and potatoes, bring to a simmer and add salt to taste. Simmer gently until the potatoes are tender. 
  • Add the salmon, either picked from the bones or freshly diced, plus the herbs and heavy cream. Let this simmer 5 minutes. 
  • With a ladle in one hand and a whisk or fork in the other, slowly ladle some hot broth into the egg yolks, all the while whisking the egg yolks. You want to temper them so the yolks won't curdle in the soup. Whisk in another ladle, then one more. Pour this into the soup, stir well and turn the heat as low as it will go. Let this warm up a minute or three, then serve at once. 

Notes

You can skip the egg yolk step, but it makes the salmon soup a lot richer. 

Nutrition

Calories: 297kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 144mg | Sodium: 111mg | Potassium: 850mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 4345IU | Vitamin C: 19.2mg | Calcium: 79mg | Iron: 3.7mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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15 Comments

  1. This soup was AmAzInG! I didn’t have salmon bones to make the stock, which I was worried about, but it turned out fantastic none the less. I used seafood stock and then added bayleaves, extra dill, and parsley while it was simmering. Sooo good!

  2. Hi,

    I’m not familiar with icelandic soup, but I live in Finland and am married to a Finn, we also add fresh or dried Bay Leaf and a a couple (5-7) entire black pepper grains in Finnish Salmon Soup – also the dill is added at last and not in the broth (which in the Lohikeitto is essentially just salty water), this makes it taste fresh and keeps the fragrant aroma of the herb 🙂

    1. Susan: Not with the cream in it. You could make it without the dairy, freeze, thaw and then add it when you are ready to eat.

  3. Just to clarify, do you use sour/acid why or sweet whey?
    Doing some research about the type of whey produced when making ricotta I’ve come to the conclusion that it is acid whey.
    I just put it in the soup so we’ll see in 2 hours..

  4. We just got home from visiting Finland and I wanted to make the salmon soup we had in Lapland. This was perfect. The salmon broth and herbs makes it so wonderful…and the egg yolks at the end of the recipe! We loved the soup with a hot loaf of crusty sourdough bread.

    1. There is no special Icelandic signature flavor. If anything it is the clean taste of the main ingredients, with very little in the way of spices except for salt or pepper. Sour cream from either cow’s or sheep milk might be close to a signature flavor, but this traditionally was a luxury food, and traditionally available for regular consumption at the summer hills farms up in the mountains of Norway. This summer farms took advantage of summer grazing that couldn’t be utilized otherwise. I expect it would be the same on Iceland. That they would set up a cottage and young women or even children would mind the animals and produce sour cream, cheeses and also cook brown “cheese” from the whey. Sour cream has a much longer shelf life than fresh cream. It is like a Scandinavian yoghurt.. sort of ..

  5. re: whey:
    one can also make whey + greek yoghurt by simply pouring a quart or two of regular yoghurt into a cheese-cloth covered sieve and let the whole thing drain into a pot over night. you’ll get greek yoghurt up top and whey in the bottom pot.. 🙂

  6. Hank,
    We make our own cheese regularly (Formage Blanc) and are drowning in Whey. I’d love to see a post with good ideas for it’s use.