Whitefish

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

whitefish a general name for fish of the genus Coregonus in the salmon family. These are mainly freshwater fish, but a couple of them come out into the Baltic Sea. All are of moderate size (a length of 25–50 cm/10–20" is typical) and live in relatively cold waters, although C. lavaretus has a range which extends down into Italy. Because of the formation of separate races in landlocked waters, the genus is rich in subspecies, the complexities of which are ignored here. The prominent species are:

  • Coregonus lavaretus, known as houting in its purely freshwater form, or as powan (Loch Lomond in Scotland), skelly (the English Lake District), and gwyniad (Wales). A silvery fish with a greenish-brown back. Very good when smoked. The roe is used in Finland to produce a sort of orange caviar, salty but good.

  • C. albula, the vendace or pollan; muikku in Finland, soklöja or mujka in Sweden. A rich little fish with a strong and interesting flavour. Very small vendace are called naiolamuikku (nail vendace) in Finland; only their heads are removed before they are deep fried. Vendace caviar, again, is quite salty so best served with sour cream.

  • C. clupeaformis, the lake whitefish of the Great Lakes in N. America. Considered good enough to be eaten ‘for days without losing its appeal’, in the view of one naturalist of the 19th century. There has been a large commercial fishery in the last forty years although it has suffered from the depredations of the lamprey.