The Arctic fox

A closer look at one of Iceland's favourite animals

When the first explorers stepped on dry Icelandic ground in the late 10th century, the fox had been here for few thousand years, probably since ice age. Bones as old as 3,500 years old have been discovered so this original Icelander truly knows what it is to live Icelandic. The Arctic Fox is both a hunter and scavenger with an incredible sense of smell which enables it to smell food or enemies within many kilometres radius and its unique coat has some of the best insulation of any mammal.

The Arctic Fox has for long reigned alone – the king of the animal kingdom on this remote island, until humans arrived, who feared the fox because of their livestock. This is now changing to some extent as there is an increased interest in the Arctic fox – in particular among travellers – and both locals and foreigners are realising the unique nature of this beautiful animal. The image of the Arctic fox has changed in recent years, being considered an illusive and at times dangerous animal, to now be considered one of Iceland's favourite animals, valued for its incredible beauty, elegant and illusive nature as well as its rareness.

If you want to come close to the Arctic fox you can do so. Seek advice from the locals and they will point you in the right direction. The lairs are not too hard to find when you know where to look but once you've found one you should not get too close, 40 meters should do the trick, and then you wait. Be quiet and don't make any sudden movements, even when you finally see the animal sticking its head above ground. The fox is curious by nature but easily frightened so your best bet is to stay still. Once the fox feels that you are no threat it just might try to get closer to you to take a better look. And that is the moment to slowly aim your camera.

The Icelandic word for fox is refur, but the fox has many other names. Nicknames really. The most popular one is "melrakki", combining the words "melur" (gravel bed) and "rakki" (dog). Some of those names are quite negative ("skolli, vargur, vembla") while others are very positive and graceful ("lágfóta, holtaflór, melrakki"). This shows how frequently people have found themselves discussing this intricate fellow Icelander, both the good and the bad.

Farmers, scientists, writers, poets, historians, teachers, researchers, linguists – we all have something to say about the Arctic fox.

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Step 1
Heat oil in a large pan at medium-high heat. Add chorizo and fry for about 1 minute. Add potatoes and fry, stirring occasionally until potatoes start to brown. Cover and reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender.

Step 2
Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and stir. Cover and cook until potatoes are golden and mushrooms are tender. Add the parsley. Set aside.

Step 3
Preheat oven to 320°F. Make the butter mixture. In a bowl, mix shallots, parsley, chives, capers, thyme and lemon zest into the butter.

Step 4
Heat a roasting pan to medium high heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Place char fillets in the pan, skin side down. Brush the fillets with the butter mixture and then add the rest to the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Step 5
Toast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until fillets are brown and come easily apart.

Step 6
Serve fillets skin side up, with potatoes and pan juices drizzled over.

Bon Appetit!

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