Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Raw fish

Easter may be a lot about eggs, but for a Swede, any holiday when there is gatherings of many people, usually involve a good smörgåsbord, or as the English say: smorgasbord. What we are talking about is a buffet, a large selection of delicacies, from fish to meat to salads, and every family has their particular favourites and secret recipes.

This year, we weren´t doing any Easter entertaining ourselves, but had the pleasure to eat at a cousin´s place, and there was much to taste. I thought I´d mention, in particular, the Swedish fish tradition of pickled herring and spiced, or graved, salmon. None of these dishes are, by a Swede, considered raw fish, exactly, but of course they are in the sense that the fish is not cooked.

Pickled herring is first salted, which was the way the fish was conserved before we got the age of the freezers. Those who pickle themselves usually work with ready-salted and filleted herring, which you can buy in any store. Salting yourself takes about a month to do and is a heck of a job, I don´t know anyone who does that, but I have a recipe for it in the cookbook. Basically, just take a bucketfull of fresh herring, clean and gut by just wringing their heads off and pulling out the gut in one move. Rinse in salted water, then layer with salt in a bucket, where it sits for one to four weeks. Before you pickle them, you must fillet them and soak in water to get the salt out again. Like I said, one heck of a job, and probably smelly, too.

A basic pickle recipe from my cookbook uses 150 ml of water, 5 tablespoons of vinegar essence (12%), 100 ml of sugar, one onion, 10 allspice corns, 1 bay leaf, and dill. You heat water, vinegar and sugar until it boils and then cool it. Put the herring in a jar with spices and onion rings. Pour the solution over it and store the jar in the fridge for at least one day before you enjoy it. It keeps for a few weeks in the fridge, but don´t put it in the freezer.

There are countless versions of pickled herring, and there are classics like mustard herring, crayfish herring, onion herring, blackcurrant herring, and even garlic herring. My cousin-in-law has a wonderful speciality: tequila/lime/red chili herring. Basically, I think you can experiment your heart out. 

Our cousin also makes his own graved salmon, which means that you take fresh, filleted salmon, and for each kilo fish you mix 4 tablespoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of ground white pepper, and 4 tablespoons of sugar. You cover the fillets with the mixture and dill, put them on top of each other in a plastic bag in the fridge. Turn over every morning and evening for 1-2 days. It keeps for about a week in the fridge, but can also be frozen. You serve it thinly sliced.

We often eat graved salmon for dinner, with potatoes (boiled or mashed, or even gratined), with a salad and hovmästarsås (= steward sauce). This can be purchased in any Swedish supermarket, but it´s also very easy to make: you mix 3 tablespoons of mustard, 1 tablespoon of sugar, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Then, add 100 ml of oil (rapeseed or something like that) while whipping the mixture hard, not unlike the way you make mayonnaise. Add some dill. This sauce works well with smoked salmon as well, or boiled crab, according to my cookbook. Boiled crab? We never do that.

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