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4 Swedish dinners: #3 - Stekt strömming

4 Swedish dinners: #3 - Stekt strömming
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  • 4 Swedish dinners: #3 - Stekt strömming

    Post #1 - June 28th, 2006, 3:58 pm
    Post #1 - June 28th, 2006, 3:58 pm Post #1 - June 28th, 2006, 3:58 pm
    Where would Sweden be without herring? There are even two names for them. "Strömming" is the word reserved for herring from the northern Baltic. It is actually its own species that has adapted to the Baltic's brackish waters (they are smaller, have fewer vertebra and smaller heads and are fatter - all in all, stunted from their life in non-"normal" conditions). "Sill", harvested say from Stockholm and south, has more contact with saltwater and is therefore basically the same as what we would call herring.


    I picked up these "strömming" at Stockholm's premier fish market. Yet, even with this noble background, they only cost me 15 kronor (2 dollars). Parking outside this market cost me 3 times that! Tolls into town cost me double! Now I understand why they are getting hard to find - fishermen can hardly be bothered to catch them anymore... Their eye's look cloudy but that's a result of my flash - they were caught only a matter of hours previously.

    A short time later and I was at home and ready to cook. The ingredients:


    Butter, cucumbers that have been thinly sliced and quickly pickled (in distilled white vinegar, sugar, water and parsley), course-ground rye flour, salt, fingerling potatoes, dill, the filleted herring (laid one on top of each other) and a Duvel to dull the after effects of rush hour traffic (perhaps my only non-Swedish transgression this week...).

    Filleting the herring is simple: twist off their heads, pull out the innards, run your finger along the spine internally and towards the tail to loosen one fillet. Flip and gently pull out the backbone. All done! Place two fillets on top of each other, meat side to meat side, after salting and sprinkling the flesh with minced dill.

    Boil the potatoes and just before they get soft, gently fry the herring in plenty of butter:


    Press the potatoes and whip with milk, salt and butter. Plate the herring along with the mashed potatoes and cucumbers. I apologize for the glare in this photo - my flashless photo didn't focus...


    Tonight's drinks:


    The beer is called "Bärnsten" which translates to "amber". It is produced by what I easily consider to be Sweden's foremost brewery, "Jämtlands Bryggari", located in a small town in north-central Sweden. It is a well-balanced lager - neither dark or light. It worked very well with the strongly flavored fried herring. The snaps is named "Pors". "Pors" translates to "bog myrtle" but I'm not sure if it grows in the States. The flavor is hard to place - slightly bitter, a little medicinal, botanical and almost curry-like. Well, maybe not curry-like but I'd bet it would work well with curry flavors...

    One last note on Swedish herring. After thousands of years of consumption, herring as an ingredient is currently threatened. Baltic herring contains more dioxin than what is currently allowed by EU legislation. Sweden and a few other Nordic countries have a exception right now but it will be expiring within a few years. The health threats are negligible to all but the most die-hard herring eaters (herring fishermen, for example) even if pregnant and/or nursing women as well as young children are discouraged from eating them. Quite sad actually that 50-odd years of questionable environmental practices run the very-real risk of wiping out a few thousand years of food/national tradition.

    Enough of the harping - dinner was excellent! Perhaps tastiest of the 3 so far in all its simplicity.
  • Post #2 - June 28th, 2006, 5:53 pm
    Post #2 - June 28th, 2006, 5:53 pm Post #2 - June 28th, 2006, 5:53 pm
    Thanks for the pictures and the inspiring descriptions. I'm seriously contemplating booking passage on the Malmö ferry....
  • Post #3 - June 28th, 2006, 6:34 pm
    Post #3 - June 28th, 2006, 6:34 pm Post #3 - June 28th, 2006, 6:34 pm
    Thank you, Bridgestone, I have been happily following your reports, as I am a longtime fan of Scandinavian food. In this installment of your series, I especially appreciated your elegant description of how to clean/fillet the fish. It seems intutive, but I doubt I would have attempted it (except in cases of rugged neccessity) had you not provided the instructions.

    You are making a fine contribution to developing our culinary horizons. I would welcome a report from you on the summer tradition of eating at outside tables at Fisk Rokerei (spelling?)-- Smoked Fish stands. From what I gathered on a recent trip, they seem to have the same place in Scandinavian summer eating that clam shacks have in New England.
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #4 - June 29th, 2006, 12:53 am
    Post #4 - June 29th, 2006, 12:53 am Post #4 - June 29th, 2006, 12:53 am
    Thanks for the kind words!

    Choey - Sounds like you are perhaps headed to Copenhagen. Of course you can take the ferry over (order a Carlsberg and a shot of "Gammel Dansk" and the short ride will take even less time). Heck, these days you can even take a taxi over the bridge. Just don't ignore the delights Copenhagen has to offer! Get a red, Danish hotdog from one of the hotdog stands you'll see that say "polsemannen" on them (do it like the Danes do - two dogs, lots of mustard and deep-fried onion bits and one bun, on the side and eaten as a condiment). Eat some "smorrebrod" (small, elaborate sandwiches) for lunch and taste some of the local, stinky cheeses ("svarta sara", "gamla ole"). Malmö has its cool parts (and you'll probably find a few of the dishes I've made there) but you'd be hard pressed to even find a Swede who'd choose it over Copenhagen. But I do appreciate your enthusiasm!

    Josephine - Your description of fish stands ("fiskrökeri", or simply: "rökeri") reminds me most of what I've heard described from the Baltic island of Bornholm. Bornholm is actually Danish but nationalities on most Baltic islands run second to island identity (well, the island of Gotland is firmly Swedish but Åland, half-way between Sweden and Finland is a finnish island where most people speak swedish...). Bornholm is known for its smoked herring (böckling in Swedish, kippers in English and bornholmare in Danish) and the fact that you can purchase and eat them still-warm direct from the stands. I can add, though, that Stockholm's large, open-air and centrally located cultural park/zoo called "Skansen" normally has a stand set up where they produce "sotare" (literally, "chimney sweeps"!). These are, in fact, hastily grilled/smoked herring that devolop a charred crust and smokey flavor. If you find yourself in Stockholm and at Skansen (most people do eventually) - keep your eyes peeled for this delicacy!
  • Post #5 - June 29th, 2006, 1:38 pm
    Post #5 - June 29th, 2006, 1:38 pm Post #5 - June 29th, 2006, 1:38 pm
    Great posts, Bridgestone! I have a question about a salad 'vinaigrette' or dressing I made recently. It was a combination of heavy cream, lemon, grainy mustard, sugar and salt/pepper. I made it for a kohlrabi slaw I made, and a friend who tried the dressing said it was a very common Scandanavian dressing.

    Do you know anything about it? What it's called? Other varations?
  • Post #6 - June 29th, 2006, 1:48 pm
    Post #6 - June 29th, 2006, 1:48 pm Post #6 - June 29th, 2006, 1:48 pm
    crrush - Hmmm... I'm not so certain that I can think of an exact name or recipe for the dressing you made. I'll agree with your friend, though, in that the flavors are very scandinavian. In fact, take away the lemon and you've more or less got a traditional treatment for pickled herring. I made a batch of this type of pickled herring this year but followed Tina Nordström's (she's been mentioned in this forum once or twice) recipe of mixing store-bought "gravlax sauce" with an equal amount of creme fraiche and chopped dill. Sorry, getting sidetracked here...

    The sugar, mustard, cream (either fresh, sour or otherwise cultured) combination (+ dill) is a basic standby in the Swedish kitchen. Glad you enjoyed it and that you intuitively combined with a member of the cabbage family!
  • Post #7 - April 30th, 2008, 1:56 am
    Post #7 - April 30th, 2008, 1:56 am Post #7 - April 30th, 2008, 1:56 am
    Last night's dinner was fried herring. I had the camera handy so I thought I'd compliment this old post of mine.

    The herring were seriously cheap yesterday. 2 bucks and some change per pound! Those prices (even with the tough USD to SEK exchange rates right now) are unheard of over here for practically any type of edible good. Turns out that they were perhaps a day or two old and had been priced to sell. However, slightly old herring are much easier to clean than fresh so I was actually just as happy that they had a few land-based days on their shoulders.

    20 minutes of twisting, poking, pinching and sliding yielded:


    That's guts/heads/backbones (upper left), fillets (lower middle) and roe (upper right). The roe is yet another wonderful sign of spring and I couldn't bring myself to pitch it.


    Cleaned and ready to go:


    (By the way, the small bones really don't make much fuss in the finished product and are packed with calcium. One Swedish trick of getting around any unusually pesky bone while eating is to have a bit of crunchy flatbread at hand. A bite of crunchy bread masks the tickly bones and makes swallowing easier.)

    Lay out a row of fillets (these are whole, fillet herring, connected by the skin over the backbone), salt and sprinkle with chopped dill:


    Top with another fillet fish and repeat.

    Ready for a dredge in course rye flour and the frying pan:


    However, before frying the herring, I made a quick appetizer out of the roe. I simply dredged the roe lightly in the course rye flour and sauteed them lightly in butter:


    As soon as the eggs began to pop, I took them off of the heat and served them on a bit of hard, crunchy bread together with "kryddost" (aged, Swedish "Svecia" cheese flavored with cumin and cloves), chopped shallots, dill, a grind of black pepper and sour cream.


    Wonderful and mild, the roe was a treat. I was convinced that I'd be eating this concoction alone but my three children quickly gobbled up 80% of "my" sandwich...

    Slightly sated, our attention turned to the herring. A quick dredge in the rye flour, butter in the pan and only medium heat (otherwise the smoke and smell too much):


    Any real Swede will tell you that herring can only be served with mashed potatoes (and perhaps pickled cucumbers as in my previous post) but I, being the freethinking 'Murcan I am, cheated and served with asparagus:


    Melted butter drizzled over the finished herring would be welcome and appropriate.