A “Totally Swedish” moment
March 29, 2019
Putting together a simple Smörgåsbord
I’ve been writing about the Nordic food adventures I had in January while on a brief weekend in Stockholm, and since then I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen.
Quantities and measurements needn’t be too precise, these are as much processes as recipes; proportions are important but not inflexible. If you’re looking for exact recipes, read to the end of this post.*
For the gravlax, use enough pickling mixture to “bury” the fish completely. (“Gravlax” derives from the Swedish for “buried salmon”).
It’s worth buying a good big bunch of dill from a greengrocer, it will be enough for the gravlax and the skagen salad. A sprig from the supermarket just won’t be big enough.
The Stockholm weekend introduced me to this simple salad, also called Skagenröra. The Swedish prawns seemed smaller than the ones you typically find here, but not as small as those little brown Dutch shrimps you can find here in punnets. I buy the smallest peeled Greenland prawns from my fishmonger and cut them into two or even three pieces. It’s worth the trouble, they’re more enjoyable to eat if you can scoop them onto your toast with a fork. In Sweden they’re often served with orange or black fish roe and crisp slices of white bread fried in butter on the side.
Combine them with good quality mayonnaise (commercially made is fine – life’s too short….) and a generous handful of chopped dill. Don’t overload the prawns with mayo. I like to incorporate a dab of good Dijon mustard into the mix, or you might prefer horseradish.
The name ‘Gravlax’ derives from the Swedish for “buried salmon”.
Take a thick piece of fresh salmon fillet. Combine an equal quantity of salt flakes and sugar with plenty of chopped dill and a pinch of white or black pepper. (I recently used 250g (12oz) fish, which needed 1.5 tablespoons each of salt and sugar. Increasing the proportion of sugar is supposed to give a creamier texture).
Lay the fish skin-side down in a non-reactive dish. “Bury” the fish in the dry mixture, cover with clingfilm, then place a weight (e.g. tins) to press it down, and refrigerate for two days to extract moisture. The pressure results in a firmer gravlax.
After two days drain the liquid, rinse off the marinade with cold water, and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Cover and leave for two more days to complete the curing, after which it will keep for several days in the fridge. Cut slices off the skin as needed; thinly at an angle, or thicker slices vertically if you prefer.
“Chalk stream trout” has recently appeared on restaurant menus, and in fishmongers. It’s farmed in Hampshire close to the River Test. It’s lean and mild with a striking colour, and makes a good gravlax.
The Swedish name for trout is “Öring“, so this version should probably be called gravdöring.
Quick Pickled Cucumbers
I used to peel and de-seed the cucumbers, but they quickly lost texture in the pickling liquor. I recently discovered small Lebanese cucumbers in my local greengrocers which stay crunchy and sweet.
Bring a tablespoon each of sugar and salt to the boil with enough vinegar and water to fill your jar, and allow to cool. I like to use cider vinegar to make pickles, it’s less assertive than other vinegars.
Put your sliced cucumbers into the clean jar and cover them with the liquid. Infuse with aromatics if you wish: a sprig of dill and a few mustard seeds perhaps.
The pickles are ready to eat the same day, any left over will keep a few days in the fridge. Your guests will love them.
I’ve recently discovered a Carrot and Rye loaf at Ole & Steen, a Danish bakery and coffee chain in London and Oxford. It’s light and moist, it keeps for several days, and it’s the perfect vehicle for open sandwiches. Ask them to slice it on setting No 10, which is the thickest they can do.
If you’re not within reach of a branch of Ole & Steen, look for a light rye bread, pumpernickel, or wholemeal at a pinch.
(Disclosure: I have yet to try making my own).
Swedish pickled herrings are usually small pieces of tender fillet in a mild pickling liquid. If you like something with a more vinegary punch, this version from Norfolk should suit you.
Accompany with Akvavit, and singing; optional, or obligatory if you’re Swedish.
Black or red “Caviar” is easy enough to find, but for more specialist Swedish products, Totally Swedish can provide them in their two London shops, or on line.
(It can’t be a coincidence that The Swedish School in London, founded 1907, is also located in Barnes).
66 Barnes High Street, London SW13 9LD 020 8487 2882
*The Nordic Cookbook
If you’re tempted to ‘try this at home’, the definitive source of recipes is the 767 pages of The Nordic Cookbook by Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson. It’s a fascinating insight into the food and culture of the Nordic countries, illustrated with beautiful photographs by the author.
He might even tempt you try an Icelandic tradition – trout, cold-smoked over burning sheep’s dung.
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