06 October 2009


In addition to crayfish parties the autumn is also the season for another, more controversial Swedish speciality from the ocean: surströmming. A quick poll at Tue's department indicated that only a minority amongst contemporary young Swedes enjoy this dish - most apparently have never tried it, but all believe to know that it smells and tastes horrible. Knowing this, it is perhaps not too surprising that it was one of the Polish colleagues that invited Tue over to taste surströmming.

But what is surströmming? Strömming is actually herring - and here some might object that herring is called sill in Swedish, which is correct, but according to a royal directive from the 16th century herrings caught in the Baltic Sea are to be traded as strömming.

The prefix sur- (sour) stems from the fact that surströmming is made by letting rinsed and salted fish ferment is open barrels and later canning them. The fermentation continues in the can, building up some pressure. Therefore carefulness is adviced when opening the cans and most airlines have banned cans of surströmming in the luggage.

Our host had tried this a few times before and looked quite the pro as he showed how the can can be opened under water, as an alternative to stepping out into the cool autumn night and opening the can outside as is otherwise advocated. Subsequently he rinsed the contents of the tin a few times under running cold water, and then they were ready.

But why all the fuss? For the simple reason that the contents of the can have a quite peculiar and piercing smell: A pungent mix of fish and rancid fat with a hint of rotten eggs and something sourish. Our host implored us to be extra careful not to drop anything on his furniture. Meanwhile, the French participant this evening was not impressed, quote: "Where I come from we have cheeses that are more pungent..."

Regarding the taste, the most remarkable feature is how strongly salty the fillets are. Traditionally they are cut in small pieces and are eaten in a sandwich made from Swedish 'thin bread', slices of boiled potato, raw onions, chives and preferably sour cream. Tue found them to be edible when surrounded by sufficient amounts of bread, potato and onion - but he still prefers a good old-fashioned pickled herring. Supposedly, there is a different version also, made from whole fish - it is said to taste differently, but on the other hand one then has to gut the fermented fish at the table...


chall said...

I like it outside with potatoes to lessen the smell :) then again, it's usually a lot of snaps and singing too.

Andrew said...

So, it is basically pickled herring on steroids, ie, with some fermentation funk added in for good measure?

t said...

Snaps would be good with it for sure - but since the host on this occasion was Polish we had vodka...

Andrew said...

"Alsof een engeltje over je tong piest."

Literal Translation: "Like a little angel pissing on your tongue."

(idiomatic meaning is "it's delicious" )

Not sure why your post reminded me of this... :)