Surstremming - Swedish herring with a smell

There is a delicacy in the Swedish national cuisine that stands out among other dishes and deserves special attention. We are talking about surströmming - the famous Swedish herring "with a smell". For a person inexperienced in Swedish cuisine, this name, most likely, will not cause much reaction, but in Sweden itself there can be only two options for the relationship. Surstremming is either adored or disliked so much that they require a ban on its use in apartment buildings, and some airlines have banned the inclusion of this dish in the onboard menu. And there are several reasons for such a different attitude. Fans are said to find the subtle, mildly spicy flavor of surstremming unmatched.

However, not everyone dares to appreciate the taste of this Swedish fish delicacy, because if the taste of surstremming is a real pleasure, then the smell is more than a severe test. The smell of Swedish pickled herring is so unpleasant that most foreigners never dare to try it. Because of the strong, almost unbearable smell, surstremming got rather unsightly names: “herring with a smell”, and “Swedish rotten herring”, and “herring of the second freshness”. All these names are completely unfair - and there are two mistakes. Firstly, not herring, but Baltic herring is used for production, and secondly, the fish for this dish is taken of the best quality. All aromatic features are associated with the cooking technology.

The recipe for real surstremming is over five hundred years old. In the 16th century, during the hostilities led by the Swedish king Gustav I Vasa with the German city of Lubeck, there was a shortage of salt reserves. In this regard, the herring was salted with less salt, which disrupted the normal canning process, and the product began to ferment. In an atmosphere of war and famine, fermented herring began to be eaten. To everyone's surprise, it did not taste like rotten meat at all, and some even liked its sour taste. The fish is not rotten, but "sour". Rumors began to circulate about the new dish, and since salt was expensive even in peacetime, in northern Sweden, where fresh produce was not easy, fermenting herring became a common method of preserving herring among the poor. According to the tradition, enshrined in a royal decree, it was possible to open jars of pickled herring only on the third Thursday of August. This decree was canceled only in 1998, after which fans of surstremming can feast on it all year round.

The technology for preparing Swedish herring is as follows: small Baltic herring caught in the spring before spawning is soaked for several days in brine (high concentration saline solution). This removes fat and blood. After that, for two months, the fish is rolled into barrels with a less concentrated saline solution, in which it begins to ferment and acquires a specific softness, and a corresponding unbearable smell.

After two months, around July, the fermented herring is rolled into cans, and the fermentation process continues there. By the way, cans with surstremming are easy to spot on the counter: because of the high pressure inside them, canned food acquires a noticeable rounded shape. Fermented herring is produced mainly in the northern coastal regions, in the province of Norrland.

The process of using already matured surstremming also has a number of distinctive features. As mentioned above, the fermentation process continues even after the herring has been packaged in cans and excess pressure is created inside them. Therefore, canned food with surstremming is opened only under water in order to equalize the pressure.

Otherwise, anyone who dares to open pickled herring in the open air will be completely sprayed with fish brine, and things will inevitably be spoiled. It is also advisable to open the jar outdoors so that the pronounced smell of falling does not attract flies. After the can is opened, the surströmming is rinsed well under running water. And only after that the famous pickled Swedish herring can be served to the table.

The traditional version of the use of Swedish herring is a kind of sandwich with pickled herring. Butter or soft cheese made from goat whey is spread on unleavened barley bread. Lay a layer of herring on top, and on it circles of potatoes and finely chopped onions. Then the bread is rolled up and eaten in this form by hand. The rich taste of herring is complemented by sweet potatoes and spicy onions. You can drink a sandwich with surstremming with vodka in Russian. True, true connoisseurs prefer milk.