Friday, October 14, 2011

Surströmming and surströmmingfest (Swedish fermented herring)

Surstömming party 2010

There's a popular evening show on Estonian national TV, called Ringvaade. About two weeks ago they had a brief section about the infamous Swedish delicacy, surströmming or fermented herring. There's a krog (tavern) on the island of Vormsi, called Krog №14 and they were holding a traditional surströmmingsfest in early October. On the show, the chef of the Krog was talking about the event and about surströmming, and then offered the host a chance to taste some of the fermented fish. The moment they opened the canned surströmming, the host looked utterly disgusted and although he later admitted that it didn't taste as bad as it smelled, he still named it No 2 in his list of the most awful food he has ever tasted (apparently he had eaten some barbecued cockroaches that tasted even worse).

This brought back "fond" memories. About a year ago we hosted a surströmmingfest ourselves. A colleague of my dear K., a cheeky middle-aged Swedish guy called Lars-Olof, offered to bring back some surströmming cans from Sweden, and K., ever so open to new culinary experiences (and experiments), said yes before even consulting with me. Let me know that this was certainly a culinary experience that will NOT become a tradition in our home.

After opening the first can in our kitchen, we quickly decided to move the surströmming-party outdoors. I could still smell the fish on the following morning, even though we cleaned up thoroughly after the party :)

We had actually about 20 people at the party, all with a Swedish connection - they had either lived or studied there, or they were Swedes living or working in Estonia. Here are three brave men preparing the surströmming:
Surströmming party 2010: Mehed surströmmingut prepareerimas

That's the way to do it: take some tunnbröd or flat wheat bread, smash some "almond potatoes" on top, garnish with finely chopped onions and top with the fish:
Surströmming & tunnbröd

One of our guests, Maarja, eagerly biting into the surströmming sandwich:
Surströmming party 2010: Maya

And we are thorough here over at the Nami-Nami kitchen. We didn't just hold a surströmmingfest, we had a comparative tasting of surströmming. Last autumn, we had three different types of surströmming - filleted fish canned in the same season 2010, whole fish canned in 2010 and whole fish canned in previous season 2009. The adventurous jury decided that the whole fish that had fermented over a year - although it looked most suspicious - was the best, taste-wise. It's like a good bottle of wine - ageing improves - and mellows - the flavour, apparently.

Surströmming party 2010

Overall, we had loads of fun and a great party (I didn't serve _just_ surströmming, of course - I'm not some Cruella de Vil, but a kind hostess. However, we did decide that this was a one-off event - the smell of surströmming is just a wee bit too overpowering, and not something we're keen to replicate at our home any time soon.

Sorry, Swedes :)

* As I was pregnant with our second child at the time, I restrained from eating the fermented fish for obvious reasons and acted as the photographer for the event :)


Anonymous said...

MMMMM,...that fermented herring looks intruiging! I must buy & try that some day!

Thanks for all of the info!Lovely pictures too! :)

greetings ftrom Belgium!

Profa said...

Eriti kelmikas on muidugi heeringataldriku tagant piiluv Rootsi auto:)


Katrina@TheGastronomicalMe said...

heh, I have had the honour of trying Surstromming and you know what - I rather liked it.

we did open the can in an open (public!) space and I had to almost squint my eyes and nose to approach the fish BUT, once you've tasted it you are amazed how delicate the flavour is. apparently, it is something to do with how our smelling apparatus works - from inside it's very different from the outside.

the tasting was part of last year's Oxford food symposium and we had a Swedish academic giving a whole paper on surstromming. I am very tempted now to go to the island in Sweden that's famous for making the canned fish (and I can't recall the name now...)

Herkkusuun lautasella said...

yeah, well one obvious thing to remember when eating surstörmming is to enjoy it out in the open, it is an acquired taste, it kind of grows on you when tasting it again and always remember to alert your neighbours living downwind about opening a can of surströmming;) at least that's been the custom in sweden in august when the surströmming-eating is in season. and the island you were talking about must be Ulvön, as it is considered the center of surströmming manufacturing.

ChichaJo said...

Oooh! Have never tried this...although we have some pretty funky smelling (but delicious!) food over here :) I do love raw herring (like in the Netherlands) though...can eat heaps, with onions on top!

Pille said...

Sophie - welcome :)

Profa - ma ise muidugi ei pannud seda üldse tähele, aga tõesti on me sõiduvahend kelmikalt peale jäänud ;)

Katrina - I remember reading about that! I WISH I could come to the Oxford symposium once..

Herkkusuu - thanks for the tip! I wasn't talking about Ulvön, but an Estonian island called Vormsi (Ormsö in Swedish). However, should I ever happen to visit Ulvön, I'll try the surströmming there!

Joey- it smelled much worse than it tasted, apparently :)