Scandinavian Sushi

Scandinavian Sushi

Scandinavian Sushi

When first I came to Scandinavia I worked for a Danish company based just outside of Copenhagen. In their cafeteria on every day of the week one could choose from several different types of pickled herring combined with various toppings and several different types of bread, many of them dark and grainy. I wasn’t wild about it at first, but it grew on me. I began to miss my pickled herring smörrebröd when I sat in London pubs – England was my other base during this phase of life.

Now that I have been living in Sweden for 13 years, I know that the summer cannot pass without a jar of sill or pickled herring in the refrigerator. There are many types that you can purchase in the shops, prepared in almost every imaginable marinade. The classic in Sweden is to lay a few slices on a starter plate with boiled new potatoes (peel unremoved) and soured cream. It is an elegant and exotic start to a meal even if you come from these parts. Sill is also a highlight at Christmas although at that time of year served with crisp bread rather than potatoes….but that is too far away to worry about just now.

Sill doesn’t feel like something you want to consume too much of at once. It has a richness as a result of the fact that herring is an oily fish and a strong flavor, imparted by the marinade, that makes small quantities in starter portions just right.

For some years there have been health concerns about the consumption of herring from the Baltic sea which was heavily contaminated by PCBs (Polychlorinated Byphenals used in refrigeration), methylmercury and dioxin-like compounds during the 1960s and 70s. In addition, overfishing severely reduced herring stocks to dangerously low levels.  The news for the Baltic seems positive, with sinking levels of these pollutants and collaborative efforts to control fishing. Still, best advice is to consume Atlantic or Pacific herring up to two times per week. If you are expecting, avoid consumption of fish from the Baltic entirely.

The good news is that sill is one of three types of oily fish (the others are mackerel and salmon) rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which protect against heart disease, among other clear health benefits. These fish are a great way to get the healthy fats that your body needs without eating ‘fat food’.

So, what is the trick for coming up with that tangy tasting sill that is one of the most common features of the Scandinavian smörgåsbord? Here is a basic recipe that you can vary according to taste and what herbs you’ve got available. You can consider adding other flavors such as juniper berries, sherry or garlic.

Pickled Herring

1 dl or 1/2 cup vinegar
6 dl or 2 1/2 cups water
3 dl or 1 1/3 cups sugar
800 g or 1.8 lbs (28 ounces) canned herring
20 Black and white pepper corns
2 red onions, sliced thinly
4 bay leaves
Clean pickling jars

Blend the vinegar, water and sugar and bring to simmering. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. During this time, chop the herring fillets into 2-3 cm or about 1 inch chunks and layer in clean jars with pepper corns, onions and bay leaves. Pour over the liquid so that it covers the fish and fills the whole jar. Seal and allow to marinade for 4 days.

Serve with your favorite dark bread, potatoes, sour cream and perhaps, for that extra health and flavor kick, beet root salad. The possibilities are endless.

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