In Britain this Christmas, between us we will eat around ten million turkeys. In the USA, over Thanksgiving, the yanks consume 60 million birds.
If the thought of slaughter on such an epic scale turn turns your stomach, here we have an alternative.
Fish. It’s an underrated festive flavour. But don’t get your carp rod in a quiver because we’re not about to suggest you plunder your local lake. For our fishy feast, we’re heading North for a delicious Nordic Christmas.
Whether or not meat is on the menu this Christmas, a dish of gravadlax makes for a great side and is a good alternative to smoked salmon too. In the middle ages, Swedish fishermen would bury some of their catch on the beach. It’s thought the salt in the sand and the fermentation of the fish stopped it going off. These days, you won’t need sand to make gravadlax, just salt, sugar, dill and a fridge freezer.
You need: a fillet of fresh salmon, salt, castor sugar, black peppercorns, dill. Cling film.
How to make it. Mix even quantities of crushed sea salt and castor sugar. You need enough to liberally coat the whole flesh side of the fillet. Crush your black peppercorns – use as many as you like. Chop the dill.
Coat the flesh side of the fillet with the salt, sugar, pepper mixture. Cut it in half across the middle put the dill on top. Slap the two sides together like a salt sandwich. Wrap tightly in cling film. Put it in a bowl the fridge. Turn the package every 12 hours or so. Your gravadlax is ready to eat in 48 hours.
Give the fish a rinse, slice thinly. Eat.
Lutefisk is a traditional Norse food. It’s prepared from dried white fish, or dried salt cod. First the fish is steeped in cold water for a couple of days, then it’s steeped in water mixed with lye – a powerful alkali derived from potash. This eats away at the protein in the fish, changing its consistency to something akin to jelly. After two days of this, the fish is now too caustic for consumption so it’s soaked for a further five or six days in fresh water, before being cooked briefly and served.
In particular, lutefisk made from cod is renowned for smelling utterly revolting. This combined with its gelatinous texture and the potential for it to taste of soap makes lutefisk something of an acquired taste. But for something different to serve your Christmas guests this season, you might like to give it a try. Then again, you might not.
The translation of the name of this popular Swedish Christmas dish is Jansson’s temptation. Jansson was a famous Scandinavian opera singer during the early part of the 20th century – and what was he was tempted by? Sprats.
To make yourself a tasty sprat casserole, you need: potatoes, an onion, several sprat fillets (tinned are fine), cream, salt and pepper, butter, and breadcrumbs.
Chop your onion, then fry gently in butter. Chop the spuds into thin strips, put them with the onion and fry until semi-cooked. Take an oven dish. Use half the onion, potato mixture to make a layer. Season. Place a layer of sprats on top. Repeat. Cover in cream. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake at 200C until the potatoes are cooked – about 45 mins. Eat.
A favourite with the Finns, salt herrings are in fact a 14th century Dutch invention. Fresh herrings are gutted leaving the liver and pancreas in. Next the fish are oak barrelled in brine for a few months. Enzymes in the remaining fish innards help to give the steeping fish a distinctive flavour.
Before consuming salt herrings, you first need to soak them in fresh water. Thats because after six months in the barrel, the salt content of the fish can be as high as 12 – 14%. Lightly salted versions are available though, with a typical salt content of 6 – 7%.
Roe and milt
Never ones to waste a tasty part of the fish, roe and milt are popular additions to the Nordic Yuletide repast. Caviar is king of fish roes but there are many more affordable fish eggs you can spread on your toast. Try Finland’s ‘golden caviar’, made from the roe of the Vendace – a member of the salmon family. To make it go further mix with creme fraiche and finely chopped onion.
Fish roe we like – milt we’re not convinced about. While we’re sure its creamy texture and mild flavour make it a joy to spread over a cracker, the thought of eating cooked, chilled fish semen is a little more than we can bear. Anyone for roast turkey?