Surströmming

Or “soured herring” is a Northern Swedish delicacy consisting of fermented Baltic herring.  I actually thought it meant “canned fish that smells like death”.  Thanks to Anders, a former postdoc in Chelsea’s lab we got to try this famous dish.

Anders specially packaged this container and brought it here from Sweden just for us to enjoy with him.  He was actually quite worried, because the cans are very pressurized due to the active bacteria inside, and the customs officers didn’t respect his careful packaging very much.  Actually its been rumored that some airlines have banned these cans from being taken aboard due to the possibility of explosion.

The cans are often opened either outdoors or underwater to lessen the smell, and protect the opener from being soaked in brine.  You can see the effect of the fermentation on the pressure above by the bubbles present in the water.

Here are the little fish packed in the can.  There were about 10-12 little herring in one can.  I know that doesn’t seem like much fish, but trust me that was more than enough for 5 people.

Sorry to disgust everyone, but I had to show the aftermath of the dissections.  Each fish has to be sliced open and the meat separated from the bones/carcass.  The roe is ok to eat, but the sperm should be avoided.  It took a little while to cut up each fish, but after that we were ready to put it together on a sandwich.

The sandwich consists of a small flat cracker (we used matzo crackers as a substitute for the real thing), which is then buttered.  Boiled potatoes were the next layer, followed by onion, and then finally the fish and a top cracker.  The fish was best used sparingly.  Also – pair with beer.

Here is a picture of Chelsea enjoying her first of three sandwiches.

I think everyone will agree with me that the smell packaged in these cans was horrible.  If I didn’t know this was a specialty dish there is no way I would have imagined it would be edible.  I would probably categorize it as a cross between dead mouse stuck in the attic and rotten fish.  As a pleasant surprise, it didn’t taste much like it smelled.  Ok – maybe a little bit, but the flavor is mostly salty fish.  Overall, I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to try this dish from another culture.  I would recommend it, or at least a small sandwich of it.  Thanks Anders.

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