This Swedish specialty is made from a Baltic strain of small herring called strömming, which is fermented in cans (sur means ‘soured’). The Swedish delicacy called surströmming is not for the fainthearted.
Eating it is not for the fainthearted, though in Scandinavia it has a large and eager following. The taste is acid, cheesy, intoxicating and redolent of rotten eggs for those who have acquired the taste.
Related: Scandinavian Gravad Fish
A Swedish Delicacy Called Surströmming
The herrings are fermented with lactic acid first, then lightly salted in huge barrels, and then canned. The fermentation continues in the can, turning it into a football shape in a matter of months. The can virtually explodes when opened, which is why this is generally done out of doors, far from the habitation.
Several international airlines have forbidden taking these cans on board, so you’d better try this particular specialty in situ.
The treatment dates back at least 5,000 years
The treatment of the strömming dates back at least 5,000 years and is known throughout the north and Russia, too. The Romans used an almost identical process to make their famed spice sauce, garum, which they used to flavor almost anything. The process was invented at a time when salt was scarce, and you used only as much salt as is necessary to prevent putrefaction – thus leaving room for unharmful preserving bacteria and yeasts to take hold.
Related: Scandinavian Salted Fish
The fermentation process is similar to that used in producing all sorts of foods, but particularly cheese – hence the strong, rather cheesy taste.
A similar Norwegian specialty
The Norwegians produce a specialty similar to surströmming, called rakefisk, which is made from trout and fermented in closed jars. In Norway it’s widely eaten as a Christmas dish, and is easier for the uninitiated to eat as it is milder and less cheesy.
Both surströmming and rakefisk are eaten on soft crispbread, with onion and sour cream, or with waxy potatoes and the same accompaniments as a main dish.
A Swedish Delicacy Called Surströmming, written by Tor Kjolberg