Never has rotten fish smelled so bad but tasted so good. Small Baltic herring are caught in the spring, salted and left to ferment at leisure before being stuffed in a tin about a month before it hits the tables and shops. The fermentation process continues in the tin; ‘souring’ as the Swedes refer to it, and results in a bulging tin of fermented herring or surströmming. The aroma is pungent, and the taste is rounded yet piquant with a distinct acidity. Not all Swedes eat it, but the dish has become increasingly popular, even among gourmets. While sour herring is a Swedish tradition, it is also fair to say that those who eat it do so because they like the taste. Fermented Baltic Sea herring has been a traditional northern Swedish cuisine since at least the 16th century.
How to eat the sour herring
As considerable pressure has built up in the tin, it should be opened under water. You then wash the herring before serving it. The tin should be opened outdoors but its contents are best eaten indoors as the smell attracts flies.
Sour herring has a strong, pungent smell of rotting fish. Enthusiasts love this smell while newcomers reel back in shock. But a well-prepared fermented herring doesn’t taste the way it smells. On the contrary. The taste is simultaneously rounded and sharp, spicy and savoury. Accoutrements are needed, however, to maintain a balance.
The traditional way of eating sour herring is wrapped in a ‘thin-bread’ sandwich (klämma). You butter the bread, place the gutted herring on it together with slices of almond-shaped potato (mandelpotatis) and chopped onion, fold it up and eat it with your hands. The slight sweetness of the potato and onion offsets the sharp, intense taste of the fish perfectly. In northern areas, people butter their bread with soft whey-cheese made from goat’s milk (getmessmör), as well as with ordinary butter. The sour herring premiere takes place at the end of August, when the spring catch comes onto the market. True enthusiasts, however, eat the previous year’s vintage. By that time, the herring is fully matured and tender.
-The time is here to open the cans. Welcome!