Pickled Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

I read some years ago in The New Yorker about an elderly woman who attributed her longevity to eating herring. I’d like to think she was onto something. Nordic cooking was the underdog of fine dining until restaurants like Noma and Fäviken started popping up throughout the region, but those who had tasted its wealth of flavors knew that the rest of the world was missing out.

I interviewed a Nordic cookbook author last week for an article I am writing. She pointed out something I’ve long known and have tried to articulate, that Nordic food is not the bland cuisine that so many people think it to be. We talked about the stereotypes, and how many people associate the food with the mild flavors of potatoes and lutefisk. I’ll be honest, I had that misconception for a long time, too, despite growing up tasted some amazingly flavorful Scandinavian dishes and foods, including smoked and cured fish, pickled vegetables and herring, and an array of spices present in Scandinavian cooking thanks to the trading of centuries past. Biff à la Lindström features the bright, punchy flavors of capers and pickled beets. The Swedish meat-and-potatoes stew known as sjömansbiff gets a lively pickup from those same beets and some pats of whole-grain mustard. Showers of fresh dill brighten many dishes. And then there’s pickled herring.

Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

Even as a child I appreciated the bold flavor of pickled herring, plucking little oily bites of herring out of smorgasbord bowls with toothpicks, savoring them like fish candy. (Come to think of it, that doesn’t necessarily sound appealing, though you may understand what I mean if you also have a taste for pickled herring.)

But while the punch of salt-and-vinegar may be pleasing, Scandinavians also value balance and restraint, as demonstrated in this smørrebrød. As the sun began to fade one recent afternoon, I hurriedly mixed up a simple egg salad and carefully mounded it on slices of buttered rye bread. Even in Seattle, where we don’t truly experience the mørketid, I find myself craving the sunlight and celebrating the longer days that come in the spring. Arranging bite-sized herring pieces on top, I finished the sandwiches with paper-thin slices of radishes and feathery sprigs of dill. I had just enough time to capture the last of the afternoon light through my camera lens and then take a bite. The intense flavor of pickled herring was there, as bold as ever, but softened, more refined, on the bed of soft eggs. Fresh radish and dill pointed to the changing seasons and offered a contrast–not only in texture and color, but also in fresh versus preserved, a signal that winter is transitioning to spring, a time in which nature relaxes and unfurls, allowing even the more delicate of plants to flourish and thrive.

I’m not sure if there’s anything to that elderly woman’s story of herring granting her longevity, aide from the fish’s healthy oils, but I’ll keep eating it–with hopes for health and long life, of course, but mostly because I love it.

Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

Pickled Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød
Adapted from Simon Bajada’s lovely book, The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen (Hardie Grant Books, 2015)

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt, to taste
2 Tablespoons butter
4 slices rye bread
8 ounces pickled herring fillets, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces, onions reserved if possible
4 radishes, sliced paper thin
Fresh dill, for garnish

In a small bowl, mix the chopped eggs and mayonnaise together with a fork. Give it a taste and add a little salt if necessary. Spread butter on the slices of bread. Spoon the egg salad evenly over them, then top with the pickled herring, including some of the sliced onion from the jar if you have them. Arrange the radish slices over the top, and garnish with dill.

Serves 4.

Easy, Elegant Shrimp Smørrebrød

Shrimp Smørrebrød Vertical

The art of the Scandinavian smørrebrød reflects something of abundance. Not gluttony, but rather a sense of appreciating the fullness of life’s blessings no matter the times, circumstances, or resources.

Cook simply, with creativity, quality ingredients, and love, and you’ll produce something elegant and you’ll be proud to bring to the table.

I’ve been thinking for several months about how the food of Scandinavia has long demonstrated elegance and hospitality even in tough times. Interviewing a cookbook author recently for an article confirmed that when she mentioned the food that Scandinavians would eat in time of poverty. The lesson I’m learning to distill from this: Cook simply, with creativity, quality ingredients, and love, and you’ll produce something elegant and you’ll be proud to bring to the table. And speaking of that table, dressing it with your finest linens and dishes can also elevate the experience.

This all brings me back to smørrebrød, or the open sandwiches that are popular in the Scandinavian countries. The word smørrebrød is so lively, conjuring up images of smearing soft, rich butter generously and evenly over a slice of bread. From there any number of toppings can be added, with shrimp, smoked salmon, and roast beef being some of the most well-known.

Assembling Shrimp Smørrebrød

Garnishing Shrimp Smørrebrød

…the sandwich takes on a civilized air and encourages the diner to slow down and enjoy the meal, to be in the moment with one’s company and to savor the food.

Though the smørrebrød pictured here appear simple–merely buttered bread topped with vivid green lettuce, a pile of shrimp, creme fraiche, cucumber, and lemon–the results are satisfying in a way that an ordinary sandwich, hastily thrown together and squished flat for transport to be eaten at work or on the go, isn’t. There’s an art to building smørrebrød, with rules for how they must be assembled, the care in presentation, and which type of bread must accompany a certain type of topping. Eaten with a fork and knife rather than held between one’s hands, the sandwich takes on a civilized air and encourages the diner to slow down and enjoy the meal, to be in the moment with one’s company and to savor the food.

Shrimp Smørrebrød Assembled

Going back to the idea of abundance for a moment, take a look at these sandwiches. Piled high with generous amounts of shrimp, they need only one slice of bread. Paired with a couple other varieties, they make a full, satisfying meal. And to think that they often require no cooking–just creativity, quality ingredients, and love.

Shrimp Smørrebrød with Lemon and Cucumber
This recipe is adapted from an NPR story, which itself is worth a read.  

2 slices hearty bread
1-2 tablespoons softened butter
2-4 leaves of lettuce
6 ounces shrimp
4 tablespoons creme fraiche
2 lemon slices
2 cucumber slices
1 sprig of dill

Smear the butter evenly over the bread, taking care to thinly and evenly cover the surface all the way to the ends. Cover fully with lettuce, then divide the shrimp between the two sandwiches, arranging them in neat piles in the center of the lettuce. Top each with a dollop of creme fraiche, and arrange a slice of lemon and cucumber on top. Garnish with dill.

Serves 2.

Shrimp Smørrebrød Horizontal

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