1. The easiest way to make this dressing is to toss all the ingredients into a food processor and wizz together. But if you don’t have one, start by chopping the dill very finely.
2. Mix with vinegar, salt, sugar and then finally add the oil. Drizzle over leaves, beetroot, lentils and crumbled goats cheese. Alternatively, use to dress green beans and peas and serve with fish.
Gravad lax is probably among the more famous Scandinavian dishes- and rightfully so. It merits high praise indeed for its melt-in-the-mouth texture and salty-sweet flavour. Although technically curing the fish preserves it rather than leaving it raw, gravad lax is often referred to as Scandi Sushi. And, sure, the texture is a bit similar, but the taste is completely different.
Gravad actually means ‘buried’ in Swedish (and other, less important, Scandinavian languages). And yes, that image you are now conjuring up of a bunch of Vikings standing around a hole in the ground, knives in hand, ready for their dinner to emerge from the ground, is not too far off the truth. In the middle ages, fish was buried in sand and left to ferment before everyone tucked in. Yummy.
These days, gravad lax is still buried- in a mixture of salt, sugar and dill. And I can totally understand if this whole curing raw fish thing seems a bit scary. And I’m right there with you, I was terrified. But if you follow some straightforward but vital tips, it is not only perfectly safe, but also ridiculously easy- and delicious.
So here are my three rules for gravad lax:
1. The first is to get really fresh salmon, ask your fishmonger when it was caught. I got mine from Billingsgate Fish Market, which is luckily just a hop and a skip away from our flat.
2. The second is a very well-rehearsed practice in Sweden, but I couldn’t find much mention of it in any of the English recipes I found on the Internet. So here it is: when you get home, freeze the fish immediately and leave for 24 hours. This is to kill off any parasites. Again, yummy.
3. And finally, once you have cured the fish and it is resting in the fridge, make sure you turn it over in its plastic bag/clingfilm a couple of times a day.
I’m also including a recipe for the traditional hovmästarsås- the maitre d’ sauce. There are many different twists on gravad lax that play on the salty/sweet flavours by adding honey or syrups, soy, citrus, teriyaki, etc. to the accompanying sauce. For me, though, nothing beats this classic.
You will need:
1kg salmon ( roughly 2 x 500g whole fillets with the skin still on)
50 g salt
50 g caster sugar
1 tbsp white peppercorns, crushed
bunch fresh dill
For the sauce:
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
|50 g mustard (Dijon will do the trick)|
|1 tbsp caster sugar|
|1 pinch salt|
|1 pinch ground white pepper|
|100 ml sunflower oil|
|bunch of fresh dill, chopped
|1. To cure the salmon, first wash the fillets and pop in the freezer. After 24 hours in the freezer, remove and allow to thaw a little. Pat with some kitchen roll.|
|2. Mix together the sugar, salt and pepper. Add the dill, roughly torn.|
|3. Rub the mixture into the salmon fillets and place on top of each other, skin sides facing outwards. Place these in a large zip lock bag or wrap in cling film.|
|4. Put in the fridge for two days, turning frequently to distribute the salt/sugar mixture.|
I think it is about time I tackled the dish most stereotypically associated with Sweden. The mighty… the classic… the evocative… the no-introduction-required…. meatball.
I have deliberately avoided the subject so far, aware that I could not do so for long and dreading it at the same time. Because the issue is this- I don’t know how to reclaim the meatball. I am all too conscious of its connotations: Meatballs paint a picture of a Sweden filled with blond, Volvo-driving Abba-fans who went through Utopian school systems and have 24 hour access to faultless health care. Meatballs never get bored during Ingmar Bergman films. And so on…
(There is also the Swedish Chef of Sesame Street fame, of course. But I actually wrote a food column for my university paper entitled the Swedish Chef, so I’ve made my peace with that particular cultural caper. I’ve embraced it.)
But now I feel ready to set the record straight: the Ikea, factory-style portions are not the meatballs that I grew up with. OK, so sometimes they weren’t all that dissimilar, a nursery-food, fresh from the freezer and served with macaroni and ketchup (and kind of glorious, to be honest). But they also feature in my childhood memories as lovingly home-made, part of the ‘julbord’ (literally- Christmas table, the buffé style meal eating during the holidays) or served up for a special occasion. Because the truth is that meatballs, although not difficult to make per se, do require a lot of patience. It takes a bit of practise to understand the ratio of mince/onion/breadcrumbs and to know when they are going to be too gloopy and stick to the pan. It takes a frying pan you know well and feel confident with. But, above all, it takes time. Meatballs are small and you have to roll each one individually, using the palms of your hands- a messy and slightly gruesome business. And time-consuming.
Meatballs in Sweden are served in all manner of ways, with pasta, in sauces and with different flavours (this Christmas, my godfather made some flavoured with ginger and cinnamon). I have a healthier recipe on file (equal parts mince and lentil), which I serve with bulgar wheat. The possibilities are endless. But if I am honest, I really enjoy serving them with quite traditional, dare I say it, even slightly kitsch accessories- new potatoes with dill (a Swedish staple, but mash is a substitute of equal merit), ‘brown’ sauce (a creamy gravy), grated carrot salad, lingonberry jam (available form the Scandinavian Kitchen) and, finally, some hard bread with strong cheese. Perhaps this is because when I am back in London I do that typical expat thing of actually behaving more Swedish than the Swedes proper.
And so, just for you, here is my grandmother’s definitive recipe (although I find mine never live up to hers). I hope you appreciate it. It makes for about 4 portions, or two hungry people with leftovers (for a meatball sandwich the next day- fantastic, although often served decorated with a slice of orange back in Sweden. Peculiar.)
She has added two secret and imperative ingredients: A stock cube for extra flavour and a pinch of sugar. Apparently the sugar is particularly controversial, but she says she once heard the famous Swedish chef, Tore Wretman, on the radio saying that it’s what he did too and since then she felt vindicated.
You will need:
500 g of lean mince
1 dl* breadcrumbs
1 large egg
2 dl* water
1 stock cube
1 medium sized onion
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
Butter or margarine
1. First, bring the kettle to boil, put your breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Dissolve the stock cube in the water and pour over the breadcrumbs. Leave to ‘swell’ for about 10 minutes.
2. Grate the onion with the coarse side of the grater into the stock mixture. Add the mince, egg, sugar, plenty of pepper and a pinch of salt.
3. Mix until well-combined. You may want to get your hands in there. At this point, my grandmother tastes the raw mixture to see if it needs more seasoning, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Instead, get your frying pan on a high heat and melt some butter in it.
4. Form a couple of balls, rolling between your palms. They should have a circumference no bigger than a £2 coin. Fry in the pan, turning when brown and crisp on the outside. This should take a few minutes per side. Taste them and see if the mixture needs more seasoning.
5. Form the rest of the meatballs and fry in the pan, tossing and flipping as you wish.
6. Serve with mash or new potatoes, some dill, salad, lingonberry jam and a cream-based gravy sauce. And a cold beer, of course.
* The decilitre is used a lot in Swedish cooking. It is used for volume and basically is the solid equivalent of 100 ml, if that makes sense. So just use a measuring jug and fill up to the 100 ml line unless you have dl measuring cups.