Oskar's Surströmming Fileer

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They say you can't believe everything you read on the Internet.  In that vein, I viewed the flurry of information that appeared regarding Sweden's prized fermented surstromming.jpgBaltic herring with no small amount of skepticism.  As I consider myself to be generally open-minded and willing to try almost anything once, I went out and searched for some of my own.  It wasn't easy, nor cheap, but I did manage to find a Swedish retailer willing to send two cans of surströmming to the United States, and they were shipped promptly.

After boiling the potatoes and chopping the onions, I set everything up on the outside table.  Trust me, you really want to be sure you only ever open a can of surströmming when you're outside, preferably when the neighbors are all on vacation for a while.  Following custom, I submerged the can into a mixing bowl full of water and went at it with the opener.  At first, I was amused to observe the escaping fermentation gasses and the bit of fish that poked around the edge of the can as I continued to open it.  My amusement quickly gave way to horror as the smell reached me.  I would describe the aroma of surströmming as a heady mixture of rotten fish, stagnant ocean water, low-rent house of ill repute on a Saturday night in midsummer, and rusty water.  It was this last bit - the metallic smell - that really stuck with me, and continues to linger on my hands several hours and many scrubbings later.  My daughter, never one to restrain her opinions on matters of taste, plugged her nose and ran crying into the house.  From there, she watched me through the window with a horrified expression as I continued my taste test.

Put simply, it was impossible to consider anything that smelled this bad as being edible.

Nevertheless, I was convinced that perhaps there was a taste reward that justified this olfactory offense, and so I carried on preparing the surströmming in what has been described as the traditional manner - on crisp bread, topped with creme fraiche, red onions, and boiled potatoes.  Honestly, it looked pretty good on the plate, and I can imagine such a dish being downright tasty.  Putting aside one last lingering concern that I might perhaps be making a horrible mistake, I picked up the crisp bread and took a bite.

Initial impressions?  It was very salty, somewhat less so than anchovies but more so than smoked fish.  Flavor was obviously very fishy, but not unpleasantly so.  The mouth feel was soft and slightly rubbery, but overall not bad.  Then that metallic-dead-fish-in-an-iron-barrel smell worked its way to the back of my palate, and any notion that this might be a pleasant experience dissolved in a torrent of autonomic nervous system responses.  That was enough to convince me to abandon my experiment, and I spent the next five seconds or so drinking the pint of hard cider in the background of the picture.

Surströmming is a truly amazing dish.  To suggest that it's an acquired taste is akin to suggesting that self-immolation is not a pastime that just anyone would enjoy more than once.  I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone.  On that note, I have an extra tin of this stuff, and am willing to give it to anyone who promises not to use it inappropriately.

Overall, an interesting idea, and now I can say I've tried it once.  I am, however, thoroughly traumatized by the experience and will never, ever try this again.  0 stars, fully biohazardous.


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After seeing the brutal treatment I gave to Mr. Maujean in last week's article on chicken farming, our fellow Leisure Nouveau writers demanded of our board of directors that I be submitted to the same grueling torture.  Consequently, last... Read More

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That sounds horrific! I've got to try that stuff. I call dibs on the second tin, and I'll make sure I make Jesse eat the stuff with me.

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