Preserved fish

Preserved fish

Yuki Sugiura

Out of all of the preserving that we Swedes do, conserving fish must surely hold the highest position. Whenever there were guests to entertain, parties to be held or holidays to celebrate, this would be the time for gravadlax, pickled herring in a range of flavours, and smoked fish and seafood. Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and Midsummer tables are not quite the same without a selection to choose from.

Then there is, of course, surströmming, literally “sour herring”. You might have heard about these bulging cans of fermented herring with their strong smell (so strong, in fact, that many believe it is illegal to open them in public places). Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t something that Swedes indulge in all that frequently; in fact, I’d venture to say that most haven’t even tried it. The more common ways we enjoy preserved fish are much more palatable (and legal). As the saying goes, surströmming is the only fish that is harder to eat than to catch.

Nonetheless, I can appreciate that the idea of preserving fish may seem intimidating, but rest assured that it is perfectly safe and not nearly as difficult as it sounds. I have included a few of my favourite recipes here which show off the fish in all its glory.

I particularly love juicy, smoked prawns [shrimp] with a simple dip, ideal for eating outside on a balmy summer’s evening. Always use the best-quality, freshest fish you can find – ask your fishmonger for assistance.

“Surströmming: den enda fisken som är svårare att äta än att fånga” [“Sour herring: the only fish that is harder to eat than to catch”] Swedish Saying

Gravadlax with pomegranate


Quantity Ingredient
2 pomegranates, halved
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons sea salt
1 small bunch dill, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
1 small bunch mint, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
500g sushi-grade salmon fillet, skin-on
creme fraiche, to serve


  1. Halve the pomegranates and put on an apron (this is not a job for your favourite white top!). Set a large sieve over a bowl and break up the pomegranates, squashing a bit to release the juice. Reserve the pomegranate seeds.
  2. Mix the sugar, peppercorns, sea salt and the herbs with the pomegranate juice. Line a baking sheet with plenty of cling film. Place the salmon on top and cover with the pomegranate mixture. Fold up the cling film and wrap in another layer. Place the tray in the fridge, weighed down with a few cans, for 2 days, turning every so often and draining off any excess liquid.
  3. Remove the cling film and brush off any excess herbs and spices. Thinly slice the salmon and scatter with the reserved pomegranate seeds, mint and dill. Serve with crème fraîche.

Pickled prawns with a mustard & chilli kick


Quantity Ingredient
400g cooked tiger or atlantic prawns

For the pickle

Quantity Ingredient
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
50ml cold-pressed rapeseed oil or olive oil
4 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red chilli flakes
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 celery stick, diced
150ml white wine vinegar


  1. Mix all the ingredients for the pickle together in a large jug. Pour over the prawns and leave in the fridge for 24 hours before serving in shot glasses as a canapé. Alternatively, serve on buttered toast as a starter or for a light lunch.

Smoked prawns with quick chilli mayo


Quantity Ingredient
100g sea salt
50g sugar
500g uncooked prawns, such as Atlantic or tiger, shell on
1 good handful wood chips, like oak, apple or cherry

For the quick chilli mayo

Quantity Ingredient
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 tablespoons creme fraiche
1/2 lime, zested and juiced
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sweet chilli sauce
or 1/2 teaspoon chipotle paste


  1. Begin by brining the prawns. In a large bowl, mix the salt and sugar together in 1.5 litres water. Stir until dissolved then add the prawns and refrigerate for about 30–40 minutes.
  2. Remove the prawns from the brine and pat completely dry.
  3. Set up your smoker. Line a large wok with a very generous layer of foil with lots of overhang all around. Add the wood chips to one side of the wok. Sit a wire rack on top of the wok, ideally one that just fits, and place the prawns on the rack on the opposite side to the wood chips. Top with a lid and seal the sides with the overhanging foil, using more if necessary to seal tightly, so that no smoke can escape.
  4. Place the wok over a medium heat and let the prawns smoke for about 10 minutes. When done, remove the foil and open the wok – I prefer to do this outside as there will be a lot of smoke.
  5. Mix all the ingredients for the chilli mayo together in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Serve straight away while the prawns are still warm, or refrigerate the prawns and mayo and serve cold.

Smoked mackerel with lapsang souchong


Quantity Ingredient
4 mackerel fillets, skin on and pin-boned
100g rice
2 tablespoons demerara or light brown sugar
1 tablespoon tea leaves, ideally a smoky tea like lapsang souchong or green tea


  1. Begin by salting the mackerel. Sprinkle a plate or tray with 1 tablespoon sea salt, place the mackerel on top, then sprinkle over another tablespoon of salt. Leave for 10 minutes, then brush off any excess salt and pat completely dry.
  2. Line a large wok with foil as for the Smoked Prawns recipe. Mix the rice, sugar and tea leaves together in a small bowl, then tip this into the wok. Place the mackerel on a wire rack set over the rice mixture. Cover with a lid and wrap all around the sides with more foil.
  3. Place the wok over a medium heat and let the mackerel smoke for about 15 minutes. When done, take the wok outside, remove the foil and open to let out all the smoke without setting off your fire alarm.
  4. Serve warm with a potato salad or leave to cool and serve with salad leaves, beetroot and a horseradish dressing.

Note: smoking

  • The smoking times in this recipe will vary depending on the size of your prawns – Atlantic prawns will be quicker whereas fat tiger prawns can take double the amount of time.
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