It’s august and in parts of Scandinavia, especially Sweden and Norway, and even parts of Finland (especially the Swedish speaking parts) it is high time for crayfish. Yes, those red shellfish you see above. They’re not eaten in so many places but they do eat them in the cajun kitchen of Louisiana in the US – as well as we do here. In the cajun kitchen, crayfish (or crawfish, same thing, different name) are served hot and spicy – whilst in Scandinavia, we boil them and then chill them to serve them cold.
Crayfish is a very strong culinary culture in our region – and at least in Sweden it is almost a mandatory summer party to be had. It can be done as a sitting dinner amongst friends – but it can also be a bigger occasion, involving table decorations, funny hats and songs to be sung for toasting in snaps.
However. We can’t start our dinner with the crayfish. You see, a crayfish party involves a lot of snaps/aquavit. That makes you hammered rather fast, so you need to ground your stomach with some food that makes the body not absorb the alcohol all at once. This can be done with many dishes and the most traditional one would be Västerbottenpaj – pie made from salty Västerbotten-cheese. We’re not too fond of that. Instead we propose something more elegant.
Saltwater boiled artichoke with lemon and shallot butter.
This is actually a very basic dish. It’s easy to eat as well as it is easy to make. And since eating crayfish is very much about eating with your hands, why not do that all the way through? The artichoke is easy to handle that way and can be eaten quite elegantly.
Here’s how to make it:
Boil the artichokes for up to an hour, in salty water – until the leaves come off when you pull them, and the meat at the end of the leaf is soft. Whip up some butter with lemon and fine chopped shallots. Serve like above – and enjoy a fine chilled Riesling to go with it.
Here’s how to eat it:
Pull off one leaf at a time, put some butter on the meaty part at the end and pull the meat and butter off with your teeth. Delicious!
After having done that – you’re good to go!
Crayfish can be bought in any food store in Sweden this time of year. However we sugest buying fresh rather than frozen – and if you really wanna go all in, you boil your own crayfish solution.
Here’s a recipe for a crayfish solution for 2kg crayfish
20 dill seads of blossoming summer dill.
2 bottles of porter beer
2 dl salt
4 tsp sugar
6 l of water
Boil the dill, porter, salt, sugar and water for 5-10 minutes. Let it cool down. Take your already boiled (cold) cray fish and put them in the solution. Let them stay in that solution over night.
You’ll ned plenty of this stuff too. Aquavit (or snaps) is what is to be had with crayfish. Actually you do want to go with a snaps that is an aquavit, for this. All aquavit is snaps but not all snaps is aquavit. Aquavit always contain dill – and the taste of dill is essential in crayfish meals.
Dill toast with Boxholm kryddost
In Sweden you always serve toast bread on the side, with the crayfish. The bread does not need to be fancy, most Swedes would go for plain white toast and a plain hard cheese. We beg to differ on the cheese though. It just has to be Boxholms kryddost. Why? Because this particular cheese contains clove and cumin, which is perfect tastes for crayfish. So slide some cheese over your slice of freshly toasted bread with butter – and then add some fine chopped dill on top.
Now, this is going to be the best cheese toast sandwich you have ever had. Almost as good as the crayfish themselves.
Beer and snaps is what you drink for crayfish, all the way through. Some people don’t like snaps (high of course if a flaw) and the recommendation then, is to go for Riesling wine but… Nah. This food really requires beer and aquavit. We like a neutral lager with our crayfish and a simple Carlsberg or Tuborg will do just fine. Our favorite aquavit for crayfish is Aalborg Taffel – as well as OP Andersson Klar, which is dill flavored. You’re starting to get the hang of this now, right? It is all very much about the dill..
Our absolute favorite aquavit is not present in this picture though, as it is a bit hard to come by, this time of year. The Aalborg Juleakvavit or Christmas aquavit. Aalborg Juleakvavit is just spot-on for crayfish with its strong taste, packed with dill, cumin and coriander – it forms a marriage made in heaven with crayfish, if you can get hold of it.
Now, you’ll be busy for an hour or two eating those little animals. You eat them with your hands, sucking up the liquids from the belly first, then trying to get to the meat of the claws and legs, just like a lobster. Remove the shield on top and eat the butter-like content as well as suck up the juice of the body. Then remove the wingtip of the tail and bend off the shell and get to the meat of the tail. Repeat until there are no crayfish left to eat.
This is a primitive way of eating and it is a bit messy but that is all part of the ritual. We do recommend an individual water bowl on the table for every seat – for the purpose of washing your fingers. And also – no paper serviettes. They break instantly – go for cloth napkins.
When all is done and you are feeling just a tad tipsy it’s time for dessert. During the sumer there is but one simple dessert to choose.
Fresh strawberries with vanilla ice cream. Can’t get any easier than that. If you do want to do something more with these, we suggest chopping up some mint-leaves and zest some lime peel on top. You,as even want to put a dash of Cointreau.
To go with that and to conclude your evening – Champagne.
Voilà. You have just done your first traditional, Scandinavian, crayfish dinner party.
If you don’t feel like going about this as a private dinner – you can always go out to a restaurant. We’d recommend these: