Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Crayfish galore

We're such a stubborn pair we can't seem to get anything right. As the rest of the country was dancing the night away at Flow Festival, we were browning butter for salad with smoked mackerel salad and baking tomato, basil and ricotta tart for the picnic the following morning. And then we even missed sampling the home-made delights at the International Restarant Day, having foolishly booked our kräftskiva on the same day. Lord, have mercy as I sure don't.

Kräftskiva, crayfish party, is the most glorious of Nordic foodie traditions and, needless to say, one of my favourite celebrations all year. Though especially in Finland it tends to have a reputation as something for those better off (and with sailing boats and Swedish as the mother tongue), the history of this humble crustacean is very different.

Finnish rivers used to have such an abundance of them the farmhands actually had a clause in their contract dictating that it could only be served for food no more than five times a week. Crayfish plague that raged through Europe in the 19th century put an end to that kind of decadence though, pretty much eliminating the crayfish population all over the continent. As a result wild, domestic crayfish available today comes with a price tag that makes it a rare treat.

Do not let this put an end to your shenanigans though - get your friends and family around the table and helangår and hydeochheja all you want. In case you don't have a river of your own to catch them from (I know. Sucks) and you can't afford the store-bought ones (around €2 each) or ready-cooked individuals (up to €5 a piece) it's frozen goods to the rescue! In Finland any supermarket (around the world you might look into IKEA) sells cooked and frozen crayfish that will make for a fine fuss-free fiesta.

Because of the price, crayfish are usually served as a generous starter as even after all the fiddling about with their shells they don't really yield that much meat. Even still, the recommended portion per diner is 12-15 crayfish a head, so you do the math!

In case I don't cook my own, I go for the jumbo size ones (16-22 crayfish per kilo) which tend to be either Chinese or Spanish wild crayfish. The ones sold in Scandinavia are cooked to cater to the very Scandinavian palate, so all you need to do is thaw them over 2 day-period in the fridge. If yours aren't too tasty though you can marinate them overnight after thawing in the broth described below.

This one's our family recipe that according to a legend originally comes from the kitchen of Savoy. The one in Finland, mind you. 

For 40 crayfish

10 l water
2 bunches of dill
3,25 dl coarse sea salt
10 sugar cubes

Measure water, salt, sugar and 1 bunch of dill into a big pot and bring to boil. Cook for 5 minutes and then add fresh crayfish, having rinsed them first to make sure they're still alive. After the water starts boiling again after adding the crayfish boil for another 3 minutes. Remove the dill and add a fresh bunch.

Cool the pot quickly - either place it into ice water in a sink or, if by the seaside, in the water. Let marinate until the next day, drain and serve.

In addition to shots (aquavit in Sweden, vodka in Finland) and lager, the drink traditionally recommended for crayfish is something on the Chardonnay - Chablis- line. I'm not a fan of that though, so Norex Spirits surprised us with Wolfberger's whites from Alsace - our current #1 wine region in the world. 

Riesling Pinot Gris worked well too, but the yellow-labelled Riesling was a firm favourite of everyone around our table. Such vibrant, aromatic elegance.

Around our table we had my British Brother, his missus the Mane Magician , Tzatziki Champion and a new addition to our circle: The Italian. Having only been in the country for 3 weeks this was his first kräftskiva, ever.

You should have seen his face as we tried to teach him the kräftskiva etiquette. For each crayfish you take, you take a shot. And for each shot you down, there's a song. He got there in the end. And by the time we ran out of the crayfish-related drinking songs, we made a smooth transition to Manchester United-related drinking songs. Oh, joy!

The weather kept us guessing until the final hours but herregud, what a fine sunny day we got! Even the sad old man from the building next to ours with a goatee that makes him look like a right perv couldn't get our spirits down as he made it his business to walk all the way to us just to inform us that the table (which no-one ever uses for anything)  at the patio of our building is technically the property of the building next to us. Apparently our respective buildings are in the middle of a turf war so gruesome even we can't be trusted with the details. 

The real hero of the day (in addition to our clawy friends in red) was, however, the neighbourhood restaurant KuuKuu. See, I just had to go and get one of those wine cooler bowls as they look so pretty. Sure enough we couldn't find any ice in the shops though, you know, to cool the wine in the bowl. But lo and behold, The Boy Next Door wandered into KuuKuu and walked out with a carrier bag full of ice. "Can't let a crayfish party run dry", they had said. That's customer care professional for you, my friend. That's Töölö!

Instagram followers were guests at the party in real time (you are one of them, aren't you?) and the rest of you too will soon be served the recipes for the rest of the treats in the following posts. There will be at least crayfish and chorizo tart with saffron crust...

...and the easiest (and tastiest!) potato salad this summer with a decidedly Mediterranean twist.

Thank you family! Thank you Restaurant KuuKuu! Thank you Norex Spirits! Surely we don't have to wait another year to do have another one...?




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