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Sillgratin - Herring Casserole


For a short break sometime this summer, I have been contemplating a return visit to Stockholm. I was last there in the summer of 95, having been invited with a group of beer salesmen, by a Scottish brewery, primarily to watch a game of rugby which took place between the female teams of Sweden and German. The local ladies won and to celebrate they invited us to a boat party which, from what I little I remember of, it was a delightful evening. I recall being profoundly impressed by the extensive repertoire of British rugby songs which the girls sang for us – and not a blush to be seen.

The game we were there for coincided with a major event in Sweden - the Stockholm Water Festival. The Swedes have an annual holiday period from the beginning of July till the middle of August when almost everyone takes holidays and business, apart from the tourist industry which includes innumerable admirable bars and restaurants comes to a virtual standstill.

Regretfully, the one thing I did not get around to doing - drinking accounting for most of the time spent – was to sample the Scandinavian cuisine. The only dish which I then knew of, was the meal which is  served buffet-style with multiple dishes of various foods; known as a Smörgåsbord. Of course there is more to Scandinavian food than the Smörgåsbord, even though it does include almost the full gamut of local ingredients; cheese, eggs, fish, meat and vegetables.

Herring is one of the most recognizable staples of Scandinavian cookery and naturally it  also has a prominent place on the smorgasbord. As it is considered as the comfort food to many Swedes, I thought this week you may like prepare this tasty herring casserole.

Sillgratin - Herring Casserole
(40 minutes baking time at 400º; serves 6 for dinner, 8 or more for smörgåsbord)

Ingredients

2 large salt herring
6 raw potatoes
2 yellow onions
white pepper to taste
salt to taste
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup butter

Preperation.

To prepare using salt herring: soak the herring in cold water overnight to remove the salt. Rinse and drain. Split the herring along the backbone, remove the bones (including the small bones), remove and discard the skin, drain the herring on a paper towel. Use whole filets in the casserole or cut the filets into 1 inch pieces.
Peel the potatoes, then slice them about 1/4" thick.
Slice the onions about 1/4" thick and sauté them in 2-3 tablespoons of the butter, just until they're soft and transparent but not brown.
Butter a baking dish with the butter used to sauté the onions. Alternate rows in the baking dish of raw potato slices, herring, and sautéed onions. Add white pepper to taste, freshly ground if available. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and dot with the remaining butter.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 400ºF for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked. Take the baking dish to the table and serve the casserole while it's still hot.
Variations:
  If you cannot find salt herring, or just to vary the taste and texture, use one of the following instead:
  Herring filets in wine: rinse well in cold water and drain.
  Kippered herring filets in a can: rinse gently by running some cold water into the opened can, draining, and repeating several times. Carefully remove the filets from the can to avoid breaking them any more than necessary. (The smoked flavor of the kippered herring is a great variation in this casserole.)
  Pour 2 cups milk or cream over the top of the casserole just before adding the bread crumbs and spices.
  Use boiled potatoes instead of raw potatoes. Pour the following mixture over the top of the arranged potatoes, onions and herring before adding the spices and bread crumbs: beat 3 eggs, add 2 cups milk and 1 tsp sugar.
  Add some finely chopped fresh dill when you're adding the pepper.

 

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