Swedish winters are notorious for bone-chilling winds and below-freezing temperatures, not unlike the winter we've recently been experiencing in Toronto. To counteract Mother Nature, Swedes have developed a wonderful feasting and drinking culture surrounding the holidays and through the cold winter months, when they warm up with a traditional smörgåsbord featuring dishes, from a beet and herring salad to salmon gravlax, and even Julskinka, a Christmas ham. Gravlax is a well-known Scandinavian dish consisting of raw salmon cured with salt, sugar and dill and traditionally eaten with mustard sauce, rye bread and lots of fresh dill. Cured fish, particularly herring, is another Scandinavian favourite. Traditionally eaten with rye bread, crisp bread or potatoes, this potato salad is delicious on its own, or as part of a splendid smörgåsbord with salt-cured or pickled herring, gravadlax, poached shrimp and variety of cold salads with some Swedish crisp bread and cheese, but be sure to toast good friends and family with a glass of aquavit. Skål!
Herring with Dill & Mustard Potato Salad
6 whole smoked, salt-cured or pickled herring
1 1/2 pounds small white potatoes
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped red onion
Few sprigs of dill
Soak the salt-cured herring in a large bowl of fresh cold water, enough to cover the fish entirely. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, to allow enough time to remove the excess salt. The following day, remove the bones from the herring with a boning knife, discarding the head and the tail. Split each of the herring in half and set aside. If you are using smoked or pickled herring, bone the filets, then cover and chill until needed.
Meanwhile, place the potatoes and a tablespoon of salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Allow the potatoes to steam for 15 to 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, dill, a half teaspoon of salt, and teaspoon of fresh black pepper, and set aside.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters or in half, depending on their size. Place the cut potatoes in a large bowl. While the potatoes are still warm, pour enough dressing over them to moisten. Add the celery and red onion, and season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
Leave the herring filet whole or cut into bite size pieces and place on top of a bed of potato salad. Garnish with dill, fresh lemon, a sprinkle of bright red ground sumac, and serve a slice or two of dark pumpernickel or rye bread.