So, what do you think of when someone says "Swedish Fish"? Those chewy little red candies, right?
Not this time. No, this time I'm talking real fish - pickled fish, actually - from Sweden, thanks to the food section at the local IKEA.
Behold three different varieties of pickled herring as found at IKEA. Each jar contains a variety of preserved herring, and while they all share some basic ingredients (wine or vinegar and of course herring) they all have their own flavor profile.
Sill Inlagd - Herring pickled in vinegar, with onions and carrots. There seems to be a bit of sugar and peppercorns in here as well. Very pleasant flavor, strongly reminiscent of American pickled herring. Not sure what the carrot is there for, though, since it doesn't add any flavor to the mixture. Maybe you're supposed to eat the carrot, too.
Sill Lok - A lot like Sill Inlagd, but without carrots, and the pickling liquid is red - that muddy kind of red that you get when red onions are used. But the onions actually look white, so maybe color is from wine vinegar.
- Herring pickled with wine vinegar, dill, and spices. It's got a very unique flavor profile - the spices are along the lines of nutmeg and clove, and even though I've had matjes spread and tinned matjes herring before, it still took me by surprise like it did on the earlier occasions. (I guess I just don't associate those particular spices with fish.) This is probably my least favorite variety - I think that matjes is an acquired taste, and I just haven't acquired it yet.
And speaking of acquired tastes, there's one other thing about the IKEA Swedish fish that takes some getting used to, and that's the texture.
Take a look at the picture to the left: That is American pickled herring, sold most often in jars as "Herring in Wine Sauce." It's pickled with sliced onion and a little bit of white wine is added to the brine to improve the flavor. I love that stuff. I'm the only one in the house who likes it (besides the dogs) and I buy big jars of it so I can just dig in and grab a few chunks for a snack just about any time I want. I've been eating pickled herring since I was a kid. You'd think the IKEA varieties would be right up my alley, right?
No! Not at all! You see, American pickled herring is slightly cooked - not fully, mind you, otherwise it would fall apart into a disgusting mass in the jar - but just enough to put a little translucency into the fish and firm up the texture a bit. The IKEA pickled herring is just absolutely raw.
Oh, man, I can hardly stand it. There is something about the texture of raw fish that just makes me gag. That's why I don't go to sushi places more often - too much rawness. So, while American slightly-cooked pickled herring is one of my favorite snacks, I can't really say the same thing for IKEA pickled herring. A bit or two is all I can stand. And that's really too bad, because the flavor is really awesome.
So I guess this is a mixed review. If you can get past that raw fish texture - and I know that it doesn't bother everyone the way it does me - it's well worth it to have a jar or two in the fridge for snacking purposes. As for me, though, I'll keep taking little bites now and then to see if I can break through my aversion, but for now it's just not my thing.