Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Kräftskiva – A Swedish Crayfish Party in SoCal

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Outside of Louisiana, Sweden is probably the only place where crayfish are widely consumed.

Crayfish or  Kräftor have been eaten in Sweden since the 16th century. According to the official website of Sweden, it was a sought-after delicacy enjoyed only by aristocracy until the mid-19th century when its consumption spread to the middle classes and then became a national delicacy by the 20th century. The threat of over-fishing  prompted restrictions on river crayfishing, limiting the season to a couple of months from August. Since then, Swedes all over the world gather together to “eat, drink  and be merry” marking and celebrating the opening of the crayfish season.

crayfish4I experienced my first Kräftskiva or crayfish party several summers ago at a  private hunting ground in Sweden. It was a 3-day event, starting with the laying of the traps in the creeks at night.  The smaller crayfish were put back in the creek and the bigger ones were cooked the next day. On the last day of the feast, the “barn” was decorated with party paraphernalia: paper-covered table, cone-shaped paper party hats and paper bibs sporting crayfish print for each guest and paper lanterns that look like “smiling full moon”.  There was eating, drinking and the mandatory singing until the wee hours of the morning. I have been to many other Kräftskivas since then, most of them here in the US.

Last night, we attended our second crayfish party of the year. It was hosted by the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce San Diego and held at  the House of Sweden (International Houses)  in Balboa Park. crayfish3

In contrast to the crawfish boil in Louisiana where they are cooked in heavy spices and with corn and potatoes (check out Chef Ryans Foodbuzz on Crawfish boil), the Swedish way of cooking crayfish involved cooking in  brine and ale,  flavored with huge amounts of crown dill (flowers of dill plant).

crayfish17Before you start visualizing   members of the SACC-San Diego setting crayfish traps at Rose Canyon Creek in San Diego and then dunking live crayfish in a big cauldron of booze and dill,  crayfish cooked the Swedish way can be ordered directly from crayfish farms in Oregon (or any crayfish farm near you) or, as in the case of last night’s main dish, purchased from any IKEA store. They may bear the stamp Imported from China, but IKEA managers (in San  Diego)  assured us that they were cooked using the special Swedish recipe.(Do I hear a collective sigh of relief…or was that just a room full of Swedes doing their typical “gasp” of agreement?)

crayfish11So, how does one eat a Swedish crayfish? Crayfish are served cold, eaten and enjoyed using your fingers. It is acceptable and customary (and almost mandatory, if you don’t want to look like an outsider) to suck the juices noisily off them before shelling. Side dishes play a minor role but may include cold cuts, salad, bread and cheese served buffet style. Beer may be served to wash down the food but a traditional Kräftskiva includes snaps, such as Aquavit or Vodka served in shots.

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Actually, I find this to be the second best part of a crayfish party (the best being the crayfish, of course!). Perhaps it’s the Asian culture of karaoke in me but a Swedish crayfish party has a noisy, rowdy atmosphere of fun and singing. As soon as the crayfish are served, the host usually leads the guests in singing Helan Går (pronounced Helan gor), a drinking song loosely translated as “drinking the whole shot” (or so I was told). After two verses, everybody raises their snaps glasses and yells Skål! (Cheers!).  This continues for hours (or well until the next morning…!) , with the host topping each snap glass after every drinking song. The whole repertoire is varied with some songs resembling Christmas carols while others just too x-rated to even be translated into English.  At the risk of not being invited to next year’s event, no video of the rowdy singing last night will be shown in this post but you are most free to search YouTube for hundreds of them.  A few photos will be shown, however, to show the proper way of behaving at a Swedish crayfish party.

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If you are lucky to get invited to a Kräftskiva anytime soon, it bears repeating the following advice to ensure a fun, enjoyable night (all offered in jest, of course):

  • Wear the funny, conical paper hats. They are part of the party ensemble and will only enhance your experience of an authentic Swedish tradition.
  • Wear the bib.  If rolls of paper towels are available on the table, sit near one or better yet, grab it and don’t let go.  Your dry cleaner will thank you later.
  • Practice the Swedish drinking songs.  Hard copies in multiples are almost always provided at every crayfish party so take advantage and start reading before the imbibing begins. It doesn’t matter whether you speak or read Swedish. It only matters that you can say Skoal! at the end of every song.
  • Most importantly, have fun and socialize. You’ll never know if you will be  sitting next to another Charles Lindberg or Ingvar Kamprad (founder of IKEA).

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Now, if your goal is to host your own Kräftskiva (well…some of you might.) and you have access to fresh, live crayfish, here is a recipe for Swedish Crayfish. Please use with caution since this recipe was handed down to me by every Swede I met in every crayfish party I have attended, usually after several shots of Akvavit:

How to cook crayfish the Swedish way:

Ingredients:

  • lots of live, huge crayfish (live ones only, please. do not use dead ones)
  • several bottles of beer, vodka or akvavit (depending on how much crayfish you have but you will never go wrong by using more)
  • a whole bunch of dill crown, lots and lots (using regular dill might not give you the same results, so try to get the dill crowns)

Directions:

Dump all ingredients in a large cauldron and boil. When cooked, let simmer for 24 hours. Drain and serve cold.

And as a parting gift, here are the lyrics to the traditional Swedish drinking song, Helan Går. If you have to learn one Swedish snap song, this is it. Memorize it and you’ll definitely be invited to the next drinking party. Check the internet for karaoke versions (or YouTube for live concert versions).

Helan Går
sjung hopp fader faderallan lej
Helan Går
sjung hopp faderallan lej
Och den som inte helan tar
han inte heller halvan får
Helan Gåååååår
sjung hopp fadrallan lej

There is a second verse but this first verse should get you by as long as you remember to yell one word at the end:

Skål!

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Recipes for Kräftskiva side dishes:

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» jenn said: { Aug 30, 2009 - 10:08 }

Awesome 24 post! I’ve never had crayfish before. You can add me to the group who will want to try this!!!

» sizzlechef said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 04:08 }

Interesting. Looks delicious ! Thank you for sharing. Cheers !

» Alta said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 05:08 }

Wow, I learned something today! Had no idea that crayfish were so big in Sweden. Now, I know! This looks like a lot of fun!

» The Duo Dishes said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 10:08 }

Had no idea crayfish were that popular overseas, especially Sweden. That’s really interesting. What a fun 24 idea.

» jazz said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 10:08 }

very interesting article …….like it

» Jessie said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 11:08 }

ohhh looks like fun! great 24,24,24 post!

» Carlos said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 11:08 }

Hahahaha! This is so funny! You’re such a good writer Raquel!

» High/Low said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 04:08 }

Great post! Love the photos of the crayfish!

» Natasha - 5 Star Foodie said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 07:08 }

How fun! What a great post – I learned a lot, had no idea about a Swedish way of making crayfish. Excellent!

» Tangled Noodle said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 07:08 }

So cool! This is the first I’ve ever heard of Kräftskiva and it sounds so festive. Of course, the crayfish look delicious, too. Thanks for all the great background information. There are a lot of Norwegians here in MN but perhaps I can see if there’s a Swedish cultural group that might hold this party – I’d love to try it! 8-D

Congratulations on a wonderful 24, 24, 24 post!

» Manang said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 08:08 }

I don’t think I have ever tried crayfish…
That seems loads of fun! The way you describe how crayfish should be eaten reminds me of how many Filipinos would eat in the same manner and it would be taken as a compliment to the host! (although this would be in a very informal gathering).

» Chowhound said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 08:08 }

What?! Looks like the Swedes have a lot more fun and tastier food than the Norwegians (my husband is). Gees, crayfish is a thousand times better to eat than the Norwegian’s lutefisk. With crayfish, I’m sure it will be a lot easier to drink akvavit (I call it liquid shoe polish).

Congratulations to your 24,24,24. I really enjoyed reading your post, it’s a lot of fun. Great job!

Skål!

» alpha said: { Aug 31, 2009 - 08:08 }

hi raquel. thanks for visiting my lp entry. ;)

» Debi (Table Talk) said: { Sep 1, 2009 - 05:09 }

I had not heard of a Kraftskiva—will have to ask my Swedish uncle (now living in Minnesota) about this celebration…sounds like a blast!

» virtual chef said: { Sep 1, 2009 - 06:09 }

jenn: they look like little lobsters and taste something similar, depending on how it’s cooked. you have to try it sometime.

sizzlechef: thank you for stopping by.

alta, duo dishes: it was a lot of fun. and the swedes do love their crayfish that from august to september you’ll crayfish parties where there are swedes! LOL!

jazz, jessie: thank you. glad you stopped by.

carlos: aaaawwwwww….you just want some of my baked goods…hehehehe!

high/low: thanks. don’t they look delicious?

natasha: thank you. i didn’t either until I tasted one and compared it to a crawfish boil.

TN: The Norwegians hold crayfish parties, too, but probably not as ‘fanatical’ as the Swedes. LOL.

Manang: Yeah…I felt so at home at my first crayfish party when I realized everybody ate it the same way we did back home! LOL…no wasting any juices there.

chowhound: LOL, i’m sure the norwegians have crayfish parties, too. Even the Finns hold one every summer. as for the lutefisk, i’ll take the crayfish any day (pls don’t tell your husband *wink*). Skål!

alpha: thanks for stopping by.

Debi: your uncle will definitely know about it. maybe he can even sing some snaps-songs with you over a shot of vodka! :)

» Mommy Dharlz said: { Sep 1, 2009 - 05:09 }

wow.. thanks for sharing

» CheapAppetite said: { Sep 1, 2009 - 08:09 }

That pile of crayfish looks amazing. I have try crawfish Louisiana styles many times, but I never try the Swedish style. I wish I could soon!

» ValleyWriter said: { Sep 2, 2009 - 06:09 }

Wow – that is one impressive crayfish spread. I’m amazed to learn that IKEA sells crayfish – I thought they were a furniture store?! Hmm.. guess I’m missing out by not having a store nearby! Anyway – great party & great post!

» virtual chef said: { Sep 2, 2009 - 08:09 }

thanks! yes, ikea also sells food items from scandinavia, including swedish meatballs with sauce! :)

» virtual chef said: { Sep 2, 2009 - 08:09 }

CheapAppetite: Swedish crayfish has a milder flavor…and taste really good!

» virtual chef said: { Sep 2, 2009 - 08:09 }

you’re welcome and thanks for stopping by!

» Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen said: { Sep 2, 2009 - 09:09 }

Sounds like a wonderful time! :) Skål! I lived in Norway and shellfish is a really big deal there in the summer months as well. Not specifically crayfish, although it is featured, but I never saw a party entirely dedicated to it! However, big seafood feasts with aquavit and beer is very common! And of course the singing! :)

» katecooks said: { Sep 2, 2009 - 10:09 }

wow, what a great event! i loved reading this post :) sounds so fun and entertaining…love those “rowdy” illustrating pictures at the end!

» virtual chef said: { Sep 3, 2009 - 10:09 }

katecooks: yep…that’s about as rowdy as Swedes can be…LOL

Jenn: there is nothing like the cooked shrimps you get at the quay in Oslo! Love them like crazy. We usually just buy a kilo from the fisherman at the quay, grab a bottle of red and bread from the grocery store and we’re enjoying the summer by the waters!

» FRESH LOCAL AND BEST said: { Sep 14, 2009 - 04:09 }

The photos look amazing!

» Bianca said: { Sep 16, 2009 - 03:09 }

Looks delicious! I’ll keep my eyes open for a festival in the South Bay! :)

» ChrisAndSiv said: { Sep 21, 2009 - 11:09 }

Great writing, great food, great fun. Let’s do it again this Saturday.

» virtual chef said: { Sep 22, 2009 - 07:09 }

hey chris: you’re going to be at this weekend’s SWEA crayfish party? great!! we’ll see you !

» Hungry Huy said: { Oct 22, 2009 - 12:10 }

Woww look at all that crayfish!
Nice work on the history of this :) . These little critters are also popular in Southern California in Little Saigon for some reason I have yet to discover.


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