Bad singing, the ability to drink Akavit until you can speak sense no more and deft fingers are what it takes to make the most of a Crayfish Party or Kräftskiva. It’s a Nordic tradition, particularly strong in Sweden and also in Swedish-speaking parts of Finland.
These boozy excuses came about after Swedes were prohibited from catching crayfish for a couple of months until late Summer to prevent over-fishing. When they were allowed to start fishing for these large prawns or mini lobsters (however you see them) they celebrated their return to the table with a ‘Crayfish Party’. It wasn’t until the twenties that crayfish-themed plates, daft hats, the moon-shaped paper lanterns and drinking songs first made an appearance. There are few restrictions now on fishing or eating crayfish as they’re caught in rivers and lakes up and down Sweden, Norway and Finland. Less expensive imports are from Turkey, Spain and China – the demand for crayfish has seen consumption in Sweden alone exceed 45,000 tonnes.
The wonderful folks at Skandikitchen have sold frozen Crayfish for a while now and decided that the start of August would be a good time as any to host a Kräftskiva. They’re making it an annual party and I was lucky enough to be invited to their inaugural event. On arrival we were served some of the delicious canapes, larger versions are on sale here as part of their smorgasbord offerings.
The hosts for the evening were the owners Jonas (who’s Swedish) and his wife Bronte (who is Danish). They set up this wonderful business when they couldn’t source great quality food that they missed at home. They now have a wholesale business, the restaurant, a catering arm and an online shop. He was MC for the evening, making sure we sang drinking songs and downed our Akavit at the appropriate point. Helan Går was the song of choice and very loosely translated it means Chug It Down — and we did. Larger parties often feature a songbook made up by traditional and adapted songs, sung in conjunction with the word skål or cheers. Here’s Jonas showing us how it’s done.
Bronte ran around making sure plates were full and glasses charged. She’s also the bake-meister, responsible for all the super cakes made here and the two very special cakes on offer this evening.
So crayfish look like this
and taste delicately sweet, prepared in plenty of salted water and dill.
They’re served cold with a variety of dips and sauces. It’s also the law to get as messy as possible, and that’s why it’s compulsory to wear a bib.
To get into the flesh, you start with the claws, twisting it off from the joint underneath. Crack the claw, the shell is really soft so you can use your teeth, just be careful. Pull out the moving part and the meat should come out in one piece. Otherwise use a small tool to reach in and scrape out the meat. Lift the ‘hood’ and suck out the crayfish ‘butter’ – an instant hit of the sea. Hold the head and tail and with a sharp twist pull the head and tail apart. Hold the tail with the belly facing you and bend back the hard shell squeeze either side of the tail. Pinch down the sides to release the meat from the shell – the aim is to release the meat inside without damaging it. Once you’ve done that the tail meat should be loose enough for you to pull out in a complete piece. Take a swig of Akavit then pop in the salty, sweet, tail meat. Heaven.
Essential table additions would include crispbread and we had Leksands Knacke Normalgraddat which is made into large wheels, different types of cheese, which for us included Norrmejerier Västerbotten. We also had the same crumbled into quiche. There were also delicious pearl potatoes in a dill vinaigrette , a beetroot and apple salad and a tomato and feta salad. Red and white wine flowed but it seemed that cold Tuborg was the best to cut straight through the saltiness of the crayfish.
No crayfish party is complete without the schnapps and in this case it’s Akavit, a flavoured spirit made from distilled grains and often flavoured with caraway, dill and fennel. It’s the perfect match for pickled, cured and salty seafood. I’m warned to eat lots of bread to soak up the Akavit.
The other great thing about crayfish is their flavoursome shells, boil them with a couple of root vegetables some herbs and you’ll have one of the best seafood stocks for free.
We’re treated to a Danish layer cake with strawberries and vanilla whipped cream and Kladdkaka a sticky Swedish chocolate cake. Jonas tells me it took between 45 and 50 different bakes, (things are a little hazy for me to get figures absolutely spot on due to the wine and Akavit combo) to get to the version of the cake we’re eating tonight. (Bronte absolutely worth all the baking – they were delicious.)
If you want to hold your own Kräftskiva head to Great Titchfield Street and visit Scandikitchen – they’ve got everything to make sure your party is a rip-roaring success.
And here’s what you’re looking for crayfish-wise – you’ll find them in their freezer, 1000g for £12.95. I’d not eaten crayfish before, managed to sneak a few home to Mr who’s a regular to Norway and said they were super fresh.
If you don’t, then visit them anyway for a number of reasons including:
They use great beans Monmouth and make great coffee from them. If you drink in, then you’ll enjoy supping from these magnificent Blossom & Bill mugs. They also make a great selection of sandwiches and salads and you just have to try the hot dogs with crispy onions.
Skandikitchen, 61 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 7PP.