Want to host the most Scandi of Scandi parties? Try a traditional Crayfish party – or ‘Kräftskiva’ as they are also known in Sweden.
Always held during crayfish season (August and part of September), a Crayfish party is surprisingly easy to arrange. Follow these guidelines and you will be ready to go.
Unless you have a lake full of crayfish nearby you may want to opt for the method that 95% of Swedes also opt for: Buy them. Ready to eat. They come frozen in one kilo boxes (usually imported from Turkey or China because there is just not enough crayfish in Scandinavia to satisfy us all) – each box contains around 18-20 little crustaceans. All you need to do is thaw and serve (thaw overnight). How much to budget for? About 500g per person if your guests are mainly non-Swedes. If Scandies and skilled in the art of crayfish parties, plan around 700-800g per person. Some greedy Swedes have been known to get through over a kilo each.
Arrange the crayfish in big bowls or trays on the big table where everybody’s sitting. Decorate with a few sprigs of dill.
Surprisingly easy if you have ever had the pleasure of peeling a prawn or langoustine – it’s similar. Break off the head, then tail. Crack the shell open and remove the crayfish. You can crack the claws with your fingers or a nut cracker – they are not hard shells. Or simply open to reveal the leg meat by pulling the claws apart with your fingers. Some Swedes love to ‘slurp’ the brine juices out of the crayfish heads and belly. Most other people don’t, so do not feel obliged. Swedes tend to enjoy slurping loudly. It’s normal. After a while, you learn not to notice.
Crayfish parties are messy. You will need hats and bibs. The bibs are functional, the hats less so, but they look good. Well, they don’t, actually, but after a few aquavit, Björn will be wearing one and so should you.
Decorate your house with lanterns and crayfish bunting of all kinds. You can make your own or buy them here. If you are brave enough to do the party outside in your garden, by all means pop the lanterns around light bulbs for maximum festivity feelings.
The crayfish is the star, but you also need to serve a block of Västerbotten cheese (a lovely mature crumbly Swedish cheese) – just pop it on the table with a cheese slicer and a basket of bread (Crispbread and crusty breads).
The cheese and bread is simply to have something to mop up the aquavit seeing as nobody got full on eating crayfish, ever.
If you want to elaborate a bit, you can serve Västerbotten Paj, a cheese quiche made from the above cheese – serve it cold with a dressing made from red lumpfish roe caviar and 100ml crème fraiche. Surprisingly easy and utterly delicious combination.
Add to this a few bowls of pickled herring of your preferred variety, some new potato salad. Maybe some slices of gravlax. Remember, the crayfish are still the star, this is not a Smörgåsbord and you don’t need to make 117 little dishes. Keep it simple.
This is important: You need Aquavit. This is our traditional ‘schnapps’ distilled from grains and herbs and you can get a lot of different varieties. We recommend OP Andersson for this event or the Dill flavoured Aalborg variety – but anything goes. If you cannot get hold of aquavit, use a super-chilled vodka.
A word of warning: Aquavit makes you intoxicated from the waist down. It is tradition to drink a shot ‘to each claw’ but maybe choose a shot to every second crayfish instead?
It is no secret that we like to sing at every get-together. Crayfish parties are a great opportunity to learn Swedish. You need a bunch of ‘snaps-visor’, literally, Snaps songs. Most are in Swedish, but there are a few in English. The most important is this one here – the Swedish version and then the ‘How to sing it in English so you sound almost Swedish’ phonetic version.
Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej
Sjung hopp faderallan lej
Och den som inte helan tar
Han heller inte halvan får
Sjung hopp faderallan lej
Sing along version:
Hell and gore
Chung Hop father Allan Ley
Hell and gore Chung Hop father Allan Ley
Oh handsome in the hell and tar
and hell are in a half and four
Hell and goooooore …
Chung Hop father Allan Ley
First time you sing it, you will be feeling a bit weird. Then you’ll have a shot of aquavit. By the second time, you’re wearing your hat and winking at Björn. By the third time, you will be fluent in Swedish.
A good selection of lagers. You can of course drink wine, but be aware that wine and Aquavit have a habit of not agreeing if overdone, so we recommend beers like Tuborg and Carlsberg. Or just go easy on the wine.
This is important. You must cheer the correct way – whether beer or aquavit. Everybody raises their glasses at the same time, say SKÅL, then you look around and make eye contact with your fellow guests. This is a must, every time. No sneaking in shots on your own. We cheer together. Always.
You will need some friends for this. If you don’t have any, ask some random ex-pat Swedes you meet down the pub if they want to come round yours for a “kreft-HWEE-va” in your Hackney studio flat. Do all of the above. They will most likely turn up.
Have a great party.
Lovely photos thanks to Fran at StoryPr and Bex Williams. Thank you.