August 16, 2014 |
How to host a crayfish party
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.
Crayfish. The star of the show.
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.
Buy your crayfish here
Arrange the crayfish in big bowls or trays on the big table where everybody’s sitting. Decorate with a few sprigs of dill.
How to peel a crayfish
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.
Bibs and hats.
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.
The man in the moon
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.
The other drinks
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.
Picture this: a little, red wooden house set by a calm, blue lake that sparkles silver from the rays of the summer sun. Rolling green hills and never ending meadows full of wild flowers and berries, surrounding everything and everyone on pure postcard bliss. Welcome to the picture perfect Swedish late summer evening and welcome to the Crayfish Season: it’s time for Kräftskiva (or, if you’d rather: a somewhat messy event involving lots of crustaceans and hard liquor).
Every year in August, Finnish and Swedish people all over the world get excited by the start of the crayfish season. The timing of the season is founded in local law which dictates that Scandinavian freshwater crayfish must only be fished in late summer and early autumn. Although in this time of easy imports where crayfish is available all year round, tradition still holds strong and the season is very much part of the Swedish and Finnish calendar of events, thirdly only to Midsummer and Eurovision.
Crayfish was first mentioned by Aristotle back in the really old days but as a delicacy its big break came in the 1800’s when Monsieur Napoleon developed a thing for the ‘écrevisses’ and got the whole of France hooked as a result. Initially crayfish were plentiful in rivers and lakes all across central and northern Europe, but as this gastronomic trend spread across the continent, the crayfish stock was in steep decline. A lethal pest almost wiped out the entire stock in the early 1900’s and local laws were quickly introduced to limit the availability of the delicacy thus saving it from extinction.
Today most crayfish in the world is farmed, although the ultimate delicacy for a crayfish party is still locally sourced Swedish or Finnish beauties. These are seriously pricey, though, so most people settle for the almost-just-as-good imported, cooked and quickly frozen type, usually imported from China, Turkey or other fancy far-away places. Alternatively, if you happen to have your own Swedish lake handy, you can opt for some night time fishing with wire traps – these buggers are nocturnal and will do much to avoid your dinner plate.
The difference between crayfish you buy at your local fishmonger outside Sweden is that the Scandinavian kind is cooked in a brine sauce of dill, then some dill and a bit more dill thrown in for good measure. Crayfish is, like lobster, cooked alive (sorry if you are vegetarian and reading this) which is why most people who do not have access to live crustaceans tend to buy the frozen kind – these have been cooked to the Scandinavian recipe already and all you need to do is remove from freezer and wait a while.
So, how do you go about celebrating the humble crayfish, Scandinavian style? A traditional Kräftskiva, or Rapujuhlat as it is called in Finland, typically starts late afternoon or early evening. A long table, which is usually outside in the garden or park, is decorated with colourful tablecloths; there are silly special crayfish party hats and bibs available for all guests to wear (surprisingly, with pictures of crayfish on them), lanterns depicting the Man in the Moon as well as festive crayfish cut-out garlands.
The crayfish is served cold in a big bowl on the table, lovingly decorated with some more dill. Eating crayfish is a long process: a crayfish party can last well into the night, so mountains of toasted, white bread is also served to ensure the aquavit is soaked up along the way. It’s always preferable that the guests don’t end up too wobbly too quick and get ideas about skinny dipping and sing-songs before time.
Blocks of the infamous Vasterbotten cheese (a 12 months aged Swedish cheese from the Vasterbotten area, not unlike parmesan in consistency but without the smell of feet) is also served. Along with this are an abundance of cold beers and, of course, no Scandinavian party is complete without the presence of the old Aquavit – a grain based, flavoured strong liquor that is served ice cold. Some people practice “one shot for every claw” but as you’ll eat your way through a good dozen crayfish during the course of an evening, pacing is recommended – at least until someone starts singing. Singing is a good sign that you may as well just give in and join the fun – and there’s no drinking without any singing, according to Swedish law (nor is there any singing without drinking, or any time for silence, according to most local ‘Crayffectionados’). A few of those aquavit and you’ll automatically be able to sing all the songs in fluent Swedish.
Crayfish is eaten with the hands and it is a lovely, messy affair. If you are invited to one of these special parties during the season, do remember that it is absolutely a requirement to slurp noisily as you suck up the dill juices from the claws and belly of the “krafta” as well – a sign that you are truly initiated into this wonderful tradition. Before you know it, all the people around the table will be your best friends, you’ll be planning next year’s holidays with Björn and Agneta in Uppsala and maybe even having a cheeky footsie session with Lars under the table. Suddenly, after you’ve thrown in a swarm of evil mosquitoes, that little red house by the lake doesn’t feel that far away after all.
Pandalus Kräftor – Crayfish in Dill Brine 1kg
Hedlund Festlykta Måne – Crayfish Party Decoration (medium)
Hedlund Kraftgirland – Crayfish Garland 4m
Hedlund Festlykta Måne – Crayfish Party Decoration (large)
Brondums Snaps 40% – Aquavit 700ml
Hedlund Kräftservietter – Crayfish Party Napkins (20 pack)
Hedlund Kräfthaklapp – Crayfish Party Bibs (4 pack)
Hedlund Kräfthattar – Crayfish Party Hats (4 pack)
Norrmejerier Västerbottensost – Mature Cheese 33% 450g