Kalakukko (traditional Finnish fish pasty)

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ESBrewer

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Ok let's make some kalakukko! It is a traditional Savonian (Mid-Eastern Finland) fish pasty. It takes use of the same, overly simplified Karelian/Russian rye pie dough that was introduced in the Karelian pie recipe. The great thing about kalakukko is the fact that it is easy to prepare and you can put any small fish inside the kukko and they are going to turn out just great. There will be no need to worry about the fish bones as everything is going to be very soft and palatable when the kukko is baked slowly in the oven, overnight. We tend to favor European perch (Perca fluviatilis), 5-20cm only, as it is a popular catch when ice fishing in the winter. It is an extremely tasty and abundant fish here, but it is hard to find a comfortable way to enjoy a fish that is so small and full of bones. You can use any small fish in the kukko and even bigger fish is suitable but then you need to remove the backbone and fins, which is not necessary when using tiny fish.

Dough:
0.5 liters of cold water
0.8-0.9 kgs rye flour (fine grade)
0.1 kg wheat flour (will make the dough easier to handle)
~0.1 liter melted butter
1 tsp (sea) salt

Ingredients:
~1 kg of small, gutted & headless fish
0.2-0.4 kgs of bacon
(1-2 tbl spoons rice or barley, to absorb excessive moisture only)
some (sea) salt
melted butter


Mix the dough components with a spoon and eventually by hand to form a very solid dough (not hard as a rock, though..). Spread the dough on a sheet of baking paper to form an elliptical disc that is about 1.5 cm thick (slightly thicker in the middle and thinner towards the edges). Pour a bit of rice or barley in the middle to absorb some fluids that may be released from the fish.

Now make a layer of fish in the middle, tails should point away from the middle of the dough disc. Then sprinkle some sea salt on top of the fish and cover with some bacon. Repeat 2-3 times depending on the size of the kalakukko and the size of fish that you have. Add a layer of bacon to the top.

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Now close the Kukko like this, finally use knife blade that has been dipped in cold water to smoothen the surface. Make sure that the kukko is sealed properly, use some extra dough to patch it if necessary. Store some excess dough so that you are able to patch the kalakukko if it starts to leak some fluid while it is in the oven.

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Then put your kalakukko in the oven. 225-250°C and ~30min. This will eventually seal it and the surface is going to get hard and durable. After 30 mins remove kukko from the oven. Heyyy don't taste it, we're not ready yet! Spread a lot of butter all over the kukko ( bottom included). Be careful as it is extremely hot.
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Now tightly wrap the whole kalakukko in aluminum foil. This will ensure that it is not going to dry out during the night. Then put the foil package back into the oven and drop temperature to 110°C only. Bake for 7-9hrs (at least). There is plenty of time to have a good night's sleep. In the morning, take it away from the oven and wrap in a towel (or in your best Norwegian wool sweater :) and let it cool down slowly.

I'll show you tomorrow how to cut and eat kalakukko.
 
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ESBrewer

ESBrewer

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Here it is, the foil has been opened after 8.5 hrs at 110°C + some cooling inside the foil & a towel. The crust should be soft and easy to cut with a knife at this point.

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We tend to cut it open from the top, a.k.a. "removing the lid of the kalakukko".

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Now you can eat the delicious fish from the inside (all the bones should be very soft and practically unnoticeable. You can take the lid and put some fish&bacon on top, then eat it like a bread. You can proceed by cutting slices from the kukko (much like cutting pieces from a cake) and eat them with bare hands or using fork and knife..or boil some potatos and vegetables and eat those with the fish. It is important to have a delicious drink while eating it. Maybe a glass of cold milk or a pint of bitter.

Because it is a traditional food, there are a lot of stories about kalakukko. The fish part used to be highly praised and some traveling salesmen in the 19th century (who carried kalakukkos along with them) were so wealthy that in the beginning of a long journey, they even threw the crust away and focused solely on the fish.

Another tale was told during a dinner by one of the generals of marshal Mannerheim (later the president of Finland). According to this tale, a Savonian man had died and he went to the gateway to heaven. However, Saint Peter told the Savonian that unfortunately, he could not let this man in. Why is that?, the Savonian asked. "Because we can not start baking kalakukkos here in the heaven, for one Savonian man only", Saint Peter replied.
 
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