Pickled fish isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, in Sweden, it’s the star of most holiday meals: Easter, Midsummer and Christmas — at the very least.
Last Sunday, my homesick Swedish friend and I spent a sunny afternoon enjoying a whole lot of Swedish fish (the smoked, cured and pickled kind) along with a variety of Nordic specialties at Stockhome’s annual julbord, a multiple-course Christmas meal.
In Sweden, the julbord is served buffet-style in restaurants in the weeks leading up to Christmas (this is a popular outing for companies). It is also served at home on Christmas Eve (Swedes celebrate Christmas on Dec. 24). The meal includes a variety of cold starters followed by warm entrees and sweet treats for dessert and is paired with beer and “nubbe” (shots of vodka or flavored aquavit) or, if you’re a kid or would like to skip the Christmas Day hangover, julmust (a yuletide soda).
At Stockhome in Petaluma, Swedish chef Roberth Sundell serves up the kind of traditional julbord that will bring a tear to an expatriate’s eye with dishes like julskinka (Christmas ham), revbensspjäll (spare ribs), gravlax (cured salmon), köttbullar (meatballs) and three kinds of sill (pickled herring). Although sometimes difficult to pronounce, these are dishes anyone could love.
Okay, there was one bit of herring I wasn’t prepared to love. But pretty much anything drenched in cream, dill and onions is okay with me, so problem solved. At least they didn’t serve us lutefisk (or “lutfisk” in Swedish), the dried and rehydrated cod (preserved in lye or “lut”) that only a Scandinavian could adore.
“You have to grow up with it to love it,” said my Swedish pal with a laugh. But there are so many other dishes to love at the Swedish julebord we shared.
Beware, there are many, many courses so arrive hungry. Start with the julmust, which is a less-carbonated cross between root beer and cola. Think of it as a way better holiday beverage choice than egg nog. Swedes down gallons of this this stuff during Christmas (and also during Easter when it’s simply renamed “påskmust” or “Easter soda”). It pairs well with some of the heavier julbord dishes.
Next up is sweet rye bread with butter followed by a herring course and potatoes with fresh dill and sour cream. To be super authentic, slather the butter on the bread to the extent that it seems ridiculous, recommends the Swede. Save a bit of bread for a cold course of gravlax, lantpaté (pate of elk), chicken liver mousse, sylta (pig’s head terrine) and rullsylta (shaved pork and lamb belly) with pickled vegetables. It’s all delicious, if not entirely familiar.
Save room for the meat course, with mustard-baked Christmas ham, Swedish meatballs, sausage and ginger glazed spare ribs (our Swede’s favorite entree) piled over red and brown cabbage and apple sauce. Jansson’s Temptation, au gratin potatoes with salty anchovies, is a dish everyone should try once. Wrap up the meal with warm and sweet risgrynsgröt (rice pudding) that hides a lucky almond. The one who finds the hidden almond is said to be the next to get married. So, it’s up to you how much you want to dig for it.
There are a few tickets left for the seated Julbord on Dec. 19 or you can order a to-go julbord on Dec. 20 at bit.ly/3yhIXPy.
Stockhome, 220 Western Ave., Petaluma, 707-981-8511, stockhomerestaurant.com
Swedish julbord expertise provided by Sonoma Magazine Swedes-in-residence Sofia Englund and Annika Toernqvist.