Support Your Local Fishmonger: Kalaliike Mäkinen (and an Awesomely Simple Recipe for Pikeperch Fillet)

 Jyväskylä University, Autumn
Jyväskylä University, Autumn

This weekend’s weather forecast was very distinct and specific: it predicted a chill and sunny day on Saturday and a slightly-warmer day on Sunday with ‘100% chance of precipitation’.  I interpreted this as ‘enjoy the glorious autumn weather Saturday because the next day you’ll want to stay at home.’

As it happens, both the weather report and my interpretation of it have been entirely accurate.  So yesterday morning we put on our warm coats, grabbed a camera and walked out into the lightly frosty morning with porcelain-blue sky and a flood of near-horizontal (at noon) sunlight.  It was the sort of weather that I like to call ‘Autumn in Technicolor’, when the light paints everything in bright shades – the blue of the sky, the green of the lawns, the yellows and oranges and reds of scattered fallen leaves, and the piercing emerald of moss against the grey stone.

Moss on Granite

In one word, gorgeous.

Autumn - Rowan Berries

See what I mean?  The frost nipping my nose while we walked through the shade of the great conifers surrounding the campus?  Totally worth it to stop and take photos right there and then!

The object of our venturing-out was manyfold, but the reason I made sure to venture out early enough (for us, on a weekend), was because I wanted to catch the local fishmonger, Kalaliike Mäkinen, open (they close at 14:00 on Saturdays).  If I were in mind to sappily romanticise, I’d have said that I felt the cool of Autumn and known that the vendace caviar (löjrom in Swedish, a well-loved Scandinavian delicacy) season is upon me, but honestly, I had no idea when vendace caviar season specifically was (I love eating it whenever I see it…).  I saw the picture of fresh löjrom on the facebook feed of the fishmonger (we live in the 21st Century and obviously the fishmonger that’s been there since 1929 has a well-updated website and facebook page).  I saw it there, and desired it with a maniacally-drooling enthusiasm.

Before I go further, I’d like to point out that while Kalix Löjrom is a Swedish PDO, the small fish itself (siklöja in Swedish, muikku in Finnish) isn’t patriotic about the Swedish flag, and lives just as happily in Finland, producing caviar that is in no way inferior.

So, off to the fishmonger we went, photographing the gorgeous sights along the way.  The fish shop itself is located very close to the city centre on the main shopping street (Kauppakatu 8), and has a plain, clean storefront with large windows and a really cute happy fish logo.  I’m not sure if the fish is happy that it’ll get eaten, or because it’s fresh and not sad supermarket-icebox fish, but there it is – see for yourself!

Kalaliike Sign

The store has pristine glass-covered icebox displays and a couple of tables in a corner for those who want to eat in (they sell a modest selection of sushi made with their fresh fish).  In terms of atmosphere, it is a good example of ultra-simplified Scandinavian decor adapted to a commercial space, spare and tasteful.

The proprietors, Ursula and Mika, are the third generation descending from the founder, and can often be seen behind the counter themselves, happy to answer questions and give recommendations when asked for.  The fish gets delivered fresh daily from both, local lakes and from Norway (sea salmon, Salmo salar), and the selection varies seasonally and ‘based on what the fishermen manage to catch’ – that is, if the Northern pike eluded the fishing lines and nets one day, there’s no pike in the shop and that’s just how it is.  This isn’t a supermarket, where you are guaranteed item X on any given day because that’s what they stock from a variety of sources and suppliers – but it doesn’t try to be that, nor should it.

Rainbow Trout and Pikeperch
Rainbow Trout and Pikeperch

What it is, is a great local fishmonger shop, where you can ask your fish to be filleted, or cut up just so, the bones and head and fins bundled separately if you want to take them home for making fish stock, and where the fish is always fresh and beautiful with shiny scales and clear eyes, not smelling the least bit ‘fishy’ – no sad days-old pisces with drying fins here.

We wandered into shop, oogled the offer of the day (and the caviar!), and asked Ursula which fish would be good pan-fried, since we planned a heavyish lunch, and wanted a lighter dinner.  She recommended a pikeperch (aka zander, or gös in Swedish and kuha in Finnish), which is a fish similar to American Great Lakes’ walleye (a close relative).  I hadn’t tried it before, but I’ve seen it in many a good restaurant in Stockholm, usually in the ‘premium’ range of the menu, and I’ve heard it was prized for its delicate flavor and good texture.  Most of the pikeperch in their box were … rather large…r than T and I could eat between us for dinner.

Pikeperch aka Zander
Pikeperch aka Zander

… So we ended up  buying a fillet of a smaller one that was available already filleted.  More on that shortly!  We also bought the löjrom (vendace caviar) we were after,

Vendace Caviar aka Löjrom
Vendace Caviar aka Löjrom

… and gleefully packed it and the pikeperch fillet into an insulating bag we brought along to keep them nice and chilled on the long way home (long because it went through a long lunch out and a bit more shopping before heading back).

Before I continue to the (short and glorious) fate of aforementioned fillet, I would like to show some of the other delicious things the shop happened to have on display yesterday, but that I managed to not buy because a girl must contain her greed for foodstuffs sometimes.  Especially when she uhm, has a hugely full fridge and freezer she’d sworn to herself she’s going to eat out of before restocking.  So, onwards to more salivation-inducing items such as:

Gravad Siika

Gravad siika (aka sik in Swedish or whitefish in English) – a new favorite we discovered upon arrival in Finland, whitefish salt-cured in the manner of gravad lax (name which is mangled into ‘gravlax’ in anglophone countries).  If you like cold-smoked salmon or gravad lax, this whitefish preparation definitely worth trying – it is a less sweet, and cleaner-flavored cousin, distinct enough to serve on its own or alongside its famous relative:

Gravad Lax, Salt-Cured Salmo salar
Gravad Lax, Salt-Cured Salmo salar

Gravad lax needs no introduction – it is one of Scandinavia’s favorite foods for a good reason.  Really good reason.  The I-could-lick-my-computer-screen-now sort of reason.  Delicate and sweet, it’s amazing on local rye bread or crispbread, with a good slick of butter, honey-dill mustard sauce, a touch of hot sauce, or just plain alongside some boiled new potatoes.

There was a lot more, of course, including a variety of fishes hot-smoked whole, and the sushi, but one has to draw the line somewhere writing a blog post, or drown in drool and I am not ready to do that yet.  Anyway – if you love or like fish, and live anywhere around Jyväskylä, you need to visit this place.  Yes, there is also good fish in supermarkets around here (I wasn’t really trying to insult them earlier, and at least one or two also source locally and fresh!), but it doesn’t compare.  This is fresher, and usually just downright better.  And the service is second to none.

Moreover, there is a good reason to patronize your local fishmonger, and it is the same one as patronizing any small specialist business – not only is it better for you and the environment, but you are providing livelihood to the sort of specialists that you won’t find employed by large supermarkets, and are getting superior product and service at the same time.  To me, it’s not even a question – the not that much extra time spent stopping here and buying the catch of the day is absolutely, utterly worth it.

Fillet of Pikeperch, Peppered

And this brings us to the pikeperch fillet that we bought for yesterday’s dinner.  You see, when fish is this fresh, it needs nearly nothing in terms of gussying-up to shine.  If all the fish you’ve ever eaten had been the pre-frozen battered fillet kind, you don’t actually know what real, fresh fish tastes like – and what it tastes like is nothing short of amazing.  It’s delicately scented, not in the least bit ‘fishy’, and has that wonderful savory edge that only fresh fried fish has.

In short, unless you are allergic to fish, it’s the food of the Gods, or at least of Neptune in particular.  I imagine I don’t even need to go into the long lecture about how healthy and good for you this is, so I won’t.  But it is.  And you should eat it.  And it is one of the easiest things to cook, ever.  Easier than boiling an egg, I imagine – imagine because I don’t boil eggs as I hate them, but in short, this is very easy.

All you do is this:

  • You visit the fishmonger and bring the fillet home, open the package, and cut it into as many (or few) pieces as you like.  We split ours in half.  Salt and pepper it, and heat a nonstick pan with a little bit of oil or butter, or a mix of both on medium-high heat.

Fillet in the pan

  • Once preheated, slap the fish into it and drizzle the top with a little olive oil, and leave it be a few minutes (don’t poke it with a spatula, fish doesn’t like that).  The kitchen will become saturated with the most amazing fried fish scent, like the breeze from a good seaside restaurant.  While the fish cooks (watch it for turning opaque – thinner parts will cook faster than thicker), slice a few vegetables into a bowl for a simple salad.
  • Since we also had the fresh caviar, and I remembered I had an avocado in the fridge, I halved that, removed pit and spooned a bit of the caviar into the cavity, serving a bit of strained 10% fat Turkish yogurt alongside it.
  • Flip the fish when the edges look golden and it’s looking about halfway opaque in the thickest part of the fillet.  Do this carefully with a thin spatula, because unbattered fish can stick a little even to a nonstick pan.  The underside should be beautifully white with golden browning.
  • Pour a couple of glasses of wine, stick the salad on the table and light a candle.  Return to the fish (by now it might be about 10 minutes since it hit the pan), and if it’s looking entirely opaque and flakes easily when poked, it’s ready.

Carefully transfer it to the plates, take them to the table, and rejoyce.  You have just cooked a meal that most restaurants would struggle to beat, simply by virtue of the fish being fresher and better – and not needing heavy sauces, or anything else, really.  Squeeze a bit of lemon on it, and fork away.

Fresh pikeperch tastes sort of like you always wish white fish would, but it never does in fish fingers and the like.  Well, if you do this – it will taste the taste of all your pescatarian dreams.  I promise.

Pikeperch with Vendace Caviar (Gösfile med Löjrom)
Pikeperch with Vendace Caviar (Gösfile med Löjrom)

Eat, enjoy, and go back to support your local fishmonger.  Because they are worth it.

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