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Kalakukko, an edible carrying case for fish

2 min read

Kalakukko is considered a quintessentially Finnish, however there aren’t many Finns who have actually tasted it!

In Finnish, kala kukko literally means “fish cock”, if you think a rooster.
But in Karelian, a Finnic language spoken in parts of Finland and the Russian Republic of Karelia, the word “kukko” refers to pie or pastry.
This rye bread loaf stuffed with bacon-wrapped fish is a traditional food invented as an early form of take out.
Although its first written mention dates back to the 18th Century, the dish is likely much older.
In fact, kalakukko was probably Finland’s first takeaway meal: residents of Rautalampi, a town 70km south-west of Kuopio, used to bake birch sprigs directly into the bread as a handle, so they could easily carry their meal-on-a-stick.
When hunger struck, they ripped open the top to scoop out savory filling using chunks of rye crust.

Although there are many variations, real kalakukko is filled with bacon and vendace, a small-boned lake fish from eastern Finland.
Bakers place a stack of whole, headless vendace in the center of flattened rye dough, then cover them in raw bacon strips.
As it bakes, the pork fat melts it over the fish and they amalgamate to form a succulent pâté with a distinct thick, smoky and briny flavour.
However, getting the kalakukko’s crust just right is not an easy task, and sculpting the dough around the filling takes a lot of precision: making the crust too thick renders it difficult to eat, but overly thin crusts dry the whole loaf out.
Moreover, baking the treat takes at least five hours and special care. Some bakers remove the doughy round after 20 minutes in the oven to patch newly formed cracks and, halfway through the 10-hour, low-heat baking process, they fill a syringe with melted butter and inject it into the core.

Nordic wayfarers once sustained themselves on kalakukko packed with bacon fat, fish, and butter, while modern Finns, even if still enjoy the dish, are more inclined to serve it in reasonably portioned slices…

Images from web – Google Research

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