RECIPE: Pickled mackerel and beetroot salad

If you like pickled herring, then you will surely like pickled mackerel too, and food writer John Duxbury knows exactly how to make it.

RECIPE: Pickled mackerel and beetroot salad
Pickled mackerel and beetroot salad. Photo: Swedish Food

There are so many wonderful Swedish flavours packed into this delicious starter that looks so snazzy. Of course, Swedes are famous for their pickled herring, but mackerel is often more available and of better quality abroad, so this is a good alternative. It needs to be made at least two days in advance, but the flavours improve if you can keep it a bit longer. (It will keep for several weeks in the fridge.)


Makes: 4 servings

Level: Easy

Preparation: 15 minutes*

Cooking: 20 minutes

TOTAL: 35 minues

*Needs preparing a few days in advance


• Serve with a glass of snaps, as is traditional in Sweden.


4 mackerel fillets

Brining solution

140g (½ cup) salt

1 litre (4 cups) water

Pickling solution

500 ml (2 cups) white vinegar (distilled malt vinegar, 5%)

250 ml (1 cup) water

50 g (¼ cup) caster (superfine) sugar

5 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

6 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp yellow mustard seeds

3 tsp cardamom pods, lightly crushed

Pickling vegetables

2 carrots, thinly sliced

1 onion, sliced

Salad garnish

2 small cooked beetroots, thinly sliced

100 g (4 oz) mixed salad leaves

2 tbsp lemon and dill dressing (mix 1 tbsp lemon juice, 3 tbsp salad oil, 1 tbsp finely chopped dill and ½ tsp sugar)

balsamic glaze (available ready-made in bottles)

olive oil

a few small sprigs of dill


1. Pick over the fillets to check that there are no big bones left in them (small bones will dissolve in the vinegar).

2. Mix the salt and water for the brining solution, but there is no need to heat it. Place the fillets in the solution for 3 hours, or until the fish is firm.

3. Place all the pickling ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool.

4. Put the fish fillets and the pickling vegetables in a sterilised glass jar or container. Pour the pickling solution into the jar until all the fish is covered. Prod the fish lightly to release any trapped air. Cover with a lid and refrigerate for at least two days, preferably longer.

5. Place 3 or 4 slices of beetroot on each plate. Mix the salad with the dressing, add pickled carrots and place on top of the beetroot slices.

6. Roll the mackerel up with some pickled onion in the centre and sit on top of the salad. Top with some tiny dill sprigs.

7. Drizzle with some balsamic glaze and a little olive oil.

This recipe is published courtesy of John Duxbury, founder and editor of Swedish Food.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.