Citizens, it is a decided fact that Finland is a place I consider a second home, as is true for most of the Nordic regions. This dish in many ways reflects the veritable essence of TFD, as it is a fusion of German Jewish, Russian and Finnish recipes and a synthesis of humble and gourmet elements – the very definition of myself in all ways! 😀
Vorschmack or forshmak (Yiddish: פֿאָרשמאַק, from archaic German Vorschmack, “foretaste” or “appetizer”) is an originally East European dish made of salty minced fish and/or meat. Different variants of this dish are especially common in Ashkenazi Jewish and Finnish cuisine. Some varieties are also known in Russian and Polish cuisine.
In Jewish cuisine,, according to legendary food historian Gil Marks, the German name points to the possible Germanic origin of this dish. William Pokhlyobkin describes it as an originally East Prussian hot appetizer which was made of fried herring. The dish was adopted and brought eastwards by Ashkenazi Jews which transformed it into a cold appetizer, a pâté made of chopped brined herring. While the name forshmak became common in Ukraine, Polish and Lithuanian Jews usually called it gehakte herring (“chopped herring”).
Traditional recipes include chopped hard-boiled egg, onion and grated fresh apple. Sometimes potatoes are also added. The appetizer is usually served as a salad or as a spread on bread, crackers or kichlach (cookies). It may also be eaten for breakfast or as a main course, usually with boiled potatoes.
Although nowadays vorschmack is mainly associated with Jewish cuisine in Russia, historically different versions of this dish (Russian: форшмак) were known there. These were usually hot zakuski (appetizers) or breakfast dishes. A Gift to Young Housewives, a classical Russian cookbook by Elena Molokhovets, provides three recipes of hot vorschmack in its first edition (1861) and further variants were added in subsequent editions.
In one recipe, meat (veal or beef), herring, white bread and onions are minced, mixed with smetana (sour cream) or cream and baked. Other recipes include only herring (without meat), as well as other ingredients, such as potatoes, eggs and apples. Even more elaborate recipes with further details on cooking techniques are given in another classical Russian cookery textbook,
In Finnish cuisine, vorschmack is usually prepared out of ground meat, anchovies or herring and onions. The dish is usually garnished with potatoes, pickles and smetana (sour cream). Snaps is usually served in combination with eating vorschmack. Some recipes include cognac.
There are several stories regarding the origin of the dish, but it has become a traditional Finnish dish as it was one of the favorite appetizers of the Finnish statesman, war hero and gourmand Marshall Gustaf Mannerheim. Some sources say Mannerheim brought the dish to Finland from Poland or Russia, but there have not been any definite sources for these claims.
It was taken to Finland after 1917 by Marshal Mannerheim, who had served at Russian court as officer of the last Czarina’s Chevalier Guard. The story says that Mannerheim took the recipe first to the Kämp hotel. However, the chef at the Kämp was not interested in vorschmack, and therefore Mannerheim brought the recipe across the Esplanade Park to the Savoy restaurant.
The restaurant Savoy at the top floor of one of the buildings around the Esplanadi in central Helsinki is now famous for its vorschmack. The restaurant used to be frequented by Mannerheim and Mannerheim’s table at the Savoy was always reserved and, out of respect, no one would ever consider demanding to be seated there. Savoy still today keeps a similar style decor and menu as in the days of Mannerheim. , in fact!
My version of this recipe combines elements from the original Jewish recipe with its use of grated sour apple, but is otherwise served in the Finnish style and seasoned to my specific tastes. I recognize this is an unusual recipe with ingredients Americans would normally not think to put together. Trust me, it’s delicious – just think of it as a hybrid between pâté and steak tartare, with an element of umami from the salty fish.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 1 ¾ lbs. boned leg of beef
- ½ lb. boned lamb
- 2 Jewish-style herring fillets
- 1 ounce Ortiz brand anchovy
- 1 ounce Abba brand Swedish anchovy (if unavailable, use regular Ortiz brand anchovies, but try and find the real deal)
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
- 2 medium onions
- 2 shallots
- ⅛ cup tomato paste
- 3 whole garlic cloves
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
- White pepper, freshly-ground
- Black pepper, freshly-ground
- 3 allspice berries, freshly-ground
- Salt to taste (be very light with the salt)
- Beef stock
- For garnish:
- Pickled beet, cubed
- Sour pickled, cubed
- Smetana (preferred) or Daisy brand sour cream
- Baked or mashed potatoes
- Take off all the fat from the beef and lamb and cut into medium-sized pieces. Peel the onions and shallots and cut them into 4 pieces each.
- Put a little vegetable oil on a baking sheet, put the meat, 3 of the garlic cloves, shallots and onions on the pan. Sprinkle with oil.
- Bake in a 375 degree F oven until slightly brown, turn over once so that the browning is equal on all sides. When ready, take the pan from the oven and let cool.
- In a food processor, place some pieces of baked meat, garlic and onions and spoon in some beef stock. Process well and when smooth, empty the bowl into a heavy cast iron Dutch oven. Process the rest of the meat, garlic and onions.
- Then, add herring fillets, anchovies, sour apples, tomato paste and fresh garlic to the food processor. Moisten with more stock; so the food processor can work well. Process in the same way as the meats until smooth. Combine the fish mixture thoroughly with the meat and onion mixture in the Dutch oven.
- Moisten the combined blend in the iron kettle with a little bit of cognac and some more stock. Heat the kettle slowly and turn often with a wooden spoon.
- Add the white and black pepper as well as the ground allspice and check the salt (it must not become too salty).
- Now, turn often with wooden spoon and let simmer slowly for 5 – 6 hours. Add more stock as the liquid evaporates. The blend must be thick like heavy cream, but not too dry.
- Control the flavor to your preference with additional cognac, stock, seasoning and fish. Be careful with salt as it concentrates while the dish is cooking. Turn often with a wooden spoon, so that is does not burn on the bottom.
- If you do not have time to wait those 5-6 hours in one batch, cook half on one day for half the time, let cool and continue with the remaining the day after.
- Let the vorschmack cool, then put it in glass jars and refrigerate.
- Serve cold as an appetizer like a “pâté” on Russian and Finnish-style sour rye bread, with champagne and vodka along with all the prescribed sides.
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