The sprat population of the Baltic sea has remained stable despite successive catches of 300,000 tonnes in the late 2010s and fears of a collapse of the entire eco-system have been allayed for now.
An annual plan was put in place in 2016 to manage sprat numbers in conjunction with cod and herring. The Baltic cod fishery is under pressure and, as cod prey on their pelagic relatives, over fishing of the sprat population would be detrimental to the dwindling cod.
Sprats have become the dominant fish in the Baltic amidst continuing climate change which may yet impact the eco-system.
In the meantime the sprat is as popular as ever, an essential ingredient in the traditional dishes of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia.
800 g smoked sprats
300 g cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tbsp vegetable oil
12 sprigs parsley, chopped
1 tbsp dill, chopped
1 tsp black pepper
Salt, large pinches
Whisk three of the eggs. Heat a large frying pan with a tablespoon of oil, add a quarter of the sprats, then the whisked eggs.
Cook until the eggs are done, garnish with dill and parsley, season with salt and pepper, serve with tomatoes.
Repeat the process with remaining ingredients, to serve a total of 4 people.
Bryndza, the creamy white cheese of Poland and Slovakia, owes its popularity to a Wallachian tradition.
The Wallachians were semi-nomadic pastoralists from the Balkans. They arrived in the mountains and foothills of central Europe with their own hardy animals and developed the method of making lump cheese with raw milk from their ewes.
The Podhale Zackel breed in Poland and the Podpolanie Wallachian breed in Slovakia roam the same foothills and mountains as their ancestors, eating the same floral grassland.
Faithful to the old tradition, modern shepherds curdle the fresh milk using boiled sheep whey or spring water and klag, a natural rennet made from stomachs of suckling calves, goats and lambs. They compress it into lumps with the aid of cheesecloths. The lumps drain for two hours, and ferment for three days in a heated room.
Made every year from April to September this produces white gold – a natural product high in healthy probiotics, proteins and minerals. Like their ancestors the shepherds know that three days at a constant temperature allow good bacteria to multiply. Lower or higher temperatures make all the difference to the quality of the cheese.
Desired as a delicacy on its own, this white gold is used to make blue, smoked, steamed and whey cheeses.
BRYNDZA cow‘s, ewes and sheeps milk, mild, spicy, salty.
BRYNDZA LETNA summer ewes and cows milk, mild, spicy, salty.
BRYNDZA LIPTOVSKÁ ewes milk, low-salt.
BRYNDZA OVCA ewes milk, mild, spicy, salty.
BRYNDZA S ÚDENOU CHUT‘OU beech wood-smoked, cows, ewes and sheeps, milk, mild, spicy, salty.
BRYNDZA SUDOVÁ 2 month old, ewes milk, mild, spicy, salty.
BRYNDZA TERMIZOVANÁ cows, ewes and sheeps lump cheese, thermised for longer life, mild, spicy, salty.
BRYNDZA ZIMNÁ winter ewes and cows milk, mild, spicy, extra salty.
BRYNDZA PODHALAŃSKA ewes and cows milk, strong, salty / sour.
BRYNDZA SLOVENSKÁ milled raw sheeps milk / raw cows and sheeps milk, salty, sour, spicy.
Pies filled closed or open with a combination from apple, cabbage, cheese, egg, mushroom, onion, potato, pumpkin and rice to accompany fish or meat with various aromatics and jams are an integral feature of the traditional food of northern Europe, from the Baltic states across to the Russian heartlands and down to the Ukrainian steppes.
What makes these particular pies unique in traditional cuisine are the various types of dough, which are a cross between a cake dough and a yeast dough with a liquid medium that could be kefir or milk, fat content that could be butter or margarine and sour cream and include potato among the various types of flour.
The sour-sweet combination that is apple, cabbage and onion is the traditional base and after that there are countless variations on numerous themes that include chicken, fish and various meats.
The pies come in all shapes and sizes.
500 g white wheat flour, t550
200 ml milk, warmed to 38ºC
1 small egg
60 g sugar
50 g sour cream
25 g butter / margarine, melted
25 g yeast
1 tbsp sunflower oil
5 g salt
1 egg, beaten, for glazing
Dissolve the yeast in 5 tablespoons of the warm milk and one teaspoon of sugar, leave to froth for 15 minutes.
In a bowl whisk the sour cream into the remaining milk and sugar. Add the yeast mixture followed by the melted butter or margarine, and finally the egg and salt with a few swift turns of the whisk each time. Sieve the flour into this mixture, fold out onto a clean work surface and begin to knead.
This is a sticky dough so after 5 minutes add a drop of oil, around a teaspoon, knead for a further 5 minutes, add more oil, knead again for 5 minutes, add oil and knead until the dough is elastic, adding more oil if necessary.
The desired dough temperature is 24ºC.
Leave to rise for two hours, degas, leave to rise again, for another two hours.
1 green cabbage / kale, leaves separated, stems removed, blanched in hot water for 30 minutes, sliced into strips
1 kg beef mince
1 kg onions, sliced
1 kg sour apples, peeled, cored, puréed with 30 g sugar
Fry the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil over a high heat for 5 minutes, cover, reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes until the onions are soft and have taken on colour at the edges.
Divide the onion mixture into three portions.
Put the minced meat in the onion pan, add one third of the cooked onions and gently bring up the heat. When the meat begins to brown low the heat and reduce the liquid content.
Put the blanched cabbage strips in a small pot, add the second third of the cooked onions, cook over a medium heat until the cabbage is soft and the liquid is reduced, about 15 minutes.
Put the last third of the cooked onions in a pot, add 500 grams of apple purée, cook over a high heat until the liquid is reduced.
Grease 4 pie tins. Roll out the dough to a thickness of half a centimetre. Cut into two rounds with a sufficient amount of dough to come up the sides, press into the tins. Leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Roll out the remaining dough and cut into rounds slightly larger than the diametre of the pie tins.
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Spoon the meat-onion mixture onto the bottom of each pie dough, cover with the cabbage-onion mixture followed by the apple-onion mixture. Top with remaining apple purée.
Place the dough rounds on top. Seal the edges of each dough, impress edges with a fork. Pierce the top of each pie with the fork. Glaze the tops with an egg wash.
The secret to a perfect cheese cake is twice ground cheese curds. In Poland food companies Mlekovita and Piatnica produce twaróg sernikowy mielony – ground cheesecake curd – for this practical purpose. Potato starch is another ingredient that will make a difference and there is a strong argument that yoghurt rather than cream will make the cheese cake lighter. The first time we made it we were unable to get the Mlekovita or Piatnica brands and instead used a fatty curd from Polmlek. Subsequently we used the Piatnica brand. Both Mlekovita and Piatnica suggest butter is not needed. However, despite the obvious reason, we want to keep with tradition.
500 g ground cheese curd
4 eggs, separated
130 g butter, softened
130 g icing sugar
60 ml cream / yoghurt
60 g vanilla sugar
30 ml fruit juice / lemon juice
30 g potato flour
100 g biscuits, coarse ground
50 g butter, melted
30 g brown sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Beat the soft butter, gradually beat with an egg yolk and a quarter of the icing sugar, repeat with remaining yolks and sugar.
Beat the juice into the mixture.
Beat the ground cheese into the mixture followed by the vanilla sugar, yoghurt and potato flour to obtain a homogeneous mass.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff, gently fold into the mixture.
Melt the butter for the base, add the ground biscuits and, for a little sweetness, brown sugar. Line a cake tin with baking paper, spoon the biscuit mixture on the base and gently smooth out to the edges with a back of a teaspoon.
Put the cheese mixture on top of the biscuit base, bake for 75 minutes.
Remove from oven, leave to cool in the tin.
Dust with icing sugar.
This is the recipe reproduced on the Piatnica tub.
One kilo of cheesecurd, 7 eggs, 240 g icing sugar, 15 g potato flour, 15 g semolina, vanilla sugar or rum flavouring. The method is the same as above, with one exception, the cheesecurd to gently added to the mixture after the beaten egg whites.
Made with chicken or pork or with combinations of the two, the fillings include cheese, eggs, mushrooms, onions and shallots.
This is the chicken version.
600 g chicken meat, minced
30 ml meat broth
200 g onions
45 g hard cheese, grated
2 eggs, hard-boiled, mashed
15 ml vegetable oil
50 g breadcrumbs
30 ml vegetable oil (optional)
Combine chicken with broth, egg and seasonings, leave to rest. Shape into one cm thick cakes. Brown onions in oil, cover and cooked for 15 minutes, leave to cool. Combine onions with hard-boiled eggs, cheese, greens and seasonings, roll into small balls. With wet hands divide the chicken mixture into six pieces, form into balls, push filling mixture into each ball, seal. Shape into oblongs, coat in breadcrumbs, fry until golden or bake in oven at 180ºC for 30 minutes.
Chicken and Pork
This is the chicken and pork version with a mushroom and shallot filling.
300 g chicken thighs, double ground
300 g pork, double ground
30 ml milk
5 g black pepper
5 g salt
200 g mushrooms, sliced and halved
100 g shallots, chopped small
30 g butter / 30 ml rapeseed oil
15 ml chicken stock
1 tsp black pepper
Salt, large pinch
50 g breadcrumbs
45 ml vegetable oil (optional)
30 g butter (optional)
Combine the chicken and pork mince with the eggs, milk and seasonings, knead a little, refrigerate for an hour. Melt butter or oil in a frying pan, sauté shallots for 10 minutes, add mushrooms and cook down, about 10 minutes, add stock, season and leave to cool. Divide into four pieces. Flatten each piece, layer with a quarter of the filling, shape into oblongs, coat in breadcrumbs. Fry in butter and oil until golden or bake in oven at 180ºC for 30 minutes.
BELARUS HUNGARY POLAND ROMANIA RUSSIA SLOVAKIA UKRAINE
The dumpling tradition across northern and eastern Europe is generally characterised by the simple flour and egg version. Known as galuska or haluška it is also associated with the potato dumpling tradition with mashed potatoes added to the flour and eggs. Whereas in Ukraine the flour and eggs will be married to curd cheese and sour cream. This is the original version – flour, eggs and butter – generally favoured in Hungary.
200 g flour
50 g butter
15 ml oil
1 tsp salt
Combine flour and salt, work in eggs, oil and water to form a soft dough. Boil a large pot of salted water. Grate dough into the water. When the noodles rise to the surface drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Melt butter in a saucepan. Dress with the butter.
Polish master chef Stansław Czerniecki’s Compendium Ferculorum albo Zebranie Potraw (Collection of Dishes) is a Polish culinary monument. Published in 1682 his ‘collection’ was the first Polish cookbook, not unusual for the time because Europe’s aristocratic courts boasted countless cookbooks compiled by master chefs amidst a period that established a new sensibility about food, its preparation and presentation. That it predated the second Polish cookbook Kucharz Doskonały by 101 years is astonishing, yet there was a very good reason.
Czerniecki’s Compendium Ferculorum was a masterpiece at the time, and remains one of the greatest cookbooks ever produced. It stands tall alongside the great cookbooks of the past millennium. The decision by the Museum of King Jan III’s Place at Wilanów, Warsaw to reprint it only affirms this belief, as attested by Paweł Jaskanis, director of the museum, and by Jarosław Dumanowski, editor of the culinary monument series.
‘Relish the flavour of these pages,’ writes Jaskanis with gusto. ‘It teaches how to stimulate both taste and imagination, how to surprise banqueters, how to bedazzle them with the appearance of dishes and their presentation.’
‘It is an extraordinary work which describes that not only is completely different from the modern, but which also greatly departs from the popular perception of the Polish cuisine and history,’ writes Dumanowski, asserting the pride Czerniecki felt, ‘that thanks to him Poles had received a work describing their national cuisine’.
‘The cuisine of Stansław Czerniecki is also the cuisine of the baroque, that is the cuisine reaching to contrast, illusion, and readily resorting to surprising concepts. Flavours selected on the principle of contrasts, astonishing differences between the appearance and flavour of dishes, fish pretending to be partridges, buckwheat prepared without a grain of buckwheat and riddle dishes all come together to create a culinary style which the master cook was a strict adherent.’
It was no wonder that the Medici in situ in Florence, Cosimo the third, ordered Czerniecki’s cookbook. Cosimo would have delighted in the work of a master cook who took great delight in a tradition, whether or not Czerniecki knew of it, that began in Florence in 1512. It was called Compagnia del Paiolo (‘Company of the Cauldron’).
The motto of the company was l‘arte si fa a cena (the art of dining). It innocently sought culture and conviviality, good taste and simplicity, frankness and friendliness. Its first adherents included Giovan Francesco Rustici, a painter and sculptor, artists Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo de Vinci, and Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (later Pope Clement).
With Catherine de‘ Medici ensconced in Paris as crown consort then as regent, this new attitude to food became an aristocratic obsession. It spread through the same courts that had produced the recipe-collecting chefs of the era. The Castillian, Catalonian, Neopolitan, Sicilian, Tuscan and Venetian styles, among others from the Iberian and Italian regions, penetrated the French court with chefs, confectioners and pâtissiers trained in the emerging style, that would soon became known as the classical manner, then as haute cuisine.
Maria de’ Medici, queen to Henri the fourth, is believed to have been the instigator, following the sentiments of Pope Clement. He would have luxuriated in the extravagances taken at the grand banquet for Maria‘s wedding, where the cornucopia of flavours and architectural displays of food epitomised the Tuscan attitude to food. Within five generations a dominant aristocratic paradigm had been created, the chefs of the courts bringing exquisite care and infinite attention to detail in the provision and preparation of food.
Four generations later that ‘exquisite care and infinite attention to detail’ was practised by the master cook to the courts of the Lubomirski family at Krakow.
It might also be argued that the Polish cook surpassed the great works of the master cooks who worked for the Medicis. The ‘Company of the Cauldron’ celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2012, and two years later the Polish edition of ‘Collection of Dishes’ was published.
Such generational and culinary symmetry is sobering.
Czerniecki produced culinary art of the highest calibre, art that was not abstract or utopian, that was traditional Polish food made real, influenced by the cuisine of the Czechs and Lithuanians more than the food of the French and Italians. Like the work of the great artists of the early 1500s, who equated their art with the art of dining, Czerniecki produced culinary artworks that appealed to the senses, where flavour and taste had to become sublime to be real.
Stanisław Czerniecki, Compendium ferculorum or collection of dishes, w opracowaniu J. Dumanowskiego we wspólpracy z M. Spychaj, Warszawa 2014, s. 196, il. 51, ISBN 978-83-63580-40-7.
Traditionally the berry fruit that accompanied mackerel was gooseberry, either as a jelly or a sauce. Wild bilberries or cultivated bluberries made into jelly are a tangy alternative. This method produces a coarse jelly and a smooth sauce.
1.2 kg (4) mackerel, gutted, filleted
600 g bilberries / blueberries
300 g sugar
200 g sweet apples, grated
80 ml water
30 ml lemon juice
Simmer berries with the apple, water, lemon juice and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Increase heat, cook until the berries have melted into the liquid. Strain the liquid into a scalded jar. Cook the remaining mixtures for five minutes until it is thick and sticky, remove to a bow.
Pan-fry mackerel, serve hot with the jelly or sauce or with a little of both.