Classic Swedish herring sandwich (sillamacka på kavring)

As any Swedophile will know, herring beats meatballs for the title of the quintessential Swedish dish. This recipe (if it can even be called that) is a Swedish classic, perhaps the ultimate herring sandwich. There’s a wide selection of spiced herrings in the land of frost and darkness: onion, mustard, tomato, curry, dill, crayfish, garlic… the list goes on. But the simple matjessill is my favourite. It’s both salty and sweet, spiced with cinnamon, sandalwood and allspice, and sometimes I get cravings for it which knows no boundaries. Every time I go to Scandinavian kitchen in Oxford circus I come home with several tins of the stuff, and then I try re-create this sandwich with English sour cream, imported Swedish bread, red onion and chives. Having served it to several people in London, I’m convinced you don’t need to be Swedish to appreciate the complex fresh flavours of this dish. It makes for an excellent starter in the summer. Or in the winter for that matter, it is always delicious.

For the sandwich you need:

  • 1 tin of matjessill (can be bought at IKEA or Scandinavian shops around the UK)
  • Sourcream (all the better if you can get a hold of gräddfil which is the Swedish variant)
  • Red onion, finely chopped
  • Chives, finely chopped
  • 1 slice of dark sweet Swedish bread, kavring. This can be substituted with any sweet, dark rye you can find at Nordic bakery shops or anywhere else for that matter. In desperate times any darkish bread can do (in the picture below I used a walnut rye bread). Just make sure it’s not toast, we’re not dealing with shrimps or crayfish here!
  • Bolied sliced new potatoes, cold (optional)
  • Sliced hard boiled egg, cold (optional)
  • Dark Swedish caviar (optional). This sounds posh but it’s just lumpfish roe. It has a delicate salty flavour to it and looks nice.

Another sillamacka, with light walnut bread and some dark caviar.

The making of this sandwich is very simple. For the base of the sandwich, you need a slice of kavring bread. This is hard to get a hold of outside of Sweden, so you can substitue with with a sweet rye kind, or make your own*. If you want to add potato or egg to make it more filling, you add them first. Spread some red onion on top of these as well as on the plate. Then add a generous dollop of sourcream on top of this, and add three juicy pieces of matjessill on top. Scatter generously with chopped chives.

* Making traditional kavring at home takes two days and lots of Swedish ingredients. I found an alternative which I refer to as fake kavring:


Good thing is it only takes one hour to prepare and bake! You need:

  • 1 oven-proof pan for bread loaves
  • Butter and bread crumbs to make it non-stick
  • 3 deciliters sour cream
  • 1 1/2 deciliters dark sirup
  • 1/2 deciliters water
  • 2 deciliters plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 deciliters sifted rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon bicarbonate
  • 1 tablespoon lingonberry jam

Butter and bread the pan for the oven. Put your oven to 180 degrees. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add the sour cream, sirup, water and lingonberry. Pour into the pan up to 2/3 for a high loaf. Put in at the bottom of the oven for 1 hour until it is a dark golden brown. Let rest and then slice up thinly.

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3 Comments on “Classic Swedish herring sandwich (sillamacka på kavring)”

  1. Su-Lin says:

    I’ve always purchased the flavoured herrings at Ikea but never the matjessill and now I’m very keen to try it! Might grab one of the bread mixes from Ikea too while I’m at it. Great post!

  2. Ingrid says:

    Thank you so much. The combo matjessill+sour cream+red onion and chives really is a killer, it just tastes really really fresh. And if you want to omit the carbiness of it you can actually skip the bread but do more eggs and potato. I read about your crayfish adventures in Skåne, so jealous!!

  3. […] best herring sandwich I ever had (I wrote about this Swedish delicacy and how to make it at home a while back). Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending my cousin’s wedding in the Swedish mountains, […]


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