Sauces & Rubs

By Patrice Johnson | February 19, 2014


(Photo by Patrice Johnson)

(Photo by Patrice Johnson)

What’s the best part about the 2014 Winter Olympics? Is it cheering for your favorite athletes and hearing their personal stories? Is it the thrill of victory and the celebration of a medal ceremony? Is it reveling in the amazing landscape of Sochi? For me, the best part about this year’s Olympics is having an excuse to host a zakuski and throw back a few icy shots of vodka (preferably infused with horseradish or dill).

Zakuski (the appetizer or tasting table) is a tradition that dates back to the 1700s. Vodka is most prominently featured at the zakuski, along with small bites that keep guests relatively sober before the main meal is served. A typical zakuski includes bread, pickles, salted fish and cured meats, cheese and caviar.

Serve zakuski to your Swedish friends and they might recognize some very familiar dishes. At the same time Russians first began indulging in zakuski, wealthy Swedes were enjoying brännvinsbord (the spirits or snaps table). The brännvinsbord held bread, butter, salted and cured fish, and cheese served with beer and aquavit. Eventually the brännvinsbord became the first course of smörgåsbord and is now referred to as SOS (smör, ost och sill – butter, cheese and herring).

There is debate about which came first, the Russian zakuski or Swedish brännvinsbord. Both traditions have evolved but continue to be popular, especially during holidays and special occasions. Heat up this cold February evening with an invitation to friends to join you watching skiing, hockey, and figure skating. Serve them a zakuski spread of yeast-raised blini with roe butter, pickled herring, and horseradish and dill infused vodka.

(Photo by Patrice Johnson)

(Photo by Patrice Johnson)

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 1 small shallot , diced finely
  • 1 ounce each red and black flying fish roe (or use your favorite roe)


1. Place butter in a small mixing bowl and place the bowl inside of a larger mixing bowl. Add enough hot water to the larger bowl so that the water just comes up the sides of the smaller bowl. Gently whisk butter as it melts and replace water as needed.
2. Transfer just-melted butter to medium-sized bowl and very gently fold in shallots and roe. Transfer to airtight container and chill until ready to serve.

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