Kalakukko bread is a loaf of rye bread with a pork and fish filling made in eastern Finland, particularly the Savo region. The shape can be round or oval.
The bread has a hard crust about 1/ 2 inch (1 cm) thick. Sometimes it will be up to 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) thick, particularly if the dough used has yeast in it — some versions don’t use yeast.
The dough will made of rye flour, with some wheat flour and sometimes barley flour added as well. Salt and melted butter are added to the dough, along with water. As mentioned, some recipes use yeast, some don’t. When baked, the dough can’t be too soft, or the filling will leak out; or too hard, or it will crack and the filling will leak out.
Fresh fish is used (e.g. not pickled or dried.) Any small fish can be used, particularly vendace or perch. Sometimes a different name is assigned to the bread based on the fish used: if vendace is used, the bread may be called “muikkukukko”; if perch is used, it might be called “ahvenkukko.” You clean the fish of fins, scales, and innards. Sometimes those who don’t mind eating fish heads leave them on; most however remove the heads.
The pork used needs to have lots of fat.
No spices are added to the filling mixture, just salt
The dough is formed into a large, flat round. The filling is heaped in the centre. The dough is then wrapped around the filling, and the edges glued together with water and smoothed tight with a knife.
Kalakukko Bread used to be baked overnight in a slow oven, usually using the leftover heat from the day’s baking. Now, it is baked up to an hour at 475 to 575 F (250 to 300 C.) Then, the bread is taken out and the oven temperature reduced. When the temperature inside the oven has gone down to between 250 and 300 F (125 and 150 C), the loaf is brushed with melted butter, and sometimes also covered in tin foil, and placed back in the oven to cook for an additional 4 to 6 hours.
Then, the bread used to be taken out, wrapped in newspaper or cloth and let stand for 2 to 3 hours for further cooking with its own residual heat. Now, it is more common that the oven heat is further reduced to 212 F (100 C), and the bread left in the oven at that temperature for an additional hour.
During the cooking, the filling inside turns into a thick stew.
Kalakukko Bread is served in slices, hot or cold. In the Savo region of Finland, they make a slice across the top first, then scoop out some filling to put on the slice. Then they start cutting sideways. In the Karelia region, they just slice it as though it were a traditional loaf of bread.
Kalakukko Bread is now sold in bakeries.
Kalakukko Bread is meant to have a shelf life of at least two weeks when uncut.
Uncut Kalakukko loaves made a transportable lunch.
In July 2000, makers of Kalakukko Bread applied for PGI status. In 2002, they received “Traditional Speciality Guaranteed” (TSG) status instead.
“Kala-kukko” means “fish-stuffed pastry.”
In modern Finnish, “kukko” means rooster, but it’s the old meaning of “hidden” that applies here.