Feasting on Art: smoked trout smørrebrød and Gustave Courbet

Inspired by 'The Trout' by French Realist Gustave Courbet, these Danish open-faced sandwiches would make a great appetizer for a party, or even a light lunch.

Feasting on Art
Gustave Courbet, 'The Trout,' 1873, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Feasting on Art
These Danish open-faced sandwiches are topped with smoked trout, pickled red onion, and crème fraîche.

Smørrebrød is the Danish tradition of open-face sandwiches. A dark dense bread, usually a type of rye, is toasted and topped with smoked or pickled fish and other vegetables. In this version, the smoked trout is the star and so it is essential to purchase high-quality fish.

I picked up a whole fish and carefully de-boned all of the flesh before assembling the smørrebrød. If you have any extra pickled red onions, store them in their pickling liquid in the refrigerator and consume within a week. They are great toppings for hamburgers and can be used to liven up a grilled cheese sandwich.

"The Trout" was painted during a period of time Gustave Courbet spent in the Franche-Comté region. The painting is one of several created after he served time in prison due to his participation in the 1871 Commune. Like Manet’s earlier painting Fish (Still Life), Courbet’s trout is dramatically depicted mid-flop.

"The Trout" appears to be freshly caught, gasping for breath on a riverbank and the canvas is worked with heavy and rough brushstrokes. The application of paint paired with the helplessness of the subject could suggest the frustration the Artist was experiencing at the time with the judiciary system.

Smoked trout smørrebrød

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Yield: 12 servings

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

1/4 red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 slices pumpernickel bread, toasted and quartered

1 teaspoon lemon zest

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup crème fraîche

250 grams [about 1/2 lb.] smoked trout


In a small bowl, combine the red onion with the vinegar, sugar, salt, and 1/4 cup hot water. Let sit for 30 minutes

In another bowl, combine the lemon zest, black pepper, and crème fraîche. Spoon the mixture on the toasted pumpernickel bread. Add a few grams of fish and top with pickled onions.

Garnish with a bit of dill and serve.

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