Monday, 24 June 2024

Foodie Freak: Exploring Scandinavian food

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED. 

 

** A word of warning, although the last name is the Danish spelling, the writer is mostly Norwegian!


The Sons of Norway has a monthly dinner so I thought it would be interesting to show off some of the dishes of dem dehr scandihoovians.


Scandinavian countries include Norway, Sweden, Denmark and, to a lesser part Finland, Iceland, and the indigenous Sami people who inhabit the far northern regions (sometimes called “Laplanders”).


Now, to give you a little background, my family gathers every Christmas and celebrates with large amounts of Norwegian food, Krumkake (a rolled cookie, similar to a long thin ice cream cone), Fattigman (a deep fried cookie), Kjottkaker (the Norwegian version of Swedish meatballs) and lefsa.


Go back with me 20 years: When my new (Italian) wife saw the table covered in food her first comment was, “Don’t Norwegians have any food that isn’t white?” But when my aunt comforted her with the comment that she had brought lasagna in her honor, her spirits lifted a little.


Then my aunt listed the ingredients: lasagna noodles, ground beef, cottage cheese and a store-brand spaghetti sauce. My aunt said to season it she had used some (plain black) pepper, and so she hoped it wasn’t too spicy! My wife was very gracious to my aunt, but boy, did I get an earful later! No Italian sausage! No ricotta or mozzarella cheese! No peppers (that’s with an “s”, meaning bell peppers), no fresh tomato sauce with fresh herbs! What kind of culinary wasteland had she entered?).


Just a quick note ... there is no word for “spicy” in Norwegian.


Now let’s return to the Sons of Norway dinners. There’s lefsa (where there’s Norwegians there’s always lefsa) which is basically a potato crepe that is typically spread with butter and then sprinkled with sugar (plain, white, sugar) then rolled up and eaten with the hands. There are many different types of Smorbrod, an open faced sandwich (literally “open sandwich”), covered in gravlax (literally “salmon from the grave” since originally it was buried; gravlax is a salt-, sugar- and dill-cured salmon, a basic recipe follows) and usually topped with a mild mustard and dill. Other smorbrod will be topped with shrimp, smoked salmon, Jarlsberg cheese (Jarlsberg is a Norwegian cheese similar to Swiss but with a pronounced “nutty” flavor).


Gravlax


One salmon filet

5 tablespoons salt

5 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 bunch dill

 

Some people choose to scale their salmon first, but I don’t bother. Cut the tail off of the salmon so that you roughly have a long rectangle. Then cut it in half so you have two squares. Put both squares on a long sheet of plastic wrap, skin side down. Mix the salt, sugar, and pepper and sprinkle all over both pieces of fish, flesh side only, and pat the spice mixture lightly so it sticks to the fish. Lay the dill on top of one of the squares of fish and flip the other square of salmon on top of the dill. You should now have an odd looking dill sandwich with the salmon as the bread.


Wrap the whole package tightly in the plastic wrap and then using another length of plastic wrap do it again at a ninety degree angle, the tighter the better. Place this bundle into a dish with high sides (there may be some leakage so you need the sides there). I like to use the kind of pan that you make brownies in. Now place another dish of some sort on top of the salmon. I like to use a bread loaf pan for this one.


Place some weights in the pan to help compress the salmon down; a few cans of soup work well here. Place this teetering tower into the refrigerator out of the way. In twenty four hours flip the salmon over and replace the pan and weights and put back into the fridge again. In another twenty four hours your salmon is now officially gravlax, but it still needs a little more time to fully develop the flavor that you want to achieve. A couple more days of pressing and flipping won’t hurt. I typically like to do three days total for the best flavor and texture.


However long you decide to do it, when you take it out of the torture chamber that it’s been sitting in remove the now spent dill and rinse the filets in cold water, washing off as much of the left over spice mixture as you can.


Slice the gravlax at a 45-degree angle as thinly as possible, but don’t cut through the skin. Traditionally gravlax is served on rye bread with a little mustard and a sprig of dill.

 

Once I’ve cut all of the gravlax from the skin I particularly like to fry the skin until crisp and eat it like bacon. Again, there’s no need to scale the skin before frying, they just dissolve during the cooking process. OK, I don’t exactly know what happens to the scales, just trust me, they disappear.

 

It is possible to increase the amounts of this recipe and use two whole salmon filets, but the whole compression torture chamber just ends up dominating the refrigerator.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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