The Nordic Fusionist vodkas had a magnificent day view at Phare du Kanaal Christmas market. The winter batches are now sold out, with Pearnilla (Pear, vanilla and cardamom) being the frontrunner. Thanks a ton to everyone who came, and keep an eye out for the spring creations. We are dreaming of fresh pine shoots, birch sap and lilac nectar. We will keep you posted here and on our facebook page.
Elderflower has a near mythical status in Sweden. Blooming in June, it dots the midsummer nights with a dusky light. Way back, women would make sacrifices to the bushes in an attempt to woo “hyllekvinnan” an elderflower godess of fertility. Most everything about the Swedish summer is centered around fertility. Here’s a great snaps to get it going.
10 large bunches elderflower
10 cm slice of lemon peel
2 tbsp brown sugar
35 cl vodka (Brännvin special, with a softer taste and slightly lower alcohol content is ideal, but near impossible to get a hold of abroad. Absolut or Smirnoff are acceptable.)
Some kind of sealed glass jar
Do not rinse the flowers, but pick the large bunches apart with your fingers to remove insects and leaves, making sure you put only flowers in your jar. Add the lemon peel and sugar, followed by the vodka. Stir, seal, and let it rest somewhere dark in room temperature for three days. Then filter the mixture through a siv or cheese cloth, gently crushing the contents to extract the flavour. Pour it into a glass bottle, but don’t fill it entirely, as the best place to store it is the freezer. Serve freezing.
Elderflower is great for many things, and often overlooked (at least in Belgium where tons of it grows in abandoned places). You can make the world’s best cordial from it, sorbet, or pick the berries to make fake capers (although my experience with making fake capers is to just let this one be). You get the most aromatic and floral notes from the first flowers of the early season. Look for it at the sunny fringes of the forest, in the bushel along train tracks, or in hedgerows between fields.
Pelikan is a legendary Stockholm establishment I’ve longed to visit for ages. It’s been around for as long as any living person can remember, and has the same air of grand old lady as Judi Dench. I’m currently reading a book about poor Stockholmers at the turn of the century where Pelikan was the place to go if you wanted to splash out a little. Pelikan serves traditional Swedish food in style of Den Gyldene Freden but at truly huge portions, and a more digestible price. It’s now one of my favourite places in Stockholm.
We visited on a busy Friday night, but the service was impeccable (contrary to stories I’ve heard from previous guests). Pelikan’s staff are little older than the average Stockholm waiters, and they take great pride in their work. This, as far as I understand, means they can be very grumpy sometimes, but also brilliant. My brother’s starter was a delicious trio of herring, with wonderful cumin cheese and crisp bread. My starter, gubbröra, is a Swedish classic of anchovies, red onion, fresh herbs in sours cream on dark, sweet rye bread, which was also delicious. The most insane starter was Fredrik’s shrimp sandwich, which was about the size of two mains. It was great, but should really have been presented as a main (to share).
The mains were great, both in size and taste. Filip’s ham hock was the size of a cauliflower head, servedwith hutspot and three different kinds of mustard. A true classic. My meatballs were also huge, with lovely lingonberry and proper salted cucumber in cream sauce. As far as meatballs go, I prefer the ones served at Den Gyldene Freden, but these still tasted very Swedish. Fredrik’s salmon was luckily smaller than his starter, and slipped down easily. Pelikan is as much about the food as the ambience: the huge old beer hall transports you back to old times lost. Enjoying traditional herring in the light of candles and the pale Stockholm night is quite a treat. Just be prepared to bring a doggy bag home.
Pelikan, Blekingegatan 40, 116 62 Stockholm. 08-556 090 90. Reservation recommended.
Did you know that the best way of taking revenge on being burned by at nettle is to eat its relatives? In Sweden it’s common practice. They are picked by high and low in early spring, and used mostly for nässelsoppa (nettle soup) but also as a healthier substitute to spinach (and even added into smoothies). Nettles contain lots of iron and are a great vitamin boost, and taste like a mild, grassier form of spinach. It’s one of my favourite things to forage, because it grows in abundance just about everywhere and it difficult to confuse with anything else. And as long as you wear gloves, the stinging isn’t a problem.
They key thing is to be out early – they should be tall enough to be easily pickable, but not so big that they’ve grown large leaves. If picked too late, their consistency is too wooden and stringy. However, should you miss the first leaves, you can also settle for picking only the youngest leaves at the top – however never after the nettles have bloomed. Avoid picking them from ditches and busy parks, as they tend to grow where chemicals and other fluids abound.
The consistency may not be to everyones liking, but as long as you have a powerful food blender that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a good way of picking your own tender spring greens for free. In Sweden, nettles are mostly used to make nettle soup (nässelsoppa). It’s easy, tasty and nutritious, and always served with a poached or softly boiled egg. For 4 servings, you need:
– 5 litres newly picked nettles
– 1 small yellow onion
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 litre vegetable stock
– 1 tbsp flour
– 1 dl creme fraiche
– 2 eggs
Chop the onion finely, then fry it in the butter until soft. Add the nettles and make them wilt, adding some water. Once the mix has softened, blitz it with a blender or food processor until it’s a fine paste. Add the flour and let it fry with the nettle mix for a little while. Add the vegetable stock and get it simmering for a few minutes until it has combined somewhat (although it will naturally separate after stirring, due to the high amount of nettles). Whilst the soup is simmering, soft-boil or poach your eggs. Add creme fraiche, salt and pepper to the soup, and then serve up on four plats. Carefully add half a soft-boiled egg or an entire poached egg on top. Sprinkle with some newly crushed black pepper and chives. Serve.
Den Gyldene Freden is a legendary place. By some measures the oldest restaurant in the world, it’s a Swedish institution that has sheltered many famous artists and poets. Frequented by Sweden’s most famous ‘troubadour’ (singer-songwriter seems like a misnomer) Carl Michael Bellman in the 18th century, it was bought by painter Anders Zorn, famous for lavish depictions of voluptuous Dalecarlian ladies, in the early 1900s.
In the 20th century it was the hang-out for legendary singers Evert Taube and Cornelis Vreesvijk. Cornelis, a brilliant lyricist but notorious drunk, wrote a beautiful song about trying to stay sober by taking antabuse in this place. I used to listen to it as a child without understanding the lyrics, but one doesn’t need to speak Swedish to hear the exhausted helplessness of the song.
These days, Den Gyldene Freden (= the golden peace – it was named after the Swedish peace with Russia in 1721, the ‘golden’ bit being that Sweden was allowed to keep Finland) serve gourmet food. Being a Stockholm restaurant, it’s by no means cheap, but it’s a great place to sample traditional, delicious Swedish food in a beautiful setting packed with history. The service is excellent and personable.
We had some great starters, the best one being the best bleak roe toast I’ve had in my life. Fredrik had gorgeous chanterelle ‘dumplings’ called kroppkakor, and we also sampled different types of herring. All this was of course accompanied by aqvatit, the local spirits normally eaten with fish and traditional food.
For mains, I had an entrecote of reindeer veal (yes, one of these cute creatures) which was so gamey is almost tasted livery. It was very filling. Fredrik had a steamed fillet of salmon with lobster sauce, light and perfectly seasoned. We also tried reindeer sausage, smokey and heavy – perfect in the cold winter night. It came with pears and carrot pure, which was quite refreshing. My brother had the ultimate classic – meatballs (pictured at the top), with lingonberry, cream sauce and potatoes.
The French cheese selection with home-made crisp bread and jams was the only thing that wasn’t nordic. While I would have liked to stay in the Nordic region food-wise, these were a delicious end to a thoroughly enjoyable meal.
It is time for another post on traditional Swedish food – husmanskost – and this time one of my father’s absolute favourites. Isterband is a smoky, slightly acidous and grainy sausage made of heart and tongue, originally from the Småland region. It is typically served with stewed potato and pickled beetroot, and to me it tastes of autumn like few other things – it belongs with the smell of burning leaves and crisp air. It is hearty, warm and packed with flavour.
– 1 pack of Isterband (this will be difficult to get a hold of outside of Sweden, but could probably be substituted with some other kind of large smoked sausage).
– One heap of fresh dill, chopped
– A few tablespoons of flour
– About 100 grams of butter
– A few decilitres of milk
– 1/5 kg of potatoes, a firm variety.
– Salt and white pepper to taste
– A jar of sliced pickled beetroots
Dill stewed potatoes is a mild, standard side to any smoky Swedish food, and very easy to make. It relies on the usual suspects for flavouring (dill and white pepper) together with the creaminess of milk and butter. Start by peeling, slicing and boiling the potatoes. Make the slices thick so that they don’t break in the water, and be careful not to overcook them. Start frying the sausages on a low heat in a wide pan (they should fry for about 25 minutes). Then make a bechamel base by melting the butter in the pan, and carefully whisking in flour until you have a thick paste.
Add milk slowly to the paste, to make a thick, creamy sauce. You can choose how voluptuous you like the sauce to be – if you want the supreme, extend it with cream or a bit of creme fraiche. If you’re feeling frugal, go with milk, which is the classic way of making it.
One you’ve reached a thick, smooth consistency, add salt and white pepper (you can be rather generous). Add the chopped dill and some nutmeg, then pour the sauce over the potatoes. Take the sausages off the pan and serve immidiately. The heavy smokiness of the sausages is rather dominant, and the potatoes are there to provide a smooth, mild balance. By serving this with pickled beetroot you also get a sweet contrast to the rest. It’s a well-balanced, autumnal and most warming meal.
This is my great grandmother Rut’s recipe, and perhaps my favourite recipe of all time. My grandmother, who would make this on Sundays, was born in a small unpronounceable village called Djurröd in Skåne. Only 84 people live in Djurröd. The centre of Djurröd looks like this, and perhaps the desolate nature of Djurröd explains why my family still eats chicken with plums and apples when other Swedes save it for medieval themed-feasts. But who cares – the sauce accompanying this chicken is superbly savoury, creamy and sweet, and the cucumber pickle goes beautifully with it.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 apple
- 12 prunes
- Chicken stock cube
- 2 dl cream
- 50 grams butter
- Chinese soy
- Sugar, salt and white pepper to taste
- Boiled potatoes, to serve
Start by cleaning and preparing the chicken. Untangle the wings if they’ve been tucked into the back, cut off unnecessary fatty bits (by the neck and back), and remove any leftover feathers. Cut the chicken in half through the filets with a sharp knife, and rub it all over with the salt and white pepper. It’s handy to keep it in a mix on the table as you prepare the chicken.
When you’re done preparing the chicken, melt the butter and some tablespoons of oil in an oven-safe pan on the stove (it’s good if it has a lid, and can be put into to oven, but you can also start in a frying pan and move the chicken to an over-proof dish later). Add the chicken to the pan, and let it fry gently for about five minutes on each side. Brush it with chinese soy whilst it’s frying. Then add three decilitres of water, one cube of chicken stock, and put it into the oven on 200 degrees. In the meantime, peel the potatoes and let them rest in cold water until it’s time to boil. Start making the cucumber salad (recipe below).
After about 30 minutes, take out the pan, prick the chicken and pour the juices from the pan all over it (make sure the filets face upwards). Add the prunes and apples to the dish, and put it back into the oven. Try to push the apples and prunes towards the bottom of the dish, or below the chicken. After another 15 minutes, take it out again to again douse it in juice. Put the pan back into the oven, this time without the lid on. After about another ten minutes, the chicken should be ready to take out. Watch the chicken carefully if it’s smaller, as the cooking time may range from 40 minutes to over one hour depending on size.
Remove the chicken from the pan, leaving the juices inside. Let the chicken rest as you prepare the sauce, keeping it somewhere where it keeps its a moderate heat. Remove the potatoes and the prunes and put somewhere else (they’re not pretty, but you can serve them as condiments to the chicken later on). Sift the leftover juices if you prefer the sauce thin (I never minded random bits of chicken in it), and then carefully scoop out excess fat with a slotted spoon, holding the pan at an angle. Mix in some flour with a whisk, as well as sugar, and let it come to the boil and thicken. Then add two deciliters cream (or to taste, depends on how strong you want the sauce), and add more with salt, white pepper and soy according to taste. Remember that the sauce should be a little bit to strong in flavour on the tongue on its own, as it needs to liven up both the chicken and the potatoes. Serve the newly boiled potatoes with the pickled cucumber, chicken pieces and sauce right away.
Pressgurka is a classic component of Swedish traditional food (husmanskost) and can be served alongside most dishes where lingonberry jam would also feel at home. It is sweet and tangy, and contrasts perfectly to salty Swedish dishes such as roast chicken, fried herring, or even meatballs. You need:
- Half a cucumber
- 1 dl water
- 1 tablespoon ättika. Ättika is a form of Swedish vinegar, you’ll be able to get it at any Nordic shop. I haven’t tried making pressgurka with other kinds of vinegar, but perhaps that would work too. The proportions would have to be different, though: ättika is 24% acetic acid, and is therefore very strong and inedible to use just as it is; malt vinegar has typically 3% acetic acid, and balsamic vinegar about 6,5%.
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- A small bunch curled leaf parsley (flat leaf is also fine, as the taste different isn’t huge: however the curled leaf smells more like fennel and dill to me, which is closer to the Nordic cooking tradition).
Making pressgurka is very easy. Slice the cucumber with a cheese-slicer, and squeeze it gently with your hands for about one minute. Mix together the ättika, water, salt, white pepper, and parsley, and put in the fridge for at least one hour. Serve alongside the chicken.
Unfortunately, Sweden isn’t really a cheese country. Moving to the UK altered my relationship with Swedish cheese for good, as I realised that even the English do it much, much better than us. Rather predictably, this alienation has only increased since I moved to cheese-loving Belgium. However, there is one exception to the Swedish cheese rule: Västerbottensost. It’s about the only internationally famous Swedish cheese aside from mesost (a sweet, caramel-tasting soft cheese from the north). Västerbottensost is skinny for a cheese, and quite salty. Some liken it to parmesan, but nuttier. And it melts and browns beautifully in a very rich quiche (Västerbottenpaj). I was lucky to have two Swedish friends visiting this weekend to help out making one.
- 300 grams Västerbottensost (one piece is normally about 400 g). It’s an expensive cheese, as supply is limited. Needless to say, they don’t stock it in IKEA, but you should be able to find it in any Nordic food shop.
- 100 grams butter
- Slightly less than 2 dl flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 dl cream
- salt and pepper to taste
Start by chopping the butter, then mixing it with the flour. Once a dough is formed, add two tablespoons of cold water and form to a ball. Put the ball in the middle of round cake-tin, and push it out towards the corners until it covers the entire tin. Prick it all over with a fork, and pre-cook it in the oven for 10 minutes at 200 degrees.
Grate all the cheese and mix it with the eggs, cream and salt, together with some black pepper. After ten mintes in the oven, take out the quicke-base, and carefully pour the cheese mix into it. Put it back for another 30 minutes (keep a close eye on it, but don’t panic it if the cheese goes a bit brown: it’s meant to look rather dark when it’s done). Let cool for a while before you serve it, because it’s best served lukewarm (or lagom warm for this sort of quiche – lukewarm sounds a bit meh). It’s very rich, so it is best accompanied by some other dishes too. Enjoy!
I’m currently hiding away in a little cottage in the vast forests of Småland, after six consecutive nights of heavy Swedish Christmas dinners. Since I’ve had the pleasure of being served food by everyone I’ve visited this Christmas, I will not present any recipes in this post, but rather a little run through of what Swedes eat at Christmas, and why it’s amazing despite its gluttonous repetitiveness (at Christmas, we tend to eat a variation of this for all too many nights).
The basis of Swedish Christmas food is our love for sandwiches – its basically sandwich food, just a bit over the top, and without much bread. Southern Christmas food (Skånskt julbord) tends to be the most over-the-top of them all, in line with the Skåne tradition of exaggerating and bragging through food. You must start with the fish dishes (it’s always a buffet), and here the herring takes up most of the space. It’s normally eaten with eggs, caviar, boiled potato and dark bread. You will have several versions of home-made pickled herring (inlagd sill) and the guests are normally expected to contribute with a few kinds of their own. One of the tables I visited this year had ten different varieties, including the classics with mustard and onion. My undisputed favourite remains my stepdad’s curry herring with apple. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing.
The second staple of the fish table is gravlax. Some people make this themselves, by rubbing a salmon in sugar, salt, dill and white pepper, and leaving it to ferment lightly under something heavy in the fridge for a few days. This method stems back to Viking age, when people used to bury fish deep in the salty banks of beaches, as a way of preserving it until they wanted to eat it. It tastes somewhat similar to smoked salmon, but with stronger hints of spices. The sauce that goes to it (gravlaxsås) is sweet, mustardy, and full of dill.
However, the real star of the fish table is the smoked eel (rökt ål). It’s normally served with scrambled eggs, and its delicate smoky creaminess is simply sublime when done well. The conscious reader will know that due to over-fishing, one shoudl be careful eating Baltic eel. However, stubborn traditionalists will still sneak it up on the table for Christmas with a sly smile to the general applause of other traditionalists. I’m not too bothered with tradition, but eel is one of my favourite kinds of food ever… and my aunt promised me that this year’s eel came from sustainable fishing at a nearby lake.
Now, moving on to the meat table, the meatballs (köttbullar) are obviously a key feature, served with beetroot salad. The meatballs are so central that in some families, you will have several different batches of meatballs. Some opt for modern takes on meatballs, like putting thyme and parmesan in them. Others go with revival recipes from the 19th century which include sweet anchovy brine. My favourites remain my mothers: she makes them small, juicy and hot with white pepper. One thing is clear: never make them all beef, and never, ever, replace the butter with olive oil.
The Christmas ham (julskinka) is another central feature of the meat table, with different strong mustards (home-made, as seen in the background, makes for the strongest kind), cheeses and dark, sweet bread. One of Sweden’s most famous Christmas songs is about a julskinka that ran away. Julskinka is also the reason why you will be served so many home-made hawaii, capricciosa or other ham-based pizzas after New Years eve. No matter how much ham you eat, it just never ends. Adding to this equation, people tend to assume that the larger hams are tastier.
Danish paté (dansk leverpastej) with Cumberland sauce and cornichons is a sandwich-linked must-have on the Southern table. With home-made cumberland sauce it’s one of my favourites, as the aroma of the orange peel is delicious together with the creaminess of the paté and the salty pickle.
Janssons frestelse (The temptation of Jansson) is a creamy, potato based dish with onion, breadcrumbs and anchovies. Sometimes people sneak caviar into it for the perfect amount of saltiness. It’s eaten with the ham, meatballs or eel, or just about anything on the table. Beside the köttbullar and julskinka, Janssons is one of the most common things found on any Swedish Christmas table. No Janssons, no Christmas.
Lutfiskpudding is a weird one. This dish, prepared with white dried fish, butter and rice, is loved by many of the older generation but sadly not quite understood by me. But apparently there’s something irresistible about the crusty surface and the lutfisk flavour eaten together with loads of butter.
No julbord would be complete without sausages (julkorv). There are normally a few varieties of these, including reindeer, wild boar and normal smoked salami with green pepper. They are accompanied with four or five kinds of cheese as well.
All the savoury food is served with beer and frozen snaps of course, which is taken every five minutes with a rowdy or happy Christmas song. If you’re confused regarding which snaps to go for, always opt for Linie aqvavit, which is a safe bet and enjoyed by most. Try Piraten or Beska droppar at your own peril.
The dessert of the julbord is called risgryngröt and is a sweet porrige. In Sweden, it’s tradition to eat risgynsgröt with an almond smuggled into in. Whoever eats the almond is said to get married the following year. My aunt tends to cheat and add four or five, so that people have a bigger chance of getting married. I have little love to spare for risgrynsgröt – it’s quite heavy after all the other eating. It’s made with lots of cream, and in the South it’s normally served with raspberry sauce (normally just wild raspberries, in the freezer since summer, and then gently simmered with some sugar on the stove). The anomaly on the picture is the Norwegian way of eating it, with butter and cinnamon (as preferred by my stepmum).
Of course, this is far from a comprehensive overview of what Swedes eat at Christmas, as I’ve left out dopp i grytan, rödkål, brunkål, svampgaller, lutfisk and many other dishes. But since it’s Christmas and I’m feeling lazy, I leave you with this for now. God jul!