After a week in October of eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Copenhagen and its environs, I’ve been reflecting on just what were the elements that made each dish distinctive, yet also evidenced a commonality, and how to bring those flavors into my own kitchen. My main culinary reference is Mediterranean, and while the some of the dishes invoked Mediterranean influences, the overall sensibility was distinctly Nordic.
The hallmarks, in my experience were thus: reliance on fall and winter vegetables and fruits no matter how humble, an abundance of green herbs used as plentiful components rather than snippets as seasonings, ingredients from the wild such as mushrooms, pheasant and deer, and lots of local fish and shellfish — fresh, cured, whole, fillets.
These ingredients, used creatively, sometimes in combination with classic French techniques, tweaked and married with a Nordic take such as fermentation and smoking, produced some memorable dishes.
In addition to innovative creations, Nordic traditional foods, notably smorrebrods, the open-faced sandwiches, were not passed over but creatively modernized.
Chef Adam Aamann is credited with bringing about the stylish revival of the traditional Danish smorrebrod. At Aamanns 1921, one of his restaurants, the head chef Maxim Surdu serves up smorrebrods on housemade rye bread (they grind their own rye) that are artfully arranged in layers of creative flavors and textures. Main ingredients include cured herring, fried herring, cured salmon, steak tartar, roast beef, chicken salad and avocado. These are then topped with a variety of items such as slivers of radish, pickled beets, pickled elderberries, capers, crispy rye crumbles, even potato chips, and finished with a tangle of herbs, tender wild greens, edible flowers and sometimes a dusting of freshly grated horseradish.
Ingredients include cured herring, fried herring, cured salmon, steak tartare, grilled sirloin, chicken salad and avocado. These are then topped with a variety of items such as slivers of radish, pickled beets, pickled elderberries, capers, crispy rye crumbles, even potato chips and finished with a tangle of herbs, tender wild greens, edible flowers and sometimes a dusting of freshly grated horseradish.
Fish and shellfish were omnipresent but never repetitive. One of my favorite fish is the diamond-shaped flatfish, turbot, which thrives in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea. I was able to have it three different ways, first, baked whole in a salt pastry at Restaurant by Kroun at Kurhotel Skodborg.
The second was in a cooking class at the same location, where I was given the task of filleting two turbot and then carefully slicing the fillets on the diagonal before placing them on a thin pool of olive oil on an oven-proof plate to cook until just opaque; they were garnished with sautéed black trumpet mushrooms, pureed Brussels sprouts, and fresh herbs.
I also had turbot with fermented asparagus and chanterelles napped in a creamy sauce at the Michelin-starred country inn, Sollerod Kro. Each dish was completely different in appearance, ingredients and presentation.
But perhaps the most surprising dish from the sea was a flattened, steamed round of cabbage leaf with a drizzle of crema, various spices, and blossoms to fill, taco-style, with whole, very small, crunchy, pan-fried shrimp. This was served as part of a five-course meal at Noma Under the Bridge, the pop-up offshoot of the famous, now closed, Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen (but re-opening in 2018 in a new location).
Oysters appeared on almost every menu — always raw, with a variety of condiments, but also cooked. A stunning dish from Marchal, the Michelin-starred restaurant located in the Hotel d’Angleterre, is one of their signature dishes, Squid, Oysters, Daikon Radish in Champagne Sauce with Caviar. Each flavor was distinct, yet part of a complex whole. At the Restaurant by Kroun at Kurhotel Skordborg, it was oysters with the unlikely but delicious pairing of cabbage, lardo, and brown butter.
I sampled duck with roasted beets and blackberries, pheasant with wild mushrooms, pressed duck with a sauce that included berries, desserts of seasonal pears and apples, spruce ice cream and even a frozen milk parfait with the last of the fall’s Concord grapes.
The take–away from my week was to revisit winter’s root vegetables and, for example, instead of simple celery root salad to instead roast cubes of celery root with apples and serve on a puree of celery root, a combination served at Noma Under the Bridge. I’ve decided to be bold, not tentative, in garnishing with herbs like chervil, flowering purslane, dill, and lovage as well as small leaves of tender greens, and to use more edible flowers.
After my encounters with turbot, I’m going to continue to explore buying and using whole fish, and I’m going to fire up our smoker to do my own smoking. And, I’m going to develop a repertoire of smorrebrod to serve over the holidays.
Here are two recipes generously shared by restaurants in Copenhagen and one of my own devising. All deliver a taste of Copenhagen’s Nordic take on food.
Squid with Oysters and Daikon Radish in Champagne Sauce with Caviar
Recipe adapted from Chef Andreas Bagh, Marchal Restaurant, Copenhagen
Serves 4 as a first course.
I was apprehensive at first about trying to recreate this dish, since it is so elegant, but I persevered. I bought the ‘jumbo’ squid, as it was labeled, at a local Asian fish market, and they cleaned it for me. Instead of shucking my own oysters, I bought a jar. On my test run, I omitted the caviar but I’ll spurge when I have guests, although perhaps less than the recommended 50 grams. However, even without caviar it is a stunningly good dish and is actually quite easy to make.
1 whole squid, about 2 pounds, cleaned
1/2 pound daikon radish
4 small to medium oysters or 2 large fresh oysters in shells or substitute jarred
16 ounces of Champagne or substitute sparkling wine
3 1/2 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
50 gram tin of caviar (for 4 servings as per served at Marchal restaurant)
Remove the tentacles and lower fins from the squid and reserve for another use if desired. Discard the head. Remove the skin from the body – it easy peels away using your fingers. Wrap flat in foil or plastic and freeze overnight.
While still frozen, slice the squid into ribbons a scant 1/4-inch thick. Set aside.
Peel and thinly slice the daikon into strips roughly the same size as the squid ribbons. Set aside.
Shuck the oysters and coarsely chop them. Set aside.
For the sauce:
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the Champagne to a simmer and reduce it to 3/4 cup.
Add the butter, and using an immersion blender, blend in the butter.
Add the vinegar and half the salt.
In another saucepan, over medium low heat, warm about 1/3- 1/2 the sauce and add the squid,
simmering until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with the remaining salt, add the oysters and the daikon and plate immediately into 4 small, deep bowls.
Foam the remaining sauce with the blender and pour a few spoonfuls over each serving.
Finish each serving with a generous spoonful of caviar.
Nut and Seed Paleo Bread
Recipe adapted from Skodsborg Kurhotel
This was the bread base for the Smorrebrods at Kurhotel Skordsborg. I had thin slices of the bread topped with avocado, with cured salmon, and with chicken salad, all with interesting garnishes. I asked for the bread recipe and was delighted to hear that it was quite easy to make, much easier than making rye bread. The measurements were translated from metric to ounces and when I made the bread at home, I rounded up or down, for example, instead of 3.57 ounces of peanuts I rounded to 3.5 ounces. The bread pan I used is 9 3/4 inches x 3 1/2 inches and 3 inches deep (inside measurements).
3 1/2 ounces pumpkin seeds
5 1/3 ounces white sesame seeds
5 1/2 ounces flax seeds
3 1/2 ounces of peanuts without skins, unsalted
2 1/2 ounces almonds without skins
2 3/4 ounces almonds with skin
1 3/4 ounces hazelnuts
3 1/2 ounces sunflower or canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
Line a rye bread pan or similar with parchment paper.
Preheat an oven to 335 degrees F or thereabout.
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon. Add the eggs and oil and using an electric mixer, mix just until the eggs start thickening so the nuts don’t settle.
Pour the batter into the bread pan.
Bake until firm and golden brown, about 35 minutes.
Remove and let stand in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool. Use a bread knife to cut ¼ -inch slices. Makes about 24 slices
To store, wrap in plastic or foil and keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 days.
Smorrebrod of Beef Tartar and Pickled Golden Beets
Recipe adapted from Chef Maxim Surdu, Aamanns 1921 Restaurant, Copenhagen
This is an example of the complexity and attention to flavors that elevate Aamanns 1921 smorrebrods. Plan to pickle your beets at least three days ahead to allow them to absorb the flavor of the brine. You can substitute celery leaves for the lovage, which has celery like flavor.
Makes 4 sandwiches, serves 2.
For the beets
5 golden beets
2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
For the Lovage Mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup lovage leaves or substitute celery leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup rapeseed oil or substitute sunflower oil
For the Tartar
3/4 pound top round beef
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive ill
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 shallot, thinly sliced crosswise
4 slices Danish-style rye bread (it is dense)
20 thin potato chips
Sprinkle of Maldon salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add the beets and 2 teaspoons of salt. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until tender, about 1 hour. Remove the beets and when cool enough to handle, peel them and cut into small pieces.
Make a pickling brine by combining 2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let cool completely.
Put the beet in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least three days and up to 1 month.
For the lovage mayo
In a blender or food processor, combine the egg yolks, lovage or celery leaves, mustard, lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Slowly add the oil a little at a time, to emulsify. Set aside.
For the tartar
With a sharp knife, finely mince the meat. Do not use as food processor. Place the meat in a bowl and add the whole grain mustard and the olive oil and mix well, but gently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate. This can be done an hour or so in advance.
Lay out the rye bread and divide the tartar equally among them. Add a tablespoon or so of the mayonnaise, a sprinkle of the sliced shallot rings, and a layer of the pickled beets. Top with the potato chips, tucking them into the tartar. Sprinkle a little Maldon salt over the sandwiches.
Cured Salmon Smorrebrod
This is a simple version of a smorrebrod inspired by my week in Copenhagen that is easy to put together but reflects the spirit of the north. Feel free to further embellish and to create your own.
Makes 4 open face sandwiches.
4 tablespoons horseradish cream
2 tablespoons cream cheese at room temperature
4 ounces cured salmon, thinly sliced
½ cup fresh dill sprigs, 1-2 inches long
8 small red leaf lettuce leaves
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained.
4 slices Danish rye bread or Nut and Seed Paleo bread(see recipe above)
In a bowl, combine the horseradish cream and the cream cheese to make a spread.
Spread each bread with a little of the horseradish cream and divide the salmon equally, folding the slices to create loft. Sprinkle each evenly with the dill, and capers, and add 2 lettuce leaves to each. Garnish with edible flowers such as borage, arugula, or nasturtium.