CUISINE popularity comes and goes, like trends in fashion, music and other art forms. However, with Noma and many other Nordic restaurants topping the world’s best restaurants lists, new Nordic cuisine is proving it’s no passing fad. The style is also an overdue appreciation of the histories and cultures of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland, and, in turn, is a revisiting of often ancient cooking techniques from across the region – usually with a modern twist.
The harsh Nordic climate, with its restricted range of produce, has forced chefs to think imaginatively and develop new techniques for preparing ingredients. Rather than meat being the central ingredient around which all others revolve, it is the whole grains and cold-climate vegetables that are attracting the attention of chefs. This willingness to explore innovative ways of working is what I love most about the cuisine.
One particular phrase has stuck with me ever since a Nordic chef placed a dish in front of me and said: “Now, we are taking you to the forest floor.” And the dish did just that: the mushrooms and other wonderfully earthy ingredients took me straight there. New Nordic cuisine mirrors its landscape: raw, subtle, grounded, just like the vast treeless plains of Iceland or the rocky outcrops of the many archipelagos scattered around the coasts. The beauty of the region doesn’t tend to stop you in your tracks, but it will always make you look twice. It will creep up on you until you truly appreciate its harmony and subtle complexity, just like its cuisine.
Memories of warm days are not plentiful in Nordic parts. Still, when they do happen, these beautiful days are unforgettable. I remember eating this deliciously refreshing chilled soup while sitting underneath a tree, with plenty of sourdough bread to dip in. It’s a very easy soup to make, especially if you are happy using frozen peas – make sure they are the best quality you can find. It may seem a little odd to use sugar in the garnish, but it acts as a ‘cure’ for the leek. You can use the same method with red onion: it draws out the moisture and takes away some of the bitterness.
Nordic countries are surrounded by the sea and you will find a lake or river at almost every turn. It is no wonder that fish and seafood form a central part of their cooking. Most of the smoked salmon that you buy in shops (the kind that is normally sold in flat slices) is cold-smoked. This means it has been smoked for a long time without any heat source. The flavour in hot-smoked salmon is bolder and it has a similar texture to cooked salmon. Like all smoked fish, hot-smoked salmon makes a great base for a salad because of its intense flavour and saltiness.
In the autumn, golden chanterelle mushrooms are such a prized find in Nordic forests that they often overshadow the huge array of other fungi on offer. But I think rightly so: their sweet, nutty flavour is unique and delicious. Eating them simply fried in butter and parsley and piled on toast is a joy in itself. For a few weeks of the year, they pop up in the shadows of logs on the forest floor, at times in huge abundance. Many Nordic folk have secret spots they return to, to harvest them.
If they are in luck, they pick as many as they can manage and freeze any they aren’t going to eat at once; these keep very well frozen for up to six months. In this recipe, the buckwheat crepes and kale enhance their earthiness, while the salty sharp goat’s cheese lifts all the flavours.
Warm mulled wine on a snowy day is a simple pleasure that no Nordic country misses out on around Christmas time, but this recipe finds another great use for it. The deep, developed flavour from the spices makes for a simple ready-to-go marinade and the sugar acts as a brine, lightly penetrating the meat before cooking, helping to tenderise it. To ensure you don’t burn the sugar when sealing the meat, I suggest using a lower temperature than you would normally.