Raw shrimp, moss foam, pine oil, and unfamiliar herbs. These are the hallmarks of a bigger trend currently sweeping Nordic-inspired restaurants all around the world. As a Dane I tend to ask myself: are these really the only things people should associate with the New Nordic Cuisine?
I say, emphatically, no. In fact, I am on a mission to show the world what New Nordic Cuisine can mean to a home cook. I’ve been teaching cooking classes on the topic for several years, and I’m surrounded daily by the research and development of the New Nordic diet and cuisine at my home university in Copenhagen, where I’m a graduate student in Food Science and Technology. The research underway is mainly focused on the potential nutritional benefits of the New Nordic diet.
In stark contrast to the complex food you find in restaurants, home cooked Nordic food has to fit the modern family, just as in every other urbanized population in the world. Just like everyone else, we prize meals that are easy to prepare and not overly expensive. It is the gathering of the family around the table that matters most, not hours of cooking.
About a decade ago, a group of high-profile chefs, all working in the Nordic region, created a manifesto that outlined their values and goals for creating a more self-sufficient food culture here. In a nutshell, the document declared that these chefs would create a new cuisine that expresses the regional flavors and seasonality, respects our food traditions, uses modern technology, and focuses on origin, animal welfare, and local producers.
I believe it makes perfect sense to spread this way of thinking about food to North America and other parts of the world. Nordic Cuisine is popular for its pure flavors, seasonality, and simplicity—qualities valued by home cooks everywhere. However, most people associate New Nordic Cuisine (if they are aware of it at all) with the elaborate, experimental, and expensive foods served at Noma, including many ingredients and techniques that aren’t accessible to most home cooks. I think we need to turn that idea around so that New Nordic Cuisine can become public property.
Here, I will introduce you to the basic ideas behind New Nordic Cuisine as its prepared in homes like mine. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to use your local produce in combination with the techniques and flavors I describe to bring a bit of this international trend to your own dinner table.
The New Meaning of Local
The New Nordic Cuisine is based on local ingredients, but not just from the neighbor’s garden. Today, “local” has more to do with climate and terroir and less to do with distance. Scandinavia is not the only playground for New Nordic cooks–we are now looking into the hidden treasures of Greenland, Iceland, Finland, and beyond. Through this kind of exploration, we’ve discovered new ingredients and flavors. This expansion has been going for a couple of years as a restaurant trend, but it’s now also spreading to food markets and the general public. So this kind of eating locally is less about food miles and more about optimal flavor, traditions, and production conditions.
That said, it is still a rewarding experience to pick delicious berries and green, fresh herbs right from your own backyard. In fact, it’s highly appreciated in the Nordic Cuisine. But it’s still in the spirit of this culinary movement to use ingredients from other locales with climate and terrain that is similar to your own.
The Bright Stuff
Nordic flavors are dominated by a distinctive purity and simplicity that’s not found in any other cuisine. The flavors of meat and vegetables of the season are kept pure, often raw, and not dominated by strong spices. Instead, we enhance these ingredients with herbs that have a complementary aroma.
The use of vinegar is a much more daring way to balance the flavors of a Nordic dish. Mild flavors need some punch to really excite your taste buds, and vinegar can really elevate a dish to make it something memorable.
Of course, vinegar is not the only seasoning used in New Nordic Cuisine. Some of my other favorite additions include mustard oils, as found is mustard, watercress, and horseradish. Like vinegar, these add punch and take a dish to another level. Smoked meat, like bacon, can easily manage a pairing with heavy dose of horseradish. The same goes for a hearty stew based on ingredients like beer and pork cheeks.
Preserving the Seasons
Everything is blossoming in spring and summer. Early autumn is the season with the biggest variety of fresh flavors. Preserving and pickling the bounty, using vinegar, salty brine, or sugar is one way we preserve the summer berries. The summer season is extremely short, so preserving has traditionally been the only way to keep important produce from deteriorating through a long and cold winter. Salting ingredients is a valued technique, too. For example, I like to brine unripe nasturtium seeds. After a short maturation period, they are used like capers.
Drying is another important New Nordic preservation method. Mushrooms, herbs, and even seaweed are kept across seasons and used to boost flavor and bring a variety of flavors and textures to winter dishes, primarily based on root vegetables and cabbage.
Old Grains, New Combinations
Grains like barley, oat and rye were a big part of the daily diet before the potato was introduced. Today the grains have been revived in the daily cuisine with a focus on wholegrain and flavor. These days, grains are the main ingredient in salads, stews, and even desserts. How about a barley pudding or rye cake with black currant parfait?
Old varieties like spelt, einkorn, emmer, and Ølandshvede have been adapted to the northern climates and are becoming increasingly popular. These old varieties have better flavors and different textures than the new varieties. These make rustic and flavorful breads and cakes.
Beyond simple preservation, salting meat, fish and poultry improves their flavor and changes the texture. Through history, a big part of the diet was based on fish that was stored salted in big barrels over winter. This technique is still used, but the maturation time has been cut down a lot. There is no need of a strong salting for prolongation of shelf life, though the heavily salted herring and “klipfisk”(similar to stockfish) are still sold. Instead fish is “gravad” (cured for 24 to 72 hours in salt-sugar-spice rub), “rimmet” (light salt-sugar curing for 2 to 24 hours) or “pickled” (salted and soaked in vinegary brine for a couple of days up to several months).
Smoking is neither a new method of either preserving or cooking, but it nevertheless plays an important role in the New Nordic Cuisine. Smoking has been used all over the Nordic countries to make meat and fish last through the hot summer and icy winter with frozen waters and no opportunities of fishing. The smoking tradition is especially strong on the islands, where there has been an overload of fish.
No doubt smoking is not something you do in 15 minutes with a couple of hungry kids by the hips. But with a little preparation, it will be something you can serve for a Friday dinner or Sunday brunch.
The tradition is mainly the smoking of fish, meat and poultry – but another strong, rather Danish tradition is also the smoking of cheese, especially soft, fresh cheese. We’ll sprinkle the cream cheese with either caraway seeds or chives before smoking it shortly, just to create a tasty rind.
I use this method for smoking other kinds of soft cheeses such as brie or goat cheese. The trick is to freeze the cheese for a couple of hours before hot-smoking. The flavor is a perfect match for the traditional dark and rich rye breads with plenty of grain flavor.
Lightly Cured Salmon (Gravad Laks)
This is probably one of the most well-known and traditional Nordic dishes. The flavor combination and the curing with both sugar and salt gives the fish a wonderful silky texture. This recipe is similar to gravadlax, but here the fish more lightly cured. It’s called rimmet salmon in Danish, which is a reference to early morning dew on the grass as it is so light and pure.
- 50 grams fine salt
- 30 grams white sugar
- 40 grams fresh dill, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 3 tablespoons dill snaps, plain snaps, or vodka (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ very fresh side of salmon (about .750 kilogram), pin-boned
In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salmon and mix well. Spread the mixture onto the salmon fillet and massage it into the flesh.
Wrap the salmon and the salt-mixture in sealable bag and leave it to rest in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours (the longer it rests, the firmer the texture).
Discard excess liquid and wipe excess salt-mixture off or rinse is very shortly under cold water. Using a very sharp knife slice it in 2 to 5milimeter thick slices to serve.
The salmon, wrapped well in cling film, will keep in the fridge for up to four days.
Beet Salad with Horseradish, Cranberry & Cottage Cheese
Keeping the beetroot raw and cutting it into matchsticks really gives this salad a crunchy texture. Combined with the pure vinegar and salt, it’s the kind of Nordic flavor that is pure and refreshing. The creaminess from the cottage cheese along with the punch from the horseradish, makes it into a salad rather than just a pickle. Enjoy it along with meat or fish.
- 4 red beets (400 grams total), peeled
- 50 grams dried cranberries, non sweetened
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or some kind of berry vinegar
- 200 grams cottage cheese
- 1 to 3 teaspoons horseradish, freshly grated
- Salt and pepper
- A handful fresh dill to garnish
Using a sharp knife, cut the beets into julienne (very thin sticks). Toss with the cranberries, salt and vinegar, leave to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, while you prepare the cottage cheese.
Stir the cottage cheese with the horseradish, salt, pepper to taste. Then garnish the beetroots with the cottage cheese and plenty of fresh dill.
This is a bulletproof recipe for a juicy and tender venison roast thanks to the rather new low-cooking technique of roasting meat at very low temperatures. It’s made with haunch instead of filet since it’s usually cheaper, but just as tasty and easier to cut.
- 1.5 to 2 kilogram piece of venison haunch, bone removed
- 6 dried juniper berries
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt
- 20 grams fresh thyme
- 1½ tablespoons honey
- 1½ tablespoons water
- 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 50 grams butter
- 7 slices of smoked, streaky bacon
Trim any tendons or large pieces of fat off the meat. Combine the juniper berries, salt, thyme, honey, water, garlic and pepper in a mini-blender or mortar and blend until combined and quite smooth.
Massage the mixture all over the meat and wrap the meat in cling film or store it in a sealed freezer bag for at least 2 and up to 24 hours in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 100 Celsius (about 200 degrees Fahrenheit). Unwrap the meat and wipe off excess marinade. Cover it with the bacon and tie it with string (approved for food use).
Melt the butter in a pan over high heat. Brown the meat all over for 5 to 7 minutes, turning it every now and then.
Transfer it to an ovenproof dish and roast in the middle of the oven for around 1½ to 2 hours until the internal temperature, in the middle of the venison, is 60 Celsius (140 Fahrenheit).
Remove the meat from the oven, loosely cover the venison, and allow it to rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.
Serves 4 to 6
Kale, Celeriac & Apple Grains
This is a classic Nordic flavor mix of fresh kale and apple tossed in a Danish cream-and-vinegar dressing. I’ve added baked celeriac to vary the texture and add a savory note. The grains are boiled in apple juice, bringing an appealing fruitiness to the dish. It makes the boiled grains come alive.
- 150 grams whole spelt grains or pearl spelt, rinsed and drained
- 500 milliliters apple juice
- 500 milliliters water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
- ½ tablespoon rapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 big leaves of green or purple curly kale, thinly sliced
- 1 apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 100 milliliters heavy cream
- 1½ teaspoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 4 teaspoons fresh grated horseradish
- 100 milliliters roasted pumpkin seeds
- 25 grams fresh herbs, like chives or chervil (optional), chopped
In a medium sized pot, mix the apple juice, water, grains and salt. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until tender, approximately 20 to25 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 Celsius (about 350 Fahrenheit). In a large mixing bowl, toss the celeriac with the rapeseed oil and salt, and spread on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake until lightly brown and tender, about 30 minutes. Leave it to cool.
Toast the nuts and seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Make the dressing: In a large salad bowl, combine the vinegar and cream and whisk until combined. Add the rest of the dressing ingredients, and whisk until combined.
Toss the grains into the dressing and fold in the kale and apple slices. Garnish with the herbs and toasted nuts and seeds before serving.
The use of apples in bread is something I consider fairly Nordic. In this bread it creates the characteristic sour flavor for which Nordic breads are loved. The fruitiness is beautiful in combination with the grainy flavor from both nuts and wholegrain flour. The long and cold rising, along with the usage of fresh yeast, will improve the shelf life of the bread.
- 400 milliliters apple juice (room temperature)
- 3 tablespoons sourdough or sour cream
- 5 grams fresh yeast, preferable organic
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 12 grams fine salt
- 100 milliliters pumpkin seeds or chopped nuts (optional)
- 500 grams white bread flour
- 175 grams wholegrain spelt or rye flour
- Extra flour for dusting
In a large bowl, combine the apple juice, sour cream, yeast, honey and pumpkin seeds and stir until the yeast and honey are dissolved.
Sieve the flour into the bowl, little by little. Stir the dough between each addition of flour. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Add the salt and knead for another 5 minutes. The texture should now be comparable to soft chewed gum.
Cover the dough, and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. Before, baking bring the dough to room temperature by placing it on the kitchen table for 1 to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 250 Celsius (475 Fahrenheit).
Sprinkle your work surface with flour and then carefully tip the dough out of the bowl.
Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 10 squared rolls, and transfer them to a baking sheet. Bake the bread rolls for 15 minutes until golden brown. Let the rolls cool slightly before serving.
Makes 10 rolls
Danish Apple Trifle
Using crunchy cereal and fruit in combination fermented milk products is very traditional in the Nordic countries. This is an old Danish recipe for apple cake, sometimes made with grated fresh apple instead of apple sauce. The silky apple sauce shouldn’t be too sweet, as the topping is made from crunchy caramelized rolled oats. The top of skyr-foam adds the perfect creaminess to match the acidity in the apple puree.
- 30 grams butter
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 75 grams rolled oats
- 700 grams applesauce
- 4 to 8 tablespoons cherry wine, apple liqueur or cherry liqueur (optional)
- 200 milliliters heavy cream
- 200 grams Icelandic skyr
- Roasted hazelnuts, for garnish (optional)
In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and honey. Add the rolled oats and cook until they turn golden and smell is slightly roasted/nutty, c. 10-12 minutes. Let this mixture cool completely before assembling the cake.
To assemble the cake: In a glass trifle dish, spoon ¼ of the apple sauce into an even layer. Top with ¼ of the oat mixture. Top the first layer with ¼ of the cherry wine. Repeat, creating a total of 4 layers in the trifle dish.
Using a hand-held electric mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the skyr.
Top the trifle with the whipped cream-skyr mixture and garnish with chopped hazelnuts.