Annabel Langbein: There's more to Scandinavian food than salmon (+ recipes)
The first time I ate Scandinavian food was in a fancy restaurant in Bloomingdale's department store in New York. I was just 17 at the time, on an adventure with my mother and eager for life – and anything and everything new. (My mother's survival kit for travelling with me on this four-month trip required a bottle of Valium, a bottle of gin and a jar of Vegemite. Need I say more?)
I piled up my plate from the smorgasbord – beautifully garnished open sandwiches on dark, nutty, rye bread; fine slices of smooth, smoky, cured salmon; egg salad; beetroot and bowls of all things fishy (I'm sure there was more but this is what I can remember). I should have been warned by the grey, sullen look of the herring but it was all so new and gloriously exciting and I had never had a smorgasbord before.
I piled up my plate with everything I could see on that board. It was all so delicious until near the end, when I got to the herring. The herring went in, and then ohhhh – too quickly I was into the ladies' bathroom and it came out again, along with all the rest of my smorgasbord.
If I'm truthful, I probably would have thrown up anyway, having ingested so much of so many different flavours, but for quite some time Scandinavian food and its obsession with pickled and salted fish was right off my agenda.
But then the Nordic cuisine movement was formed, and a whole new brigade of clever chefs appeared on the scene, with culinary genius Rene Redzepi, of Noma fame, at the helm.
Their focus was on design and nature, exotic wild ingredients, fermentation, smoking and salting, all delivered with the style and finesse of clean, Scandi precision.
By 2007, a Nordic food laboratory was established in Copenhagen and the restaurant Noma landed its second Michelin star. In 2010, Noma was number one on the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants List and considered the most famous restaurant in the world.
Nordic cuisine was no longer defined by smoked salmon, marinated herring and rye bread. The new "taste of the north" featured ingredients such as birch sap, bulrushes, puffin eggs, foraged chickweed, Arctic brambles, heirloom Nordic grains and livestock breeds from the times of the Vikings.
New Nordic cuisine is dynamic, honed, distilled and obsessive in a way that only truly talented professional chefs can be. At home, the new Scandi kitchen offers elegant dining with fresh, simple flavours.
The special-occasion menu below, inspired by my clever Swedish friend Birgitta, will have you in and out of the kitchen in next to no time, with maximum wow factor for your guests. It would make a wonderful summer Christmas lunch.
If you're feeding more mouths, just add some slices of glazed ham and an iceberg lettuce salad, and finish with a chilled dessert.
This is one of my favourite ways to serve waxy new potatoes. Tossing the cooked potatoes with the dressing while they are still warm means they soak up the flavours more. Get the recipe
Brining the salmon adds flavour and also prevents the protein from forming white beads on the surface of the cooked fish. Serve with beetroot and horseradish confit. Get the recipe
The earthy flavours of this pretty side dish are fabulous with salmon, beef or pork, or in sandwiches. It will keep in the fridge for more than a week and reheats well. Get the recipe
Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65) is a beautiful compendium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips and it’s on sale now at Paper Plus, Whitcoulls, The Warehouse and all good bookstores. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.