Through frigid swells, Icelandic maelstroms and Faroese oe (nod to brevity Scrabble™ hotshots), on Bjarni Herjólfsson’s lapstrake constructed knar, a weathered crew of sea savvy slaves navigated by OG/P (original gangsta/pimpgrim) Leif Ericson is alleged to have discovered North America. Just a whiff of the dragon ship and/or its salty mariners would have curdled the prude migratory fantasies of the Mayflower’s prim & proper pansies. Decidedly and accordingly, a Nordic flavored feast would prevail over contemporary New Englandish mish-mashes of green beans, marshmallows and awfully starchy or achingly sweet varieties of potatoes in mashed form. Antique French glasswares and Scandinavian flatwares befitting Babette’s table would be in order.
The numbers: 1 millennia since the Norse discovery of North America, 1 month’s menu foresight, 1 fortnight’s worth of labor and a few days of anxiety over whether a proper bird would be attained and pledged guests in attendance. A 25lb Pennsylvania raised heritage turkey was obtained and the guest list swelled from an anemic 7 to a gouty, tightly packed 11, consistent with the intrinsically Danish standard of life (Rick Harrison, grand wizard of historical bric-a-brac from Pawn Stars was high on the guest list but unavailable).
The fundamental cultural hallmark of Danish year’s end awesomeness vibe is “hygge” (h-ewe-guh), something candlelit and warm nestled somewhere comfortably within the realm of “cozy” and “tranquil”. The mesmerizing absence of anything even slightly irritating, annoying, grating, overwhelming, i.e., greedy social conservatives, self-entitled diners, mouth breathers and urban residents unwilling to make even modest concessions for the sake of harmonious city living and/or humanity.
The evening began with a variation of glögg made with one of the guest’s seasonal, exceedingly artisanal pear wine crafted with cursory sanitation practice and flirting with the zombie equivalent of wine: vinegar. A healthy dose of vodka, toasted almonds, currants, cranberries and some heat made it a potable social lubricant. After polishing off the glögg any and all buzzed guests were seated to the carefully set table where traditional holiday starters were pleasantly passed around.
Gravad laks: 1 and 2 day salt/sugar cured sockeye salmon, mustard seed and caraway/juniper respectively, the former having benefited from an extra day of drying and produced a better pellicule than the later which was more moist.
Matjes: herring pickled in my red wine vinegar which was made possible with wine dumped from Halloween wine box bladders and some of Logan’s mother. Fresh herring not being readily available, the salted variety was procured, degorged in cold water and then covered in the vinegar with shallot rings, bay leaf and peppercorns. After a week in the pickle, the mackerel was drained and covered with a mixture of grapeseed and olive oil whose richness balanced the acidity.
Leverspostej: Danish liver and anchovy pâté made with pig liver and anchovies. The forcemeat was puréed twice then introduced to the business end of a food processor with the addition of a béchamel panade. The mixture was wrapped in bacon, baked in a waterbath and aside from being seasoned too timidly (not enough spice or anchovy), the final product was moist, properly cooked and offered an enjoyable texture.
Leverpostej was accompanied by cauliflower pickles: romanesco, cheddar and purple cauliflower with carrot, lemon zest, red onion, aromatics, 3% salt and a mixture of water, white wine vinegar and 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar). Delicious. The romanesco fractals being delicate and visually stunning (pioneered in space by joint NASA/EU aerospace/agriculture scientists), the cheddar nicely crunchy while the purple’s staining properties encouraged guests not to be sloppy. Olive oil glazed radishes finished with vinegar rounded out the accoutrements.
3 loaves of rugbrød, traditional Danish rye bread were made though the results erred to the side of unconventional what with a much chewier crumb and hearth bread loaf shape. Rye flour/buttermilk starter provided a portion of the leavening agent and was supplemented with yeast, twice the recommended amount since the beer (King Cobra malt liquor –softball leftover) was hastily added from the fridge at a frosty, possibly yeast killing temperature. In addition to rye and higher gluten bread flour, a variety of grains and such were incorporated into the dough: rye seeds, millet, oats, caraway, flax seed, ball bearings, woodchips and shrimp shells. Aside from excessive coloration on the bottom of the bread from the oven stone –reminiscent of asphalt and embarrassingly cut away- the bread had respectable crust, crumb and chew.
Shots of Krogstad aquavit, captivatingly encased in ice and neighborhood shrubbery trimmings were offered between courses and kept the guests limber.
Torsksuppe: Cod’s head soup revisited. Fish fumet from the collars with aromatics, thickened with a roux then finished by poaching the cheeks and tongues in the soup and rounding out the affair with lemon zest, celery, celeriac and potato. Croutons with cod roe in a tube would have been rendered the soup unstoppable.
Meet the meat of the matter. 25lb Confucius style Pennsylvania raised heritage turkey with a closer, natural breast to leg meat ratio. Turkey leg tendons are an affront to any civilized “hygge” palate and are routinely, painstakingly, though expertly removed so that the dark meat can be manipulated in a fashion deemed worthy and reflective of the culinary theme. Past leg up endeavors have seen the limb presented as succulent kofta (Turkish meatballs) with giblets and raisins or brilliant ballotines flaunting a fluted mushroom entourage. Keeping in stride with Nordic elements, tendon-free meat-feet Frickadeller (Danish meatballs) were proposed. Turkey meat, egg, parsley, clove, black pepper juniper, 20% pork, 10% fatback and 5% bread crumb and 1.3% salt by the weight of both meats were ground, shaped and roasted in a 450ºF oven. Stock was made from the bones, neck, calf’s foot and aromatics in which the frickadeller were cooked until tender. The cooking liquid was thickened with a roux then garnished with boiled golden beets, dried cranberries and eventually blanched Brussels sprouts.
The breast of the beast was injected with and left to soak 2 days in a wintry spiced brine. Once rinsed and patted dry, it rested on a comfortable bed of vegetables, some aromatics and roasted in a balmy oven for a couple hours, turning around every so often and getting a juicy basting. Sleek, turned braeburn apple wedges and pitted prunes (typical Nordic roast accompaniments and beneficial for digestion) flattered the roast like adulating geriatric fans. Though not much of a revelatory bird, it was sufficiently moist, well seasoned, photogenic and found harmony with the sweet-tart cranberry sauce detailed by clove, orange zest, honey, turbinado sugar, rosemary, cinnamon and salt.
Jansson’s temptation: delectable, traditional Swedish holiday potato gratin with a central layer of savory caramelized onions and salty sprat infused cream (anchovies are suitable replacements); a personal Thanksgiving/Christmas staple.
A traditional Swedish holiday thing aside from intensely repressed glögg inebriation: Scalloped potatoes baked in cream with a middle layer of caramelized onions and pickled sprats -bit smaller than a herring. Anchovies erroneously found their way into the American version since sprats are called ansjovis by Swedes, whereas anchovies fall under the sardeller appellation.
The three folkloric Norse origins of Jansson’s Temptation’s legend are inconclusive and subject to very little debate by neither mythological conspiracy enthusiasts nor epicurean historians.
*Some suspect the namesake of the dish to be Per Adolf “Pelle” Janzon, a gluttonous 19th century opera singer whose troubadour regimen allegedly consisted of beer, schnapps and the dish which won him marginal posthumous celebrity on the 40th anniversary of his expiration date.
*Gunnar Stigmark, author of the Gastronomisk Kalender hopelessly attributes the dish to the eponymous 1928 Swedish silent-movie box-office flop starring Edvin Adolphson.
*Hippie publishers of the 1967 American Heritage Cookbook believed that Erik Jansson, the really pious Swedish religious reformer who founded Bishop Hill, Ill in 1846 (2000 census pop. 125) was spied eating a decadent dish of anchovies and potatoes bound with rich, creamery butter and farm fresh milk. Janssonist zealots considered Jansson to be the second coming of Christ and cursed the dish as Jansson’s Temptation. He was murdered in 1850.
*Rumored inspiration for the Swedish Chef is also lukewarmly contested.
Conceptual stuffing was represented with pearl barley, handsomely manicured winter root vegetables (rutabaga, celery root, parsnips, carrots, turnips and red pearl onions) lathered in butter, dusted with bread crumbs then baked until chestnut brown and crispy. The dish stretched the definition of stuffing, yet root vegetables glazed until tender in olive oil then finished in Swedish vinegar (to highlight the colors and interrupt the cooking process) dutifully showcased year’s end austere, often overlooked produce.
Alongside celebratory shots of akvavit, havarti and Saga Danish blue were passed around with one of the guest’s lovely challah bread while the æbleskiver cooked and a guest hid a prize winning almond in one of the bowls of his novel aerated rice pudding: classical rice pudding, puréed and ejected from an iSi dispenser.
Æbleskiver batter (flour, butter, vanilla, egg yolks, sugar, milk, whipped egg whites, baking powder) was poured into a buttered monk’s pan, flipped and recommended that they be dipped in quince jelly or chestnut honey. The batter required more leavening agents since they did not rise into the characteristic spheres. Otherwise, they tasted good and went well with their sweet accompaniments and having never had æbleskiver before, there was no benchmark for objective grading.
Overall, the dinner guests made the evening a success, save for some unfortunate lapses in lexicon with an 11 year old at the table which would have promptly filled a swear jar. All were well behaved, affable, indiscriminately hungry, courteous, didn’t break anything and relieved the refrigerator from leftovers and subsequent 4am snacking potential.