Un jeune hareng Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Matjes

Fish tales.

Fish tales.

Pickled young herring

They are immature female herring.  Matjes is Dutch for v-vvv-vv-virgin herring.  Young females that have not yet laid eggs.  Traditionally they are brined with the guts still in and the pancreas does something that makes them more better but I’m not ready to start experimenting with the benefits of pancreatic spoilage.  They were salted then packed in a vinegar based solution with sugar, allspice, carrots and onions.  Accompanied by la ratte potatoes made better with some soured cream, lemon zest and parsley; you know, for freshness.  And a nice medley of handsomely colored pickled onions.

Pickular circles.

Pickular circles.

Une année de plus Monday, Jan 6 2014 

I resolve to be more ornery and judgmental.

Crabby New Year.

Crabby New Year.

A positive review is always welcome, though cursory Mad-Lib generated validation based on the sampling of 5 dishes (not counting the oyster and caviar & potato chips -neither of which we make, all we do is order and open them) after only 2 visits is the kind of empty praise one expects to find in a greeting card written sent from a grandparent whose wits are slowly unraveling or the praise parents must lavish on their tone-deaf and hopelessly uncoordinated children.  Better than to be panned I guess, though at least Ebert watch more than 10 minutes of the film.

π's

π’s

Fish pie in savory pastry with some pickles.

Fish pie in savory pastry with some pickles.

The fish pie is still a work in progress and I am flummoxed by the salinity despite a conservative 1.2% seasoning.  Eels will be available in the spring/summer, though my concern is that the eel meat will be mushy after 24 hours -the reason eels are sold live.  The coulibiac in Daniel’s cookbook  is absolutely stunning and the next challenge in the pâté croûte realm.

Butterflied swimmers.

Butterflied swimmers.

Salt bath.

Salt bath.

Pickled herring have been a success, though some are far more difficult to butterfly than others.  The Swedish varieties are exceedingly sweet and these are tempered a bit, not without their charm. More vividly colored pickles to follow.

Tales of the pickle.

Tales of the pickle.

I do miss making the meat fabrications though.

Star gazing.

Star gazing.

Tacksägelsedagen Thursday, Nov 25 2010 

Tacksägelsedagen 2010

Fancy pilgrim galleons no match for proper pillaging.

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.

Glass class. Skøl.

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.

Before the devil knows your spread.

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.

Nordic study on getting your pickle tickle.

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.

Aquavit, in the rocks.

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.

Gøbble, gøbble.

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.

Roasted with apples & prunes. Sleep inducing, but keeps you regular.

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.

deflætedskiver. Out of føcus too.

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.

Julbord. Monday, Jan 4 2010 

Swedish Christmas table

Amish dough table, actually.

Inclement weather remnants, frantic holiday motorists, faulty zippers and not being able to remember a telephone number other than my own conspired to form a Mid-Atlantic maelstrom of some real F’ed-mas cheer.  Finding that my childhood 80 sq ft room’s dresser drawers were being used as a trash receptacle  for an unemployed 43 yr old hermit’s empty Kodiak dip cans, candy wrappers, loose change and food containers did little to liven the mood.  Even less after he threatened to place his fist in my old man’s face.  Some Nordic booze in ice provided a well deserved, albeit temporary analgesic distraction.

Linie Akvavit, chilling.  Up yours Martha Stewart.

Then saw an excellent movie about an emotionally vacant man, his accordingly suited job and his seminar schtick.  Such continuity in a story is what every menu should strive for. It left a remarkable  impression.  Anvil did the same in validating purpose and determination, albeit financially and professionally unsuccessful as is the case for most purist epicureans and craftsmen who do what they do for the self-rewarding passion.

7 Jews, 2 Swedish shiksa and the reclusive aforementioned temperamental groundhog descended upon a nicely set table on the Eve of Christmas day to feast on Sweden’s limited end of year bounty.  Swedish matron provided all the Swedish herring.  I provided the brined herring for the matjes which could have benefited from another fortnight’s worth of soaking to easy the stunningly salty brine.  Aunts Mimi, Bunny and Nan made the cookies.  91 year old Uncle Max brought the depraved teenage libido.

Hobo Jultomten.

Menu

Tre Sorters sill  – Three kinds of herring
Matjes sill  – Soused herring
Rökt lax – Smoked salmon
Sill salad –  Herring salad
Grav lax – Cured salmon
Jansons frestelse –  Janson’s temptation
Prins korv –   Prince sausage
Julskinka –  Christmas ham
Köttbullar –  Swedish meatballs
Rödkål –  Red cabbage
Rödbetor –  Pickled beets
Gurksallad –  Cumucber salad
Lingon  – Lingonberries
Ris a là Malta –  Rice porridge
Små kakor –   Small cookies

The 3 varieties of pickled herring were served in sauced of red wine vinegar, dill cream and mustard.  Matjes was another type of milder, smaller, immature herring and salt-brined rather than pickled.  The herring salad was assembled from mature herring in a very strong brine which were soaked in milk overnight in  a hasty attempt to degorge the salt.  It didn’t work too well as the dish was still considerably salty.  The grav lax was made at home, the smoked salmon was not.

Fish fit for Viking. Some by Abba (not the band).

Jansson’s Temptation is where it gets interesting, a less familiar dish but very representative of Nordic fare:  pickled sprats, potatoes, cream and onions.  The potatoes are cut into batons, smaller than the French Pont Neuf cut and randomly strew about a buttered baking dish with a layer of sprats and thinly sliced onion rings in the middle, covered with cream and finished with a top layer of onions cut in the same fashion.  It is essentially a gratin Dauphinois, augmented with the onions and sprats.  The sprats permeate the cream and give the otherwise rich and 2 dimensional dish notes of acidity and pleasant salty fishiness.  The Frenchified Thanksgiving version consisted of thinly sliced potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onions deglazed with water and a lemon juice, thyme, dried chili and anchovies, then covered with nutmeg infused cream.

Anchovies erroneously found their way into international versions 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.

Blonde and blue dyed Nobel prize piece.

Yours truly brought the cooked ham from DC to Long Island where it was decorated.  The shank end of the picnic ham (minus the butt) was injected and brined for 5 days in a 5%/2.5% salt/turbinado sugar solution with #1, cinnamon, clove, allspice, rosemary, gumdrops, orange zest, garlic and chili after which it was left to dry and develop a pellicule.

The ham was then smoked in the faulty file-cabinet smoker which due to its placement in an alcove outside the back door manages to efficiently smoke the apartment when the door opens.  Hickory chips were burned on the electric hot plate at the bottom of the file-cabinet and the ham placed on a rack in what would be the second drawer whose base had been removed.  Once sufficient smokage was attained, the ham was cooked in seasoned “smiling” water for an internal temperature of 150F.  The resulting liquid was traditionally clarified  with egg whites,  gelled with additional gelatin and colored upon arrival at the holiday destination.

Few, if any foods are blue in nature and food coloring sleight of hand was required.  Turmeric provided the yellow…and was boosted with some yellow from the food-coloring 4-pack for good measure.  A cross mold was cut into cardboard, lined with plastic wrap and filled with the yellow aspic.  The blue aspic was poured into a dish and cut to fit the flag design.  A clear coat of aspic was poured where the skin was removed and the flag elements were “glued” to the ham.  More clear aspic was applied to seal the pieces.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower were pickled (the purple separately) in 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar) with carrots, carawy, lemon zest and chili.

An assortment of home made cookies and strong coffee trumpeted the finale.  The host chef got the almond in the porridge and modestly won the prize, which she instinctively shared with everyone.

Små kakor taste better than it reads.

Christ is Björn: Though Christmas is fundamentally a Christian holiday and I bear a Semitic surname, it has always been a secular feast day to enjoy with the Protestant French and something Swedish maternal sides of the family.  Oysters, shrimp, pork and many other not kosher items have graced the 10 Swedish versions which have all been attended by a Jewy majority with a supermarket style choice of faith.  The herring were all bought canned from Sweden with the exception of the heavily brined herring which I brought up as well and not much can be said for their taste other than the consistency with last years.  Grav lax was a little wet and could have been cured differently, but it was not my event.  The Nordic breads were immensely satisfying, particularly the dense home made multigrain loaf rägbröd.  The harder circular rye flatbread knäckebröd is a sturdy instrument for herding food items onto a fork and an important nod to the Viking heritage.

The ham was very well prepared and pleased all palates.  The aspic was a kitschy delight for the Swedes and Heb’s alike.  The generous holiday buffet was a delicious representation of  fundamental Nordic ingredients, traditional preparations and humble compositions.    Tack så mycket, or tak for mad as the beloved Danish ladies would garble.

Holiday bush with Nordic trim.