36. Denmark

I have vague Danish heritage, and have often been told that I look a bit Danish. Indeed, although I have never been anywhere near that part of the world, I feel like I would fit in. The people seem efficient and practical, and I would greatly appreciate the cold weather, as I am definitely not made for Australian summers. A lot of my favourable impressions of Denmark have arisen from the many fantastic Danish TV series, which include Forbrydelsen, a world-class gritty crime thriller, and Borgen, a gripping political drama jam-packed full of heart and social justice. Apart from subtle and fantastic writing, acting and plot, these series often have very interesting multidimensional female characters that are a breath of fresh air compared to typical Hollywood tropes. There wasn’t much emphasis on food in those shows that I can remember, except that Denmark is a large exporter of pork and has a lot of piggeries. However, I’m hazy on whether this information was delivered in the context of political trade agreements or pigs eating murdered corpses (or both?). You never know with Danish noir! Danish cuisine originates from farmers making simple food from local ingredients, but has always held its arms open to exotic influences. For instance, there is evidence from Viking archaeological sites that they already imported and used black pepper in their cooking. Other imported spices that Danes favour are quite sweet, including cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. This has culminated in an honest and subtly aromatic cuisine that is also sustaining through long, hard winters.

Tarteletter med høns i asparges

Tarteletter med høns i asparges.JPG

Tarteletter med høns i asparges means “tartlets with chicken and asparagus”. Tartlets are very popular in Denmark, eaten at buffets, Christmas dinners, restaurants or at home. They are a fantastic finger food, and although the fillings can take many forms, the most traditional is chicken and asparagus. The asparagus commonly used is white asparagus, which I could only find in a jar in Australia. I therefore mixed up chopped pieces of white asparagus in the chicken mix, as well as some fresh green asparagus, which provided a good textural contrast. Historically, the chicken Danes ate and included in this dish came from old hens that had stopped laying, producing a very strong-flavoured product. However, without access to this sort of chickens, I used boiled and shredded chicken breast instead. Within the filling I also included a white sauce made with butter, flour, and chicken stock, as well as fresh parsley. I bought the tartlet cases from a little bakery, and was impressed by how easy and delicious this recipe was. The cooks of Denmark clearly know what they’re doing – I can imagine the convenience of making huge batches of the fillings and shells, freezing them, and then bringing them out when unexpected guests come for dinner. I served the tartlets on a bed of mixed greens, and was very sad when they were all gone!

Danish pork roast

Roast pork.JPG

As I’ve already mentioned, pig farming is a big part of Danish industry, and pork is therefore frequently on the menu. This is actually a traditional Christmas meal: pork roast with all the trimmings. I’ve learned that the way the fat on the roast is scored is actually an important identifier of roast pork. For instance, if you were Norwegian, you would cut it in a criss-cross pattern, whereas the Danish favour long thin strips (as I have attempted here). I think the pattern of scoring doesn’t matter too much, but scoring the fat is certainly important for achieving a crisp crackling. The cut of pork is rubbed in salt and pepper and then bay leaves are wedged into some of the cuts on top, and the whole thing is roasted until sizzling and crispy. The side dishes I made are also traditional accompaniments: sugar-browned potatoes were a new concept for me, but I knew immediately when reading the name that we would be the best of friends. Small par-boiled potatoes are cooled and then placed in a frying pan with butter and sugar and tossed on a low heat. I think I got a bit impatient with mine and the heat was too high, so they didn’t turn out as even and glossy as those in the photos, but they tasted incredible all the same. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to try them again! I also made stewed red cabbage using vinegar, cranberry juice, apples and salt. This is not a traditional side with Australian roasts, but I think it’s a very clever addition, as the vinegar cuts through the fat of the meat, and the cabbage and apple flavours famously complement pork. My other side, asparagus, although common in Denmark, is not traditionally served with this meal, however I felt like it really needed some green, so I took some artistic liberty. I topped it all off with some gravy, which, let’s face it, can really only improve matters.

Fiske frikadeller and remoulade

Fiske frikadeller and remoulade.JPG

Fiske frikadeller are Danish fish “meatballs”, or as I might call them, fishcakes. I grew up loving my Mum’s fishcakes, which were usually chunky, breadcrumbed, made with salmon, and which I now recognise she craftily packed a few days’ worth of vegetables into without my detection. Danish fishcakes are commonly made with any mild white fish, but especially cod, which is what I used. Whereas I’m used to chunkier fish cakes, the recipes for these prescribed that all ingredients be finely food processed. I was a little dubious that everything would hold together, but regardless I mixed the cod, lemon, egg, flour, cream, capers and dill together, then formed them into patties and dusted them with a little flour. To my surprise and delight they did hold together very well during the frying process, and were a wonderful consistency. In the past I haven’t had as much success with fritters that don’t have a thick coating of egg and flour and/or breadcrumbs; I’m not sure why this worked so well, but I was certainly pleased. Remoulade is originally a French invention, but has since spread across Europe. There are many variations, but it generally has a mayonnaise base which is flavoured with pickles, capers, curry powder, mustard, onion, chives, and many other possible ingredients. The tangy and salty flavours go especially well with seafood, and I think it may have formed the basis of “tartare sauce” which is a regular at fish and chip shops in Australia. I also served my fishcakes with a squeeze of lemon and pea shoots.

Potato and ham soup with assorted smørrebrød

 Potato and ham soup with assorted smørrebrød.JPG

This part of the world has many hearty, warming soups, and this potato and ham variety is no exception. It actually has a lot of vegetables other than potato packed in, including cabbage, celery, carrots, scallions and parsley. These are all chopped roughly and cooked with a hambone, then blended together with some cream and flour to thicken. The soup is seasoned with salt and pepper, as well as nutmeg and strips of the ham separated from the bone. These types of soups are fantastic for getting a massive vegetable injection in a warm and comforting way in the midst of winter. Smørrebrød is sometimes said to be the national dish of Denmark, consisting of open sandwiches on rye bread with infinite varieties of toppings, including cold cuts, fish, cheese, meat, vegetables and spreads. I’ve tried to replicate some traditional toppings, such as smoked salmon, lemon, dill and pickles; roast beef, remoulade and onion; and roast pork with sweet and sour red cabbage, decorated with an orange slice and cucumber. Some of the combinations are so famous that they have quirky nicknames, such as “veterinarian’s midnight snack” or “shooting star”. I couldn’t find any fun names for my combinations, so I will leave you to invent your own.  Perhaps “pig and parasol” for the roast pork and orange combination?