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 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!
Some countries’ national dishes are chosen by an implicit fractured consensus among the population, or sometimes an explicit and controversial decree by the ruling powers. These options were too undemocratic and/or unclear for Denmark, however, with 2014 marking the year that a national vote was held for the general populace to choose their own national dish. Out of 24 submissions, with 44% of the vote the triumphant champion was stegt flaesk, literally meaning “roast pork strips”. As I’ve already mentioned, pig farming is a big part of Danish industry, with pigs jokingly said to outnumber people 2:1, and pork is therefore frequently on the menu. Pork products come in an astonishing variety, but stegt flaesk is a simple preparation of pork belly, lightly salted (but never smoked or highly cured like bacon), sliced into chunky strips and fried or baked until golden and crispy. It’s almost always served “med persillesvos” meaning “with parsley sauce”, made from a roux of butter, flour and milk, flavoured with lots of finely chopped fresh parsley. Also traditionally accompanying the dish are plain boiled potatoes, however I deviated slightly from this and made another Danish classic that I just couldn’t resist – brunede kartofler (browned potatoes). Small peeled potatoes are first parboiled, then tipped into a saucepan where a piping hot mixture of melted sugar and butter is waiting. They are then frantically tossed to achieve an even coating over the whole potato, and removed once they are cooked on the inside and golden-brown and shiny on the outside. This style of potatoes is particularly popular around Christmas and Easter, and is commonly seen accompanying roast meats, so I figure it isn’t entirely inappropriate to serve with my stegt flaesk.I also included some boiled carrots as a gesture towards those who have laughed at stegt flaesk, calling the Danish national dish “a plate of pork fat and potatoes”. Not that there’s anything wrong with such a plate, but look! It can even have vegetables!
Fiske frikadeller and remoulade
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
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?