The last few years have seen Britain go mad for all things Scandi: from knitwear to open fires, cinnamon buns to crime dramas, it’s unlikely that many of us haven’t expressed at least a passing interest in this intriguing northern corner of the world by now.
Bookshops are full to bursting with tomes about hygge and lagom, encouraging us to bring a little of the relaxed, cosy Nordic vibe into our own lifestyles. Scandinavian food continues to garner admiration and awards, with a particular focus on ‘new Nordic’ cuisine and its emphasis on reconnecting with the environment and the provenance of the food we eat.
Since I moved to Denmark last year I’ve been endlessly impressed with the country’s relaxed attitude to food and the possibility of finding excellent, inspiring cuisine in even the most unlikely places. And then, of course, there are the famous pastries, which are even better than I could have dreamed. For those of us who can’t muster up a trip to Copenhagen’s Noma, one of the best restaurants in the world, or head out to the woods to forage for fresh cloudberries, but still want to bring a little hygge and Nordic magic into the kitchen, here are some ideas for bringing a little of that Scandi sparkle to your own cooking, using ingredients readily available in the UK.
While I realise that not everyone has access to a coastline nor necessarily the wherewithal to go foraging for their own bladderwrack, kelp or black pepper dulse (though if you do, it’s a highly rewarding way to spend a few hours and the resulting possibilities in the kitchen are glorious), you can bring the moreish, umami depth of seaweed to your everyday cooking using a range of clever products available online or from good delis. Seaweed-infused olive or rapeseed oil is fabulous for finishing fish dishes – a little drizzled over a roasted salmon or white fish fillet adds a wonderful depth of flavor.
Seaweed salt also magically enhances food, and you don’t even need to reserve it for fishy recipes: it works surprisingly well with lamb, and even with steak. You can even make your own seaweed salt by grinding coarse salt with dried seaweed (available in supermarkets and Japanese shops) in a pestle and mortar. You can buy seaweed-infused vodka in Denmark, although I realise that may be taking things a little far for some more conservative palates. (If not, though, use it to wash down a delicious plate of smoked salmon. Skål!).
The traditional way to eat this famous dark, chewy staple is in the form of smørrebrød, or open sandwich, and you should definitely go down that route at some point. Some of my favourite Scandi-style toppings include poached chicken in a mustard-rich mayonnaise with chunks of roasted beetroot, smoked salmon with smoked cheese and copious amounts of dill, and crisp fried fish fillets with a celeriac remoulade. However, blitzed up rye bread also makes a delicious crust for grilled pork chops or cutlets when mixed with a little wholegrain mustard, some grated cheese and chopped parsley or dill.
It can be torn into chunks, tossed with olive oil and seasoning and roasted in the oven for flavoursome salad croutons, sliced wafer-thin and toasted for a crispy garnish to terrines and pâtés, and it can even be delicious in sweet dishes. Try frying crumbled rye crumbs in butter and brown sugar until caramelised and sticky, and using to top ice cream, cheesecakes or sweet mousses or fools. It’s particularly good with its natural Scandi counterpart, red berries. I’d highly recommend making your own rye bread – it’s very simple and tastier than supermarket variants. I love this recipe here, which is the closest thing to the real Danish deal that I’ve tasted.
There’s far more to this humble root than pickling, although it does make an excellent quick pickle to be served alongside rich meats and fish – simply slice thinly and marinate in a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar and dill for an hour or so, stirring occasionally. I love this with smoked or grilled mackerel, but it’s also excellent with goat’s cheese and feta. My favourite way to cook beetroot is to wrap them, whole, in foil and bake them in the oven for an hour or so until completely tender before leaving to cool and peeling – it keeps all the goodness in and, importantly, is less likely to stain everything you own (do wear gloves for peeling them afterwards, though!)
Slice cooked beetroot into matchsticks and mix with thinly sliced apple, red cabbage, crumbled toasted walnuts and a lemon-olive oil dressing for a refreshing salad to serve with fish, cheese or meat (or on its own). One of my favourite bakeries in Denmark also uses beetroot in a wonderful madbrød (‘meal bread’) – rather like a focaccia topped with thinly sliced beetroot and crumbled feta. You can find the recipe for my version here.
Often thought of as a quintessentially Scandinavian flavour, although it occurs liberally in Middle Eastern and even Indian dishes too. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with its crisp, lemony anise taste since moving to Denmark and am always looking for ways to use up the last bits of the gigantic, feathery bunches that regularly grace my fridge drawer (keep bunched dill in a glass of water in the fridge as you would a vase of flowers – it’ll last much longer).
It’s particularly good with eggs, whether stirred into a simple pan of buttery scrambled yolks or sizzled in butter then poured over a plate of poached eggs with yoghurt and flatbread, Turkish-style. It’s a vital ingredient in any kind of fish mousse or pâté, but is also excellent with anything creamy – think poached chicken in a cream sauce, pork chops with a dill crème fraiche, or even buttery mashed potato with a sprinkling of dill.
Also try using it in a quick cucumber pickle to cut through meat, fish and cheese dishes (it’s great with burgers) – simply marinate thinly sliced, deseeded cucumber in a mixture of rice wine vinegar and sugar, stirring occasionally, for an hour or so, then stir in a generous handful of chopped dill and serve. You can mix grated cucumber and dill into thick Greek yoghurt for an instant delicious condiment to serve with almost anything – curries, eggs, fishcakes, meat, warm bread, to name but a few. Dill also works wonders in pasta dishes with creamy sauces, adding freshness and fragrance.
Known here as hyldeblomst, this delicate fragrance finds its way into a variety of drinks and desserts. Although the fresh flowers have a very short summer season, elderflower cordial and dried elderflowers (available online from retailers like JustIngredients) make a fine substitute. One of my favourite recipes using dried elderflowers is this medieval elderflower cheesecake, which has the perfect fudgy, cheesecake texture and a delicate floral taste. The cordial can also be used as a delicious syrup for a fruit salad of melon and berries, and also works beautifully with that most British of fruits, the gooseberry. Try serving a tart gooseberry and elderflower compote with roasted salmon for a Scandi-fusion dish.
Summer berries. One of the most famous Danish dishes is a red berry compote called rød grøde med fløde, literally ‘red gruel with cream’, which, although quite delicious, is famous rather because no non-Danes can pronounce it (and Danes love to make foreigners try). Take inspiration from this fiendish tongue-twister by simmering a mix of summer berries with a little sugar and thickening with a pinch of arrowroot. Serve in dessert bowls with a generous scoop of ice cream or alongside a panna cotta or frozen sweet terrine. This is lovely garnished with baby herb leaves, like basil or lemon verbena. Tart berries can also make an excellent sauce for strong meats like game or even oily fish such as mackerel. I’ve also found them to pair wonderfully with a white chocolate mousse or cheesecake.
There’s no getting away from this divisive black root in Scandinavia; it crops up in everything from tea to ice cream, and tends to repel most foreigners. However, its anise fragrance can add a welcome twist to sweet and savoury dishes, providing you’re gentle with it. The whole roots can be used to infuse syrups, custards and sauces, and placed in a jar of sugar as you would a vanilla pod to give a subtle fragrance. It’s good with dark chocolate – try infusing a chocolate sauce with a liquorice root for an unusual dessert topping or accompaniment. A little powdered liquorice adds an intriguing note to a rub or marinade for meat, particularly beef, especially if you’re going to get the barbecue or grill involved too. It’s also surprisingly good with game, as it shares many of the flavour notes of juniper, a famously game-friendly spice.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings.