Herbs and Recipes for a Scandinavian Flavour

If asked to name countries famed for their cuisine, you’d probably think France and Italy, or China and India; it’s unlikely that Scandinavia would figure highly on the list. Yet Scandinavian chefs have a wide and varied repertoire featuring traditional foods associated with their countries.

Fish and seafood form a major part of the Scandinavian diet, which also includes a range of meat, from wild deer to smoked horseflesh. Ways of preserving foods by pickling or smoking have been handed down from generation to generation, from as far back in history as the Vikings. The oldest inhabitants of Scandinavia quickly learned that in order to survive the very long and dark winters, they needed to find a source of food that would last for months.

Gravad lax (literally meaning buried salmon), one of Scandinavia’s most famed dishes, originated long ago when salmon, in order to preserve them, were buried in a salt-filled hole. Similarly bacalao, renowned now as a Mediterranean speciality, uses salted, dried cod exported from Norway. In fact, it was the Norwegians who are credited with inventing the drying process and, according to historical records, they were exporting dried fish as long ago as 875 AD.

Herbs in Scandinavian cooking

When it comes to herbs the one you’re most likely to find in use in Scandinavian cooking is dill. It goes very well with most fish and is a vital ingredient in gravad lax. Parsley and juniper berries also play their part, especially in game dishes, but, on the whole, Scandinavian cooking doesn’t require a great variety of herbs.

Scandinavian recipes

Gravad lax

  • 1 whole salmon
  • 2 bunches of fresh dill
  • 125g salt (rough crystals if possible)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 30g freshly ground black pepper

Ask your fishmonger for a salmon weighing about 2-3 kg and ask him to fillet it for you, giving you two large fillets. Roughly chop the dill and mix with the salt, pepper and sugar.

Spread out a large sheet of foil and, using about 1 quarter of the herb mixture, sprinkle it over an area roughly the size of the fillet. Lay one fillet, skin-side down on the herb mixture and sprinkle two thirds of the remaining herb mix onto the salmon. Place the other salmon fillet on top, skin-side up, and top with the remaining herb mix.

Make a parcel of the foil, tucking in the ends and wrapping it closely. Place the parcel on a tray and put another tray or container on top. Then you need a heavy weight to press it all down.

Leave this now in the fridge – or cellar or somewhere where the temperature won’t rise above 6ºC – and leave for 5 days, turning daily.

To serve unwrap the fish and discard any pickling liquid that has been created. Slice at a slight diagonal. The slices should be a little thicker than you would serve smoked salmon. Serve with rye bread and sauce.

Mustard and dill sauce for gravad lax

  • 2 tablespoons French mustard
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 5 fl oz vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
  • freshly ground salt and pepper

Whisk together the mustard, sugar and egg yolk. Gradually add the oil, whisking well to mix. Stir in the vinegar, dill and seasoning to taste.

Scandinavian Sardines

  • 8 large sardines, filleted and descaled
  • 2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • plain flour
  • freshly ground salt and pepper
  • knob of butter
  • olive oil

Place a sardine fillet skin-side down and cover with dill and parsley. Place another fillet on top, skin-side up, and press together gently. Repeat this process for all the sardines.

Put a couple of tablespoons flour on a plate and mix in the salt and pepper. Lay the sardines in the flour and turn over to coat. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan. Fry the sardines, turning once, until golden-brown. Serve with creamy mashed potato and a parsley garnish.

Scandinavian Potato Salad

  • 2 lb small potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons each of rosemary, parsley, sage and mint
  • 4 fl oz olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 6 herrings in brine
  • freshly ground salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces. Crush the garlic and finely chop the herbs. Rinse and chop the herrings. While the potatoes are still warm, mix with the garlic, herbs, olive oil, lemon juice and zest. Leave covered for 10 minutes. Taste and add more oil or lemon juice as required. Season to taste, remembering that the herring has been in salted water. Add the herring to the mix and serve in a large bowl.

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