The idea for this dinner originated through the inspiration born out of our summer travels in the incredible and vibrant Scandinavia. The food scene there is amazing — the level of competition, finesse and focus on delivering an exceptional experience is intense and unlike anything we’ve seen before. There was an extensive use of various interesting, seasonal, locally sourced ingredients in inventive ways. The local favorites, anise flavored licorice powder and lovage derived from the perennial herbs tasting similar to parsley and celery were found in a wide range of culinary combinations with cutting edge creativity. Rhubarb, green strawberries, gooseberries and elder flower were used in main courses as well as in an assortment of decadent desserts which sometimes even included shaved Jerusalem artichoke — not something one would normally associate with a dessert.
Dining out during our trip was always an experience further enhanced by the genuine authenticity of the modern Scandinavian cuisine steeped in its proud heritage. The traditional Scandinavian staples such as the hake and salmon along with the young potatoes, cucumbers, freshly grated horseradish, sour cream and dill were prepared in numerous variations but always with a different modern twist that elevated the dish to the new heights. Herring is another story. One would think how different or sophisticated can the herring be? And yet, when we tried a trio of locally prepared herring specialty in Gothenburg, each with its unique sauce and accompanied by locally crafted dark beer and house flavored Aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian spirit, my husband was in a gourmet herring heaven!
The artisanal bread and butter was so phenomenal that I’d need a separate chapter to adequately describe it. In Stockholm, at a restaurant called Volt, we had butter from a small producer who called himself the “Butter Viking.” It was delectable!
The epitome of our experience with Scandinavian cuisine was its imaginative and seemingly incompatible ingredients and flavors that created unforgettable dishes. This menu is my take on our culinary experience in Scandinavia!
We couldn’t skip the smørrebrøt, the all-time Scandinavian traditional and timeless dish – an open-faced sandwich on a thin tasty slice of rye bread. One of the locals we met, who actually recommended that we try it, called it so Danish that it “hurts”. The bread is buttered and topped with the crispy romaine lettuce and juicy shrimp salad. Garnish it with an eye catching cherry tomato, a slice of lemon and a delicate dill spring, in addition to enhancing the flavor it will produce a striking visual impact.
Our third hors d’oeuvre for the table was another Scandinavian cliché — marinated herring with Aquavit. To save time you can serve a good quality store bought marinated herring, there are many great choices that will not compromise the dish. Cover it with slightly marinated thinly sliced radish, fennel and strips of endive and season it with a pinch of the licorice powder. While licorice is predominantly used in sweet and savory dishes of the Nordic countries, it can also be one of those unique condiments which make a traditional dish feel modern and new. The sweet tasting, anise favored licorice is so unusual; your guests will struggle to decipher the delicious enigma of its notes in this easy starter. For a spicy kick, drizzle the dish with Roasted Chili Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Smoked Norwegian Salmon with Arugula Salad and Light Mayonnaise Dressing was the opening hors d’oeuvre of our Scandinavian dinner. The mayonnaise dressing really helps this starter to stand out; it has a subtle lime tang which marries the flavors so well. The mild flavored salmon was cut into strips and layered with peppery arugula and slices of buttery avocado. Drizzle it with the light mayonnaise dressing and sprinkle with chopped chives and parsley. Be creative and use an interesting vessel for the presentation, you can customize the serving portion to its size. It can be as small as a shot glass or as big as a martini glass.
For the appetizer I chose the Summer Lobster Salad – an ultimate midsummer dish which is light, refreshing and sophisticated enough for any gourmet but yet remarkably easy to make. To save time buy small lobsters pre-boiled from the local market and prepare all the vegetables a day before. For an interactive presentation assemble the dish in front of your guests’ eyes. The decadent texture of the chilled lobster meat combined with the crispy romaine lettuce and complemented by thin slices of vegetables is simply unbeatable and the passion fruit dressing really brings it all together – the flavors burst out in your mouth!
On our trip we also rediscovered hake. Simply roast the fillets or for extra texture, sear the fillets quickly on the hot skillet and finish them in the oven. Young potato salad with a tangy crème fraîche based dressing is a perfect partner for the oven baked hake. A dollop of tiny grainy Swedish lump roe adds a rich favor and vibrant color to this otherwise simple potato salad and thin slices of cucumber add the extra crunch and freshness.
Tantalizing quail eggs are truly a delicacy when boiled to perfection with their yolks still runny. The result is a beautiful plate composed of moist silky hake fillet, bright potato salad and ribbons of fresh cumber with thin slices of radish to add playfulness to the presentation.
For the dessert — Napoleon-style crêpe cake with a light velvety lemon filling and succulent fresh raspberries. The lemony filling adds a delightful sweet-and-sour twist to this cake. To add a touch of chic — scatter some edible flower petals and more berries, I used red and white currents, on top and serve it with Riesling Ice Wine which will elevate the experience even further.