I have never been North of Scotland, so an invitation to Sweden was irresistible. Possibly because the promise of 2 nights without the little people was particularly enticing but also because I really wanted a taste of Scandinavia. What do I know about the country apart from the obvious; home of Ikea, pickled herring, Bjorn Borg, Abba and Aquavit, and lots of good looking specimens of the male and female variety. Not a lot is the answer. What did I come away with, I really like the Swedes, and not just to look at, and I really like their food!
I had been vaguely aware of the new dawn in Scandinavian food gripping the foodie gang. Who could ignore the press that ‘Noma’ has had since winning best restaurant in the world in 2010, but that said I was none the wiser as to what to expect on landing on Swedish terra firma. Clearly fish would feature on the menu, after all much of Sweden is made up of islands surrounded by the swirling Baltic. Apart from that I was rather in the dark, a bit like Sweden is for much of the year. Thankfully for me, my dreadful preconceptions did not hit the radar at all, piles of pickled herring and reindeer meatballs were not even spied, slightly I may add, to Mr.P’s disappointment.
Stockholm is stunning, a Venice of the north. Stunning and grand, I should add. The ‘Palace’ dominates the old town, a vast baroque statement of power and prestige. Eating is big. The Swedes appear to eat all day and I can see why; it gets dark early, it’s cold outside, so why not linger over edible pleasures? Take ‘Volt’, a newish restaurant that is quite the most novel and innovative place I have frequented this year. Achingly cool, the food is sublime, surpassing all expectations, it really is a very special establishment. Never, and I mean never, have I eaten such delicate lamb. Venison spiked with juniper tasted like it jumped straight out of the fir clad woodlands, and the beef carpaccio would have made an Italian cry. Controversially for Mr.P, they choose the wine for you. Ooh, ‘shiver me timbers’ that is not what Mr.P likes at all. You’re unlikely to have heard of it because it is all organic and sourced from vineyards that barely exist due to the tiny quantities produced. Do not be put off, someone has spent a lot of time and thought doing this, resulting in a perfect wine-food marriage. The service is exceptional, and of course English is perfectly spoken, so no tongue twisting around the menu. It’s like eating at a friends house, (apart from obviously much better), the restaurant probably has no more than 15 tables, the result is informal yet welcoming. The four chaps behind it have created something very clever, well worth eating at, don’t miss it.
Rocketing to the other rend of the food spectrum as to where to eat. ‘Ostermalm’ food halls are a great grazing spot for lunch. ‘Liza Elmqvist’ restaurant is an exquisite fish bonanza, satisfying all those cravings for herrings, shrimps, salmon, roe and much much more! The place is throbbing with a tidy que persistently 20 deep from 1pm till when we left at 2.30pm. This place is humming and with good reason. Fresh, fresh, fresh; it serves quintessential Swedish seafood that is just extremely good. A quick trek round the market reveals a whole new world of food that is frankly just not available in England, moose, reindeer, capercaillie, black grouse, and probably a whole host of other animals that I have never eaten before. Pretty exciting stuff if only I had more than 48 hours.
Fully enthused from my trip to Sweden I returned to ‘Blighty’ inspired and determined to seek out Swedish cookbooks. Alas I have none, but that brilliant writer, Diana Henry, in ‘Roast Figs, Sugar Snow’ and ‘Food from Plenty’ does swerve into their cuisine a fair bit. Needless to say I have dropped some heavy hints for Christmas, and yes ‘Scandilicious’ and ‘Sugar, smoke and salt’ both feature on the wishlist. I don’t think I have ever cooked any traditionally ‘Swedish’ food, but come to think of it I probably have concocted some fusion form of cured fish that could vaguely be passed off as being Swedish!
‘Beetroot cured salmon with fresh horseradish and bitter leaves’. We served this a couple of weekends ago for a dinner and I have to admit it made rather a good starter. Unbelievably we are still working through our stash of beetroot from the garden but only have the ‘choggia’ variety left.. Surprisingly it still dyes the salmon a wistful pink while the sugar, salt cure transforms the raw fish into gravadlax. This starter is a blinder for the culinary challenged as it really requires no cooking – the salmon is cured over 24 hours and then sliced and served with a salad. What could be easier with the festive period looming. Relatively inexpensive, easy to prepare, clean, healthy and ‘pretty’! and kind of Swedish!
Beetroot cured salmon with fresh horseradish and bitter leaves
500gms of fresh skinned salmon
2 tablespoons of Maldon salt
2 tablespoons of white sugar
1 tablespoon of ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of gin or vodka
1 fresh uncooked beetroot
Several handfuls of bitter leaves, watercress, rocket, chard
4 beetroot roasted in the oven and peeled
Fresh horseradish to grate
1. First slice the beetroot extremely thinly and place half at the bottom of a small dish that will hold the salmon. Mix the sugar, salt, pepper in a bowl. Place 2 tablespoons of the mix on top of the beetroot and now lie the salmon on top, place the rest of the cure mix on top of the salmon followed by the beetroot. Now pour the gin/ or vodka over the top. Cover with foil and place in the fridge for at least 24 hours with some weights on top, tinned tomatoes work very well!
2. After 24 hours the salmon will be cured and can be sliced as thinly as possibly ready to use!
3. I serve the salmon with salad leaves, roasted beetroot and a grating of fresh horseradish with a very simple olive oil dressing. If you have no fresh horseradish you could make a more Dijon based dressing and serve with some chopped dill or fresh chives. Alternatively you could be quite traditional and serve the salmon very simply with creme fraiche and rye bread – ummm , delicious.
VOLT restaurant – have a peek it is really special – http://www.restaurangvolt.se/eng/food.asp
Food Halls in Stockholm: http://www.saluhallen.com/Lisa Elmqvist (Fish)
Diana Henry, ‘Food from Plenty’ – my bible of inspiration for what to cook for large numbers, family friendly and budget sensitive.
Diana Henry, ‘Roast Figs, Sugar Snow’ – an indulgent, seasonally sensitive treasure trove of recipes, perfect for the longer, dark days of winter.