Tuesday, 21 June 2011
When I said I was going to Malmö for dinner one Swedish friend scoffed at the idea. “Why go to such a cultural backwater at all, let alone for dinner?” I find it odd how Gothenburgers are much fonder of Copenhagen than of Stockholm or Malmö, yet pretty much detest the very thought of Denmark. In fact many Swedes joke that they’d like to give the bottom portion of Sweden to the Danes!
So with these cultural tensions in mind, my sister and I decided to pop in for dinner at a restaurant called Bastard in Malmö on our way back to Gothenburg from Copenhagen. It had been recommended by Magnus as one of his favourite restaurants so we felt on firm ground despite the rather ominous name.
Bastard is the closest thing to a gastro-pub that I’ve found in Sweden, in terms of the style, menu, open kitchen and central bar that you can sit around. It’s a sort of bistro-cum-gastropub but without the cosy pubbiness and with a slap of St. John offal and a tickle of Italian sourcing and technique.
We sat at the bar and let our stomachs rule our heads, knowing that we had three hours on a train to snooze off our dinner. As we sipped an icy glass of Gruner we watched a Schindler’s List red meat slicer whirr through irresistible nuggets of cured pig and did the only thing that was right and gave in.
The pate, lard, porchetta and rilletes were superb. The only downside was that the charcuterie had been proudly imported from Italy, whereas I was very keen to sample something a bit more Swedish, Danish or dare I say it, homemade as it is at Björns Bar in Gothenburg or at the best pubs back in the UK. Skagenskinka is renowned for instance, for being a very fine smoked Danish ham and there is a strong tradition in Scandinavia for doing wonderfully naughty things with pigs. Whilst the "plank" was delicious, it seemed like Andreas Dahlberg may have missed a trick.
The star of the show was a beef heart salad with radicchio, rocket and Parmesan which left my sister and I fighting bitterly over the last sweet scraps. It balanced bitterness, saltiness, heat and meatiness perfectly. It transported me back to having a morsel of a friend’s grilled ox heart at St. John, which could hardly be higher praise. It was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year.
Ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta and doused in a fine butter sauce were splendid. Often they can be watery or, worse still like eating a snot filled hanky. But these were well made and generously filled without being the sort of thing you want to send a postcard home about or write more than sixty three words in a blog post about.
The other standout dish was a generous slab or pork belly topped with a chickpea puree and a fennel and pea shoot salad. Words such as glorious; sounds such as oink oink; and feelings such as mmmmm flood back as I look at the photo above. The pork was cravenly moist and depth-charged with flavour whilst the other elements added lubrication and lightness to offset the meatiness. It’s a thrill to find a new take on pork belly – and one I’m keen to recreate at home.
We waddled away from the bar feeling inspired by Malmö and snoozed all the way home to Gothenburg dreaming that Bastard might decide to move up the coast and grace the streets of Little London. For it offers something that Gothenburg desperately needs – imaginative, informal, top class cooking, but without the desperate need to compete with Stockholm, chase after a star or laboriously serve dainty tasting menus. In fact, it’s worth going to Malmö just to eat at Bastard.
Mäster Johansgatan 11, Malmö
Tel +46 40-12 13 18
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Gothenburgers are known as the jokers in straight laced Sweden. Whenever a cartoon character or film role requires an amusing protagonist, they always cast someone from Gothenburg. It bubbles up a lot at work with very few days passing without an email chain awash with Swedish puns that are so obvious that even I can spot them.
As a sign that I’ve gone slightly native, I’ve found myself creating recipes based on how good the pun would sound, rather than what the end result would taste like: truly a recipe for disaster. Whilst this might create entertaining fodder for a blog post, it doesn’t necessarily translate to deliciousness. I found myself creating a dinner party menu full of ideas that sounded funny but were duty bound to taste awful. Having got a laugh at the idea of Stromanoff (herring stroganoff) I changed tack and used salmon far more successfully instead. And even then I tried to ruin it by calling it “laxanoff”.
Whilst the punning is fun and dangerous, I’ve found it very liberating as it lets you combine ideas and flavours with more energy, such as inventing a Swaesar Salad. Which leads me to one cultural mash up that worked brilliantly. I was fumbling around the supermarket trying to rustle up a fun dessert that married British and Swedish cultures, when I stumbled across the idea of creating a Scandi version of bread and butter pudding. Given that the Swedes have a pudding and baking culture that would make Greg Wallace walk around with a permanent boner, it felt like it could really work.
One of Sweden’s most iconic culinary emblems is the kanelbulle – which is a swirled a cinnamon bun, sprinkled with crystalised sugar that is as prevalent over here as a doughnut would be in the USA. They are part and parcel of any casual “fika” which sees Swedes devour a cheeky little cake with a friend and a coffee. But fika isn’t just coffee and a cake – it’s a cultural institution that Henry James could have waffled on about as a follow up to A Portrait of a Lady.
So with the unlikely pair of Greg Wallace and Henry James in mind I dreamt up the idea of creating a kanelbulle-bread and butter pudding. It works with croissants and marmalade, so why not cinnamon buns?
To make it a bit more grown up and to add offer up another flavour to enhance the cinnamon I decided to supplement it with bourbon, bananas and sultanas. And with this thought process, the world’s first kanelbulle bread and butter pudding was born. Here’s how to make it.
1 large family sized kanelbulle, 5 normal kanelbulle or a bag of mini kanelbulle
2 bananas sliced
100g of sultanas
500ml of custard
50ml of bourbon
100ml of cream
50g of brown sugar
If you’re lucky enough to have a large kanelbulle, cut it into a series of 1 cm thick slices. Otherwise just slice the smaller ones and make do. Layer the slices with the bananas and then sprinkle with sultanas in a baking dish. Douse with bourbon. Add another layer just like the first and arrange the slices so they make a nice pattern. Then unleash the custard and cream. Let the custard and cream seep in and then sprinkle some brown sugar on top.
Bake in a medium oven for 30-40 minutes and serve with ice cream.
It far exceeded my expectations and I am now looking forward to cooking it again on October 4th - which is National Kanelbulle Day in Sweden.
Thank you Christian for the photographs. And to Bengt Olof Åradsson / Wikipedia for the image at the top.
Saturday, 11 June 2011
“Would you be interested in going on a lobster safari, Jonathan?”
This is probably the best question I’ve ever been asked in my whole life. It’s the sort of question that makes you want to walk out onto the street and hug people. The sort of question that makes you want to give every penny to charity. The sort of question that is overflowing with unfettered positivity.
I accepted the invitation from the lovely people at the West Coast of Sweden Tourism board quicker than you could say “hummer-bra”. Having enjoyed my experience on a Mussel Safari back in the Autumn along the idyllic West Coast, I wasn’t going to miss out.
After some cursory research and some energetic emailing it emerged that Sweden and Norway are renowned for being home to some of the world’s tastiest lobsters. Apparently the cold, deep waters encourage lobsters to grow at a glacial pace which makes them more flavoursome. The icy winter conditions and strict laws forbidding fishing for lobster during the summer spawning months makes them harder to catch. Given that food tastes better when it is more scarce, more expensive and when you have gone to more effort to catch it, it’s no surprise that Scandinavian lobster is so tasty.
We drove up the West Coast Highway to Strömstad where we caught a ferry to South Koster Island with the warning that the chilly April waters would mean that we would be lucky to actually catch any lobsters ourselves. The coastal scenery, as ever, was staggeringly beautiful. It’s worth visiting whether you are on a “Wild Lobster Chase” or not. Remote. Craggy. Elegiac. And a balance of soft and harsh textures that makes you realise why Scandinavians make such frustratingly natural designers. It’s not surprising that the Koster Islands, just a few miles from Norway, are both a protected nature reserve and a mecca for red and blue flagged yachts.
We arrived at our hotel in Ekenäs, to find rooms looking out over the mackerel hued sea and a small flotilla of charming staff who answered our excited cascade of questions about lobsters and ushered us towards some lunch to prepare ourselves for the high seas.
A very tender, but thin, beef stew with onions and potatoes was transformed by the addition of crème fraîche and gherkins. A rustic balance of creaminess, acidity, crunch, freshness and beefy depth.
More refined, although terribly photographed, was a “cooked to perfection” trout with a creamy roe sauce and braised greens. My fears that the trout had been overcooked couldn’t have been more wrong. The flesh Dita-von-Teesed away from the bone and the roe sauce added to the sensuality as it burst saltily in the mouth. Meanwhile, the cucumber and braised beans were so good that I’m going to insist on cucumber being cooked this way from now on.
With our loins girdled and our sea legs filled with ballast, we ventured down to the harbour to meet our Lobster Safari Ranger. Johan was everything you’ve imagined a Swedish captain to be: larger than life, grizzly, weathered, bearded and blessed with a sense of humour that twinkled brighter than a Catherine wheel.
With our expectations of catching lobsters set very low, we chugged out to inspect Johan’s 14 creels that had only been in the water for 3 days. The water was still so cold that areas had only just thawed, so the lobsters were still in hiding and not likely to have made the mistake of falling into our mackerel baited trap.
Johan and his assistant hauled in the first few pots, but to no avail. They weren’t just devoid of lobsters – they weren’t even filling up with seaweed! Sadly the story was no different than when we took over. I managed to net a starfish, but other than that it was more a case of checking to see if the pots were still in one piece.
Johan assured us that despite our pitiful haul, we’d still be in for a lobster treat for dinner. And with that reassuring message reverberating in our minds, I took over the wheel and guided us around the islands to enjoy the amazing scenery as Johan regaled us with tales about the fierce rivalry between North and South Koster. The animosity between the islands is so strong that Johan’s father from the south island, refused to step foot on the northerly rival which is seen as more developed despite having a population of no more than a few hundred. The islands’ history and folklore is almost entirely dominated by fishing.
We heard tales of one fisherman accidentally catching 10 tonnes of dogfish; of a crazy Scottish man who had invented a novel way to catch langoustine who is now farming snails for the Asian market; of prawns that glow in the dark; of mackerel schools that are denser than concrete; and of a lobster heist that saw 1million SEKs worth of shellfish being stolen from local creels that could become the plot for Ocean’s 14.
As we made our way back to the hotel’s pontoon, we marveled at the views which almost made up for the lack of lobster…
Craggy seafront of South Koster
Sea view towards South Koster
Classic harbour huts on North Koster Island
The chain ferry linking North and South Koster
Trio of houses in sunshine as we left the harbour
Trio of houses under cloud cover as we returned
Trio of houses in twilight before we went for dinner
The early April light licked the shores with golden beams one minute and cursed it with withering coldness the next. Whilst we hadn’t caught any lobsters, we had enjoyed a magical boat ride and got an exhilarating taste of what life is like on the Koster Islands. But as we prepared for dinner we worried that we’d be punished for our poor fishing performance by taking lobster off the menu. Luckily, our fears were unfounded. Johan had responded to our poor catch not by scuttling his boat or making us walk the plank, but by nabbing a couple of lobsters off a friendly fisherman.
To our delight our meal started with a magnificent cold boiled lobster from less than a mile away. Served with aioli and mayonnaise it was everything you want from the king of the sea. Rich, tender and imbued with the sort of salty depth that makes you want to regurgitate each mouthful to enjoy it all over again.
Next came a second lobster that had been removed from its armour, poached in butter and anointed with a sauce made reduced lobster bisque. It came with a piece of soft claw meat, some lavishly buttery mash and a scattering of beans. It was every bit as decadent to eat as it looks and sounds. The only way it could have tasted better would have been if we had caught them ourselves.
As we finished the evening with lashings of rum and whisky, we reflected on our lobster odyssey and drank our final dram with a warm feeling of deep satisfaction. If Carlsberg were to offer fishing trips, this is how they’d do them.
This trip took place on the 9th April, towards the end of the lobster season which finished on the last day of April. It was set up and funded by the wonderfully generous people at the West Coast of Sweden Tourist Board.
The lobster safari is part of a series of fishing safaris that they organise up and down the West Coast. They also do oyster, mussel, prawn and crayfish safaris which you can find out about here. The lobster season starts again in September.
Monday, 6 June 2011
Copenhagen is now officially one of my favourite cities. Not because of the snazzy design shops. Not because of the Wild West feel of Christiana. Not because it is home to Noma. Not because of the unforgettable meal we had at Geranium. Not because of the architecture. Not because of the crazy café culture that makes you want to while away the hours with an IV drip of latté and a good book. Or even their amazing hot dogs. But because of a sandwich shop called Aamanns.
Aamanns serves some of the world’s finest open sandwiches. They are mini works of art, like tiny installations at the Chelsea Flower show. They aren’t just tasty and well made, but are architectural flourishes of breathtaking beauty.
The Danes are well know for their open sandwiches which are locally known as smørrebrød which translates as butter and bread. They are a relic of the Medieval “trencher” which saw stale bread used as an edible plate and can be found in various forms across Scandinavia. But it’s commonly accepted that Denmark is their spiritual home. The team at Aamanns have mastered the art of balancing flavour, texture, appearance and whimsy to create a spread of sandwiches that makes you want to kneel down and do a Wayne’s World.
A venison tartar with crisps, watercress, capers, crème fraîche and gherkins was truly magnificent. The rye bread added a sweet and sour note that brought out the richness of the silky meat whilst the crisp crunch of the precarious toppings elevated this to “favourite sandwich ever” levels.
An egg and cress sandwich with prawns and a rich mayonnaise was a classy riff on the classic M&S sandwich. Whilst a bit bland, it was beautiful to behold and was still in a different league to normal sandwiches.
A smoked haddock number with caviar, shallots, chives, dill, game chips and crème fraîche was magnificent. It looked like a latticed Viking sailing boat being sent out to ravage a northern European rival. Again, the textures were as important as the flavours as the crisp game chips, crunchy shallots, soft fish and poppy caviar playfully charmed their way to greatness.
Rare roast beef with piccalilli, shaved horseradish, deep fried shallot shards and parsley wasn’t half bad either. It makes a standard roast beef sandwich look incredibly average by comparison.
And a cod sandwich with a poached leeks, crisped onion sprinkles and a pea puree was an unexpectedly delicious delight. The soft, pure textural experience of the fish contrasted with the sweet jaggedness of the crisped onions and mellowed with the cool leeks. And all dialed up to the next level by a smidgen of mint and tarragon
This quality of sandwich experience doesn’t come cheap. But, at about £7-8 a sandwich, you can nip into Aamanns for one of Denmark’s most iconic culinary experiences and walk out feeling like you’ve won. Aamanns is a high class bargain in a city that's far from cheap. For there can’t be anywhere in the world that serves sandwiches as majestic as these.
Aamanns captures the spirit of Copenhagen that I’ve fallen in love with. It is down to earth. It marries form with function without making a big deal about it. It’s considered. It’s international. It’s the best it could possibly be. But above all Aamanns excels at what Copenhagen excels at: elevating the humble to the glorious.
Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Swedish food culture is hard to articulate – for it doesn’t follow an easily digestible narrative. At first glance it seems healthy and fishy, but the more you dig into it, the more intriguing it becomes. So far I’ve detected three strands that compete and overlap.
The first area is that of the Nordic Diet which I have written about a fair bit, which sees meat and heavy carbs replaced by root vegetables, fish and slow release grains. Whilst it might seem like all Swedes eat this way, that isn’t very close to the truth. The reality is a bit more stodgy.
The second is Sweden’s native food culture, which isn’t that far off the hearty fare we know and love in Britain. Rich stews, lashings of potatoes, creamy sauces and overcooked vegetables are part and parcel of the Swedish cuisine that is called Husmanskost, or in other words, rustic homecooking from yesteryear. Like in Britain, this traditional and heavy approach to cooking has taken a back seat as daughters failed to pick up skills they would have otherwise learnt at their mother’s apron strings. But it is now making a comeback with Leif Mannerström at the helm.
The third strand is the way that Sweden has imported and bastardised many dishes from elsewhere such as Kåldolmar, much in the same way that we have done so with Indian food in the UK and the Americans do with Mexican food. They also love to slap doner kebab on pizzas and cover them, cravenly in burger sauce. Interestignly, one of Sweden’s most popular dishes is Korv Stroganoff, which sees beef fillet replaced by sausage. I made the mistake of mocking someone’s sausage stroganoff at work, only to find out it’s a cultural classic – up there with pickled herring and meatballs. So I wondered, could I bastardise the bastard to create the most illegitimate lovechild Sweden has ever seen. What if I replaced the sausage, which replaced the beef, with fish?
And lo, Swedish Salmon Stroganoff was born. I switched the shallots for fennel; the mushroom soup for lobster bisque; the parsley for tarragon; and kept everything else the same.
6 salmon fillets with the skin on
500g of button mushrooms
500ml of shrimp stock (or if desperate a can of lobster bisque)
300g of crème fraiche
3 fennel bulbs
1 can of mushroom soup
Salt and pepper
Serve with roast courgettes and rice
Slice the fennel up into slithers, season and sauté with the fennel seeds until soft. Then do the same with the mushrooms until cooked. Combine the two and then add the shrimp stock which you want to reduce by half. Once this has reduced, add the mushroom soup, tarragon, parsley and the crème fraiche.
Meanwhile, season the salmon fillets and sear the skin until crisp.
Then pour the fennel and mushroom sauce into a baking tray and position the salmon so that the skin sits clear of the liquid and bake in a medium-hot preheated oven for 10 minutes until the salmon is only just cooked.
Serve with rice, roast courgettes, a grating of lemon zest and a segment of lemon. Then garnish with parsley and tarragon and let everyone tuck in. It’s great with a glass of fresh white wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry German Riesling.
Thank you to Christian for the atmospheric action shots from a recent dinner party where this dish made its debut. And thanks you to Sofia, Magnus, Nina, Anna and Leah for being such fantastic guinea pigs. But most importantly thanks for persuading me not to call this dish “Laxanoff”!