Above: I knew zip-bupkus-nada about Nordic cuisine, old or new, when I got to meet noma's Danish chef Rene Redzepi in London in 2010. I wonder if he knew. Who am I kidding. I'm sure he knew. Thanks for smiling anyway, Chef.
Besides Ikea's Swedish meatball and lingonberry sauce, Iceland's foul fermented shark, Sweden's liquorice and some vague notion of a lot of smoked fish, up until earlier this month I knew nothing about Nordic cuisine. That northern bit of Europe had always been too far away and too expensive for me to explore. And I had the bias that with the lack of heat and light during the long winter months, the region's cuisine would probably be too bland and stodgy for me to really bother with.
Probably, many other people felt the same way. Possibly, this was the reason for noma owner Claus Meyer starting up the New Nordic Cuisine movement back in 2004, long before noma got its San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant No. 1 ranking.
Eight years of percolation and perseverance re: evangelising about Nordic cuisine later, Nordic restaurants like noma, Bastard and Faviken are hot topics in the international food press and blogosphere, showing and finally convincing the world what edible art Nordic kitchens are capable of.
Enter Mia Kristensen, of CPH Good Food. Currently the only provider of English-language food walking tours and cooking classes in Copenhagen, Mia is keen to show off the beauty of her home region's cuisine, its modern developments, and most of all, the techniques by which to bring it into one's home kitchen.
Mia and London's own Anna Colquhoun -- who runs her Culinary Anthropologist (Facebook and Twitter) cooking school and supperclub from her gorgeous home kitchen in Highbury -- partnered up earlier this month to bring a little Nordic magic to London home cooks, and generously had me along as a guest for the day.
Above: CPH Good Food's Mia Kristensen (left) and Culinary Anthropologist Anna Colquhoun
The class lasted about 4 hours and covered 11(!) recipes, which we took home in a booklet at the end of the class. To make it through all the recipes, we had a mix of hands on involvement, split-team tasks, as well as demonstrations by Anna and Mia with a few clever here's-some-that-we-made-earlier steps.
At the end of the class the group of us sat down to a sumptious lunch, where I was happily proven wrong on all my biases about Nordic cuisine. Instead of bland, monochrome and stodgy, my eyes were opened to a whole new palette of surprisingly strong and sharp flavours, vibrant colours and diverse textures that I'm looking forward to trying out at home for friends and loved ones.
Here's a whizz through of what we made:
I love cured and smoked fish, and I'm beyond excited that I now know how to do this at home, with just a stove top! We did a light cure for a salmon, and also a hot-smoked rendition of that cured salmon. The key, I learned, is to keep the sugar-salt to fish proportion constant. All other flavours and seasonings are up to one's imagination.
Mia and Anna suggested that the same curing recipe would also work well for cod and scallop. I might also try it out with seabass and mackeral. Fingers crossed!
That's ramson / wild garlic pesto in the bowl below. The season is now and always too short and I can never buy enough of it. Someday I will find my own secret wild garlic foraging patch...
We also learned how to cure and smoke pork belly bacon, again using just a stove top. Which then went on as topping for a malt-base pizza. Great sweet-savoury flavour combination in both the bacon as well as the pizza base.
The building blocks of curing and smoking. When buying wood chips for smoking make sure that they haven't been chemically treated in any way.
To keep things Nordic, use rapeseed oil rather than olive oil. And semi-soft aged cow's milk cheese such as Danish Danbo, rather than mozzarella. Garnish with fresh herbs (foraged if you have that kind of access) and sour cream or creme fraiche.
Life and pizza might never be the same again.
I love the idea of salads that combine a range of flavours and textures rather than being just a bowl of leaves, but I'm still very much a novice on ideas for this front.
I really enjoyed the 2 salads we made. This spelt salad with horseradish, kale and apples also includes roasted celeriac, which together with the ancient spelt grain added a lot of body to the salad without feeling stodgy.
And this Nordic Christmas-coloured (raw) cauliflower, cranberry and hazelnut salad is a fabulous way to pimp up the sometimes bland-on-its-own cauliflower without the usual bacon-and-cheesing it to death.
Can't wait to try both these salads at home!
This stew of pork cheeks in wheat beer is a surprisingly light-tasting one-pot wonder. Cheeks -- be they pork or ox or cod -- seem to have grown in popularity by quite a bit over the last year as the recession nudges people to be more creative with previosly lesser known "butcher cuts". No wonder, as cheeks are wonderfully tender, flaky and gelatinous. A tip off from my butcher friends: Fellow food nerds might consider upping the ante by swapping out the £12 per kg pork cheeks for a whole £2 per kg pig's head!
While very tasty, I wonder if this dish was really necessary to include in the class, given it didn't feel particular Nordic in any way. Or was that the point? That this cuisine can be much less foreign than I think?
We also made a few kinds of breads -- the most visually stunning of which was this beetroot crispbread below. A great holder for the cured and smoked fish we made. You can play around with colours by using other root vegetables like carrot or golden beetroot or parsnip.
And now to dessert: what Mia calls a Danish apple trifle with oats, hazelnuts and Icelandic skyr (a kind of cheese) foam.
It may look all modernist and exotic, but hey, apples, oats and sea buckthorn for garnishing are so very English! And local cobnuts would be a simple swap for hazelnuts.
The toasted oats make this dessert taste very much like a granola-based breakfast, but Anna showed us how to make it naughty by drizzling in a little fruit liqueur - raspberry and blackberry, in this instance.
For the range of dishes taught and high quality of ingredients used, I thought the £80 price for the class was very reasonable. I hope at least a few of you out there as well, so that collectively we can persuade Mia to come back to London to do another class, perhaps in the summer or the fall, by which time the ingredients available and therefore recipes promise to be delightfully different.
Photos by Mia Kristensen, Anna Colquhoun and me.
Disclosure: I'm the founder of Edible Experiences, and attended this class as a guest of Culinary Anthropologist and CPG Good Food. Click on the logo below to track Culinary Anthropologist's upcoming classes and events.