What I love most about Christmas time in Norway is how people celebrate for an entire week, or even as long as 10 days. The holiday starts with Little Christmas Eve on December 23rd, and ends January 1st. Some people may work during this period even if only for a few hours (days are usually shorter) but many Norwegians take this time off completely to just relax, enjoy good food and the company of family and friends. Considering how rich our Christmas meal is on Christmas Eve, many people opt to go a little lighter the days following the big celebration. Hence, we have started to refer to these small dishes as “Norwegian tapas”, perhaps lending the term from our Spanish friends but serving traditional, ultra Norwegian plates!
Below are a couple of examples of dishes you may have the pleasure of tasting during our “romjul” (term which refers to the time between December 27th and New Year’s Eve). “Romjul” comes from an old Norse term “rumheilagr”, which means “which does not have to be kept strictly holy”. This period is spent eating lots of tasty food, but also to relax, visit family and spend time reflecting.
This is a dish common all over Scandinavia, and is raw salmon that is cured in salt, sugar and dill. “Grav” means either to “dig” or a “grave”, and laks is salmon. The dish was so named because the salmon was dug into the ground to ferment it. These days fermentation is not done, rather just covered in a dry marinade of the salt-sugar mix to cure it. This extracts moisture and is usually performed on mostly fatty fish, but salmon is more common. These days, chefs and home cooks get creative with the marinade, and add fennel, coriander, aquavit, peppercorns or horseradish as seasoning agents. The gravlaks, when ready, will be thinly sliced and put on pieces of bread or crackers, and served with either eggerøre (recipe to follow), a mustard-dill dipping sauce, boiled potatoes or potato salad.
This recipe below is adapted from New Scandinavian Cooking, of course one of my favorite shows! 🙂
Two 3-pound salmon fillets, skin on, scaled
1/3 cup salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons aquavit or brandy
Combine the salt and sugar, and rub the flesh side of the fish with the mixture. Place one fillet skin side down in a deep dish. Add pepper, fresh dill, and caraway seeds. Place the other fillet skin side up on top. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place a weight on top of the fish. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, turning the fish every 12 hours and basting it with the brine that accumulates in the dish.
To serve, discard the brining liquid and brush off the dill. Slice the fish into thin slices. Serve with a mustard sauce or your favorite condiment.
I enjoy curdled eggs with my gravlaks, in Norwegian called “eggerøre”. This is slowly cooked in a skillet, and should not brown, but in fact barely gather together before being served. It is typically more delicate and “luxurious” than traditional scrambled eggs and is often served cold. Extremely diverse, people eat it for breakfast, with charcuterie or small dishes such as with gravlaks, and is commonly placed on a spread like the “smorgasbord”. When estimating quantity for your party, count on about 1 egg per person.
For 4 people:
4 tablespoons milk, half and half or water (depending on how rich you want it)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 tbsp chives, minced
1 tbsp butter
Whisk eggs in bowl with the milk/water, chives, salt and pepper. Melt butter in a saute pan over low-medium heat, and pour in the egg mixture. Let sit in pan, swirl a couple of times until the eggs just start coming together in big lumps. The eggs should not brown. Decorate with extra chives or a parsley sprig on top. Delicious with salty partners such as the gravlaks or cured mutton.