Side dishes – often the most important part!

Up until now, we’ve focused on the main elements of the Norwegian Christmas table; the meats/protein. Today as promised, I’m bringing you all the ‘accoutrements’ – the sides that accompany the mutton and the pork. When I was younger, growing up – I often looked more forward to my mom’s rutabaga mash than the star of the evening; the mutton ribs.  As I’ve become an adult, I’ve adapted my own recipes and touches to the original dishes which I hope you will enjoy!

Rødkål

Serves 4-6

1 ½ lb head of red cabbage, thinly sliced

2 shallots, thinly sliced

4-5 figs, chopped small

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

salt, pepper to taste

Heat up butter with 1-2t tbsp of oil in a large pot, and saute the shallots, cabbage, and figs for a few minutes, then add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Rodkal

Surkål:

Although the traditional recipe for this sauerkraut contains caraway seeds, I’ve been experimenting with several other spices and ended up preferring the one below.  Try it out and let me know how you like it!

Serves 4-6

4 tbsp butter

1 head cabbage (about 2 lbs)

1 tbsp whole juniper berries, crushed

1 tbsp cumin

½ bottle dry white wine

4 tbsp honey

4 shallots, thinly sliced

4 Granny Smith apples, cubed
Add butter to large pot over medium heat, add cabbage and sauté while constantly stirring. Add the apples and shallots, continuing to stir. Towards the end once the cabbage is getting soft, turn up the heat to extract as much water as possible from the cabbage. Add the white wine, juniper berries, cumin and salt and pepper to taste.

surkål

Mashed Rutabaga

Serves 4-6

2 lbs rutabaga

2 large carrots

4 cups water

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp mace

½ cup heavy cream

3 tbsp butter

Peel the rutabaga and carrots and dice into cubes. Add into pot with the water and boil until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain the rutabaga and carrots, add some of the water from the pinnekjøtt pot that will be steaming away, this will add some delicious flavor to the mashed rutabaga. Taste to with the mace, salt and pepper and add some butter and heavy cream to your liking until a fluffy, light mash. Personally I don’t think the heavy cream is necessary, but if you are going for a rich mash, heavy cream is your friend!

kålrotstappe

Medisterkaker

Serves 4

1 lb ground pork/beef/veal mixture

2 tsp salt

2 tsp cornstrarch

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ cup milk

Mix all ingredients together until a sticky dough, shape into small balls and fry them in a sauté pan with butter or fat from the pinnekjøtt/mutton ribs until golden on both sides.

medisterkaker1

Lingonberry jam

Realizing most people won’t have access to lingonberries in this country, you can substitute fresh cranberries – no problem!

2 lbs lingonberries (or cranberries)

1 lb sugar

1 tbsp cloves

1 cinnamon stick

Add everything in a medium sauce pot and bring to a near boil.  Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, then cool.

Tyttebærsyltetøy

Pork belly feast

Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful mutton ribs – or pinnekjøtt – a staple on the Norwegian Christmas table. Even more popular is the svineribbe –or pork belly, as we lovingly know it in this country.  In Norway, the pork belly and pork ribs played an important role even before Christianity.  In Nordic mythology,  pieces of ribs from the pig Sæhrimnir were eaten daily. Sæhrimnir is the pig in Valhalla, who was killed and eaten every day when Odin invited people to feast. Snorre Sturlassons’ tale “Edda” details that even though Sæhrimnir was eaten during the day, it became whole and alive again at night.  We can find writings about the preparation of svineribbe all the way back to the 18th century, when the traditions of curing and drying meat started to slowly change throughout the Norwegian farmland.  The appearance of ovens with stove tops also began to make it possible to cook food in the oven. Traditionally the pigs were slaughtered in the late fall, which made it possible to preserve the meat fresh if it was cold enough, until Christmas came around. Since the meat was not cured, the pork was typically consumed right away during the holidays, up to and including New Years Eve.

norseboar

Few things are more mouthwatering than a perfectly cooked pork belly, with its crispy rind and juicy flesh, the true meaning of decadence. Around 60% of Norwegian households enjoy pork belly for Christmas, more popular in the south-eastern part of Norway. In my house we only started adding svineribbe to our meal when I was in my teens, but is now an important part of the plate in our family.  Yearly we see Norwegian magazines and chefs contribute their “secret” to a crispy rind (i.e. the fat on the top has to be present when you buy the rib side), and while there are many wives tales and tricks invented every year, it really isn’t that difficult.  While I stick with the traditional sides of boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, and mashed rutabaga w/ lingonberry sauce, people also choose to add sauteed apples and figs, while making a delicious sauce from juniper berries, the Norwegian “gjetost”(brown cheese made from the whey of goat milk), and red wine. The latter is a more modern approach to preparing the pork belly but is wildly popular.  There are several types of the pork belly you can choose from.  What we call the ‘thin ribs’ or tynnribbe, is the part nearest the back, this comes without the rib in, requiring a shorter cooking time. The other part is the middle rib or midtribbe, which includes the rib and part of the back bone.  This part is usually a bit uneven in size and requires a longer cooking time.  Lastly, we have the family rib, or familieribbe, which is the same as midtribbebut without the backbone. It does include the rib however, and is easier to cook and requires a longer cooking time than the thin ribs. Usually this is the kind to pick if you want more “bang for the buck”, i.e. more meat.

Here’s a recipe for a perfect SVINERIBBE, stay tuned for recipes for all the tasty side dishes that accompany this amazing meat, coming up tomorrow!

SVINERIBBE

Serves 4

about a 5 lb-piece pork belly

kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

About 2 days before, score the fat side and rub with a generous amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. make sure you get the seasoning all the way in between the fat and bones/meat. Cover with aluminum and place in fridge until ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the rib in a roasting pan, placing the belly on top of a plate or a foundation that lets the rib slightly bend into a “u”. This allows for the fat to render off easily and avoid collecting at the top of the rib, aiding in a crispier crust. Pour about a cup or two of boiling hot water in the bottom of the pan, cover with aluminum foil and place in the middle of the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, then remove foil, and reduce to about 400F.  To aid in the crispy formation of the rib ,you can place the pan higher up in the oven.  Cook for another 1.5-2.5. hours, depending on the type of rib you get (shorter for thin ribs and longer for family/middle rib).  If by the end of the cooking time you still don’t have a super crispy top, you can increase the heat again to 500F or place the pork in the broiler, but be sure to pay close attention to it to avoid it from burning (you can also cover the juicy meat with aluminum foil to avoid it from overcooking).  Let the pork belly rest about 20 minutes after removing it from the oven before slicing and serving.  This allows for the juices to remain in and produces juicy, tasty meat!

svineribbe2

Pinnekjøtt – the star of the Christmas meal

One of the most popular dishes served at Christmas my my region (and has spread to the rest Norway now) is pinnekjøtt, or as we call it where I’m from, fåreribbe.  Pinnekjøtt is made from mutton, as this was plentiful in western Norway in the old days and an important part of people’s diet. Over 30% of Norwegians (or 1.5 million people) are estimated to eat pinnekjøtt on Christmas Eve, making it the second most beloved dish after the pork belly (I will cover this dish in a different blog post).The preparation method of fåreribbe dates back to the old times, and makes this dish very unique. Whole sides of lamb or mutton get placed in a salt solution for a couple of weeks, then hung up and dried for another 6-8 weeks, and sometimes smoked.

Pinnekjøtt2

The meat was traditionally  smoked in areas where the humidity was high, to prevent it from turning moldy. This is no longer a problem today, but the smoking process is still being practiced to preserve old cooking methods. The drying of the meat is what gives it its unique flavor profile. Whenever I smell that aroma, it always takes me back to my mom’s kitchen on Christmas Eve. Good memories! My dad would make his own ribs  from scratch, whereas today most people will buy them already prepared in packages to go; the sides are cut into ribs and most are already pre-soaked so you don’t have to soak them in water before cooking.  The drying and curing of the meat makes it very salty, so make sure to note on the package whether or not it has been pre-soaked!

My dad would hang the ribs to dry in our “stabbur” – an ancient type of storage house placed on stakes, common in the old days in Norway, where people would store food items such as flour, and use it to dry and cure different types of meat. The stakes were created to elevate the house from the ground to prevent humidity penetrating from the ground, as well as block mice and rats from entering the house. This is an example of what a “stabbur” would look like (not ours!)  – often times there will be a layer of grass on the roof:

stabbur

I should mention not many people own “stabbur” anymore, unless they live on a farm…

Back to the pinnekjøtt preparation: After the ribs have been soaking in water, it is steamed, usually over branches of birch, for 3-4 hours until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. In my household, the pinnekjøtt is served with pork belly, boiled potatoes, sausages, meat patties, lingonberry jam, mashed rutabaga and sauerkraut. You can only imagine how we feel after ingesting all that food in one sitting… which is why growing up, my mom stopped serving dessert, and rather served up some coffee (Irish for the adults) with our seven varieties of cookies a couple of hours later after we had done the dishes and were getting ready to open presents. Here’s an example of what a Christmas meal dish may look like:

pinnekjottmiddag

It is estimated that in order to burn off all the calories of a plate of our traditional Christmas dinner, a person has to cross-country ski for 9 hours straight… To this day I have yet to meet someone who tried that!  The high calorie count doesn’t seem to stop Norwegians from indulging in this very decadent meal, and many even repeat and enjoy the same platter on New Year’s Eve as well.. No wonder we need New Year’s resolutions! All worth it though, it is one of the most delicious meals I know!

St. Lucia Day

Although not a public holiday in Scandinavia, this day is celebrated each year where children dress in all white, wear headgear with live candles and snack on the famous and delicious saffron buns called “lussekatter”.  How and why did this day come to be?

St. Lucia is one of seven women, aside from Virgin Mary, who consecrated her virginity to God and refused to marry a pagan.  She was born into a wealthy household, but denounced her fortune to devote her life to God. Her pagan groom denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily (at this time Christians were chased and prosecuted).  When they were unable to move her (her body was so filled with the Holy Spirit that she was stiff and heavy as a mountain) or burn her, the guards gouged her eyes out with a fork. This could be why we see a raisin in the saffron buns, reminiscent of an eye.  In another version, Lucy was admired by an undesirable suitor for her beautiful eyes, so she tore them out to be left alone and devote her life to God.  As thanks, God gave her a pair of even more beautiful eyes. In paintings, St. Lucia is often seen holding her eyes on a golden plate.

SaintLucy

Santa Lucia, as a result, is the saint of light, as well as the patron saint of the blind.

St. Lucia is one of the few saints celebrated in Scandinavia. In Sweden it was believed that celebrating St. Lucia day will help get through the long winter days with enough light.

How does a Catholic saint end up being celebrated in protestant Scandinavia? Sweden was the first country observing St. Lucia, and the day was registered in the calendar as early as 1470, when in fact Sweden was also Catholic.  It wasn’t until the 20th century that Norway, Finland and Denmark adopted the Lucia day.  The tradition of the Lussi bride came from Germany, where it was common to dress up children in white holding candles, reminiscent of baby Jesus.  This is why children today still dress in white gowns on this day, holding glowing candles. The candles placed above their heads is a symbol of the halo above Lucia’ head.

santalucia

In Sweden the name Lucia was also associated with the devil, Lucifer. One legend tells of Lucia being Adam’s first wife, who consorted with the devil and their descendants formed an evil race in the underworld. The belief was that if you didn’t keep your children at home the night before Christmas, they risked being snatched by Lucia. December 13th was thought to be the shortest day and the longest, darkest night of the year.  The night was filled with witches and other evil forces, and the animals were able to speak to one another this night. The lussekatter were called “djavulskatter” (devil’s cats) and the s-shaped buns were thought to resemble a cat curled up. As we see, there are several popular tales around this day!

It is unclear how and why the making of lussekatter got started but the tradition have been in existence for centuries. One theory tells of Lucia giving lussekatter to children to protect them from evil demons. Apparently the golden saffron color of the baked goods was thought to scare the demons away. Another story describes Lucia coming to Sweden during a period of hunger, giving the children sweet, baked goods and saving them from death. Regardless of which tale is “true”, we can all agree that lussekatter are delicious and we look forward to every December 13th when we can enjoy them with some gløgg (mulled wine), coffee and gingerbread cookies. Here’s a great recipe that will hopefully tempt you to try these delicacies out!

 lussekatter2

LUSSEKATTER

2 sticks of unsalted butter

2 ½ cups whole milk

1 gram saffron (1/2 oz)

1 sugar cube

2 oz /50 g fresh yeast

½ tsp salt

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

8 cups all purpose flour

½ cup raisins

Preheat oven to 450F.

Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover them with hot water. This will plump the up and help avoid them from turning rock hard when baked in the oven.

Melt the butter in a small pot, pour the milk into the butter and heat up until about 98F (37C).  Grind up the saffron with the sugar cube in a mortar and pestle (the sugar cube aids in dissolving the saffron). Add the saffron to the milk mixture (avoid using a wooden spoon when mixing as some of the flavor can be absorbed into the spoon and you want all the flavor to go into the liquid mix).  Break one egg, whisk it and add to the milk  mixture). Crumble the yeast into the liquid and stir until dissolved. Add salt, sugar and most of the flour. Knead until you get a sticky, firm dough, not overdoing the flour. Let the dough rise in a warm spot in a slightly oiled bowl covered with a kitchen towel until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes or so.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, adding flour if necessary. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Work the dough into about 8” long ‘snakes’, shaping them into S-shapes, tucking the ends in well. Place on baking sheet and continue until you have all the pieces shaped. Let rise again under a kithen towel for another 30-45 minutes.

Drain the raisins and place one raising in the center of each “curve” in the s-shaped buns. Whisk the last egg and brush the tops of the buns. Bake in the center of oven about 5-10 minutes until lightly browned.   Best when served immediately as the buns dry out quickly, so make sure to place them in an airtight container.

Celebrating tradition with our very own wreath cake: “Kransekake”

“Kransekake” is both a Norwegian and Danish cake / dessert, made of ground up almonds, confectioners sugar and egg whites. It is shaped into a pyramid like cone, consisting of different size ring shapes that are filled with the batter, starting with the largest at the bottom ending with the smallest on top:

kransekake_forms

The cake is often decorated with Norwegian flags and bonbons and is traditionally made at weddings, confirmations, baptisms, holidays and other special events. The ring forms you can purchase pretty much anywhere online (just google “kransekake rings”) – we like Ingebretsens, which is our go-to Scandinavian online store based in Minneapolis, for anything Norwegian (cookware, food, clothing, books, etc.).  These days, many people make the kransekake into just regular 3-4 inch “sticks” and dip the ends in melted chocolate, which makes for a delightful cookie and is one of the more popular baked goods during Christmas.  Creating this elaborate cake though, is not hard, but looks very impressive and also serves as a decorative element on any buffet table. These days in Norway, the finished dough can be bought in stores, and most people just bake it off at home instead of making it from scratch.

How did the kransekake come to be? Some say that the kransekake developed from another creation called “overflødighetshorn”,  and translates into “horn of abundance”, referring to the the shape. The cake in this instance is lying down and looks like a cornucopia and is a symbol of excess and fruitfulness:

overflodighetshornThe history behind this invention is said to date thousands of years back and started in Crete, Greece, where one version speaks of  the nymph Amalthea, raised Zevs (the God) in a cave and fed him goat milk.  As thanks, she received the horn of abundance from Zevs where all her wishes came true.  I always love to apply these fancy stories to my foods, and although they may not be true, it certainly makes for some mystery! 🙂  One thing is for sure, kransekake is delicious, it’s also gluten free (containing no white flour) and might fit perfect on your holiday table this year!

KRANSEKAKE

500 grams / 2 cups almonds

500 grams / 2 cups confectioner’s sugar

3 egg whites

Glaze:

250 grams/1 cup confectioners sugar

1 large egg white

1 drop of white vinegar

Preheat oven to 420F.

Toast the almonds in a dry skillet on low-medium heat until fragrant.  Grind them up in a food processor, add the confectioners sugar and pulse to combine. Add the egg whites and mix until it is slightly moist and easy to knead. Roll the dough into thin links long enough to fit the individual kransekake rings and place them in the rings (spray the rings with cooking spray first and dust with a little flour).  Bake them in the middle of the oven for about 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool on a rack.

To make the glaze: mix all ingredients together until an even glaze – if needed, add more confectioners sugar to get an appropriately thick glaze. Fill a pastry bag with the glaze and cut  a small hole at the bottom. Swirl the glaze in an eve zig-zag pattern across the kransekake rings and let stand until dried.  Now it’s time to build your kransekake pyramid!  Decorate with bon-bons, flags or whatever else you desire. You can also freeze these individual rings and save for later!

 

Norwegian coffee culture

The first time I took my American husband to Norway, he was amazed at how much coffee Norwegians drink.  Not only for breakfast, but once again before lunch, then after lunch before dinner and most importantly;  after dinner, accompanied by a wide array of cookies and cakes. When you go for a visit at someone’s home in Norway, it is guaranteed that the host/hostess will offer you coffee along with whatever baked goods they have in the house. This is regarded as customary and is a big tradition and sign of hospitality in Norwegian homes. I recall a few years ago when I brought my college roommate and dear American friend Andrea to Norway and she was flabbergasted at how often we would eat, drink and just sit around the coffee table for hours every day.  We had just about finished breakfast before walking over to my sisters and were served a smorgasbord of cookies, cakes, puddings and dessert… What the… ? Then only a couple of hours after that it was time for dinner and then again a “snack” before the coffee hour at night. Of course this doesn’t happen during the regular every day week year round, but is normal and expected on weekends, special occasions and holidays.

According to my husband, all Norwegians should be super wired all the time (not to mention overweight!), but observing most people in that country they are still pretty reserved and mellow and have yet to catch up to Americans in size. Everything in moderation (except maybe coffee).

coffeewired

Personally I no longer drink coffee at night  unless I’m visiting family and friends back home. I prefer other beverages, but nothing can really substitute that “cozy” evening coffee with all the wonderful baked goods found in the country. This phenomenon led me to research a bit as to why Norwegians are among the top coffee consumers in the world, delving into the history and background of the popularity of this beverage in my own country.

Coffee arrived to Norway already at the end of the 17th century, but really didn’t become a hit until around 1850.  Many people believed this was the case because in 1842, liquor became illegal in Norway and coffee replaced the void.  “The consumption of hot drinks, especially coffee, has increased, while liquor has decreased,” some doctors in Norway reported.  Around 1860, several reports of  excessive consumption and “abuse” of coffee arrived. Essentially, people had replaced alcohol and tobacco with coffee, and this was a big concern for the medical community, especially since children also were drinking coffee.  Some people enjoyed this beverage so much, they gave up other household groceries in order to be able to buy more coffee.  Coffee was considered a necessity even for poor people, and stories of “women drinking coffee night and day” were often heard.  Because of this increased devouring of coffee, the amount of meals went up as well, since the morning and afternoon coffee were accompanied by bread and butter.  During the second world war, there was a shortage of coffee, and at one time imports completely ceased.  This was because coffee was being exchanged in dollars, a currency that was lacking in Norway. The solution was to trade dried cod (abundant in Norway) for coffee with Brazil. To this day, you will find all kinds of regional “bacalao” dishes in Brazil, as a result of both the Portuguese and Brazilians trading dried cod with the Norwegians.

Norwegians have always had a restrained relationship to alcohol due to the aforementioned restrictions. Where other cultures might relax with a glass of wine after work on a weekday night, we usually resort to the coffee pot. This is slowly changing with the new generation, however, as wine and spirit consumption is slowly gaining ground and getting more accepted as a beverage not only to enjoy on weekends or holidays.

Some modern statistics from today:  Last year, 40 thousand tons of coffee were imported to Norway, i.e. around 20 lbs per person. This translates into each person over the age of 15 years drinking on average 4 cups of coffee daily.  This is 0.5% of all coffee being produced in the world.  Not a bad number for a country of barely 5 million people!  Every household  spends on average $120 a year on coffee.  There is a popular saying that goes “Without coffee, Norway will cease to function”.  As Norwegians  are getting wealthier, coffee consumption is growing in conjunction with people’s higher incomes. I should also mention that the rest of Scandinavia can also boast a high consumption of coffee – in 2010 Finland was the one who imported the most, translating into 33  lbs per inhabitant, compared to 21 lbs per person in Norway.

kaffehuset

Coffee remains an extremely important part of every day life for Norwegians, as can be seen in the explosion of new coffee shops being opened around the country. This year Starbucks opened its first store in Norway at the airport in Oslo, with more stores planned in 2013.  A lot of people I spoke with were excited to see this happening, while others cringed at the thought of Norway becoming more “Americanized” and dominated by chains.  Only time will tell if this will be detrimental to the survival of all the cute little independent coffee shops in existence now, or if Norwegians are thirsty enough for coffee to be able to support both outlets.

So far, my fellow country men are showing no signs of stopping their caffeine habit – there are way too many cold and dark days in the year for hot, caffeinated drinks to lose popularity and drop out of fashion.

kaffeslaberas

JULEBORD – a Norwegian excuse to let loose

Julebord events, or “Christmas Table” as it translates into in English, take place pre-Christmas all over Norway and have seriously taken off in the last few decades. They usually are arranged from the last week of November going well into December.  The term refers to a party, either a private or corporate gathering, where people get together and enjoy Christmas food, often served on a buffet table.  The dishes are usually both hot and cold, and a variety of traditional and more modern plates. More likely have you heard of the Swedish “Smørgåsbord”, and julebord is similar in style.  Classic holiday foods like ribbe (lamb chops or mutton ribs), risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge), lutefisk (dried and salted fish in lye – I will come back to this dish in another post), smoked salmon, liver pate, egg dishes and a variety of charcuterie most likely will be placed on the table, but also more contemporary dishes such as turkey can be seen. There will also be a myriad of desserts, ranging from all sorts of cakes, puddings, custards and cookies.

julebord

 

Another theme which exists is called juletallerken meaning “Christmas plate”, where everyone will be served a composed plate of food instead of serving themselves from a buffet.  On the plate will be the traditional foods you get on Christmas eve, consisting of pork belly, mutton ribs, boiled potatoes, mashed rutabaga, lingonberries, meat patties and sausages (yes, not low calorie foods!!). Many times the Julebord will be arranged at public restaurants, and is the preferred serving method in this instance.

The idea behind the Julebord is that the pre-Christmas period should not only be about stressing around buying gifts, cleaning and decorating the house, baking the 7 different required cookies, etc. but also to sit down, relax and enjoy a nice evening with friends. Frequently, however, this turns into a booze filled party that lasts well into the night and most people don’t remember much the morning after…

The history of Julebord dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, when it was common to leave the food out during the entire Christmas holiday so that poor people and passersby could feed themselves.  Leaving a dish out for Santa Claus the night before Christmas was also customary.

These days, the Julebord is usually an event that employers will put on for their employees, to gather, and more often than not, consume a TON of alcohol.  Every year, newspapers will blast stories about people getting wasted and hitting on their co-workers, breaking out into fights, cheating on their spouses, and dirty dancing with their bosses, leading into more provocative acts that I won’t detail here… My thoughts on this is that Norwegians are so reserved and quiet the rest of the year, the alcohol really loosens up all inhibitions and it can escalate to unknown heights with enough “akevitt”!

julebordfyll

 

This might be the only time where Norwegians are “allowed” to make idiots out of themselves, or blame their outrageous actions on the alcohol.. it’s socially acceptable and almost expected behavior during these evenings.

Not sure how much this blog post had to do about food – but that was exactly my point. Despite the decadent tables with abundant food, the alcohol seems to be the highlight every time during the Julebord.. Most Norwegians are well off and can afford to eat whatever they want year round, but with alcohol still being regulated by the state monopoly, alcohol continues to be regarded as “forbidden fruit”…

Check back in the next next few days for the recipes of all the traditional Norwegian Christmas dishes, as well as resources to where you can located hard-to-find ingredients!

drunknorwegian

Aquavit – a national treasure

On Christmas Eve, Aquavit (or “akevitt” as we say in Norway) is consumed extensively throughout many households in Scandinavia, my own being no different. With a heavy meal such as smoked mutton, pork belly, sausage, meat patties, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut and mashed rutabaga, beer is the natural pairing (because of the saltiness of the meat), but the aquavit dram is thought to be a necessary partner as it is thought to help digest the heavy  meal. Usually drunk neat and chilled, many experts however insists that by chilling it, a lot of the complex, layered flavors are not allowed to come out, and that room temperature is the correct way to enjoy this beverage.

Aquavit, comes from the Latin word “aqua vitae” and means water of life. The base is often potato vodka, which is then flavored with dill, caraway, aniseed, fennel, coriander and other savory spices. This was originally done to mask the harsh flavor of the base spirit, although these days this is hardly necessary as there are some extremely sophisticated aquavit producers out there. Potato was selected as the base ingredient, being abundant and inexpensive in Norway and easy to grow in the cold, harsh climate. As the website for Linie described an old clergyman saying: “Potato can be used in bread and animal fodder, but it is most suitable for the making of aquavit”. Those Norwegians sure know how to prioritize!

Linie, is one of the better and more well known aquavit producers, taking its name from the Norwegian word for “line”. The name was created  because of its interesting history and origin. During the old days, the Linie casks were transported on ships that traveled twice around the equator.  This started as more of a coincidence, as the original cargo was fish, ham and cheese on their way to Indonesia to be sold there, due to demand for these items.  On the ship were also casks of aquavit, but because the customs were different in Indonesia, the Norwegians were not allowed to sell their aquavit. Hence, the aquavit returned home to Norway, after having crossed the equator twice. The barrels were then opened, and it was discovered that the journey had a miraculous effect on the spirit; the change of temperatures, the rocking motion of the sea, as well as the salty air from the sea had contributed to a multidimensional flavor profile.  Today, there are no more ships like in the old days, but the casks still travel for 4 1/2 months as deck cargo, taking them through 35 countries, crossing the equator twice. Thus, Linie, or “line, refers to the equator.  This is what gives the spirit such a unique taste, and of course – the story helps setting it apart from other aquavits!

liniecask

Linie is matured in sherry casks, (previously aging Oloroso sherries) unlike many other Nordic aquavits. This imparts a golden color and vanilla flavor into the spirit, and along with the slow oxidation helps smooth out the harsh flavors of the spices and base spirit.  After its voyage in the casks, it is still matured for another 12-14 months. Depending on the type of casks used (newer versus older), it can be a pale yellow or dark golden color. Most often it will have an alcohol content anywhere from 40-45%.

If you don’t enjoy drinking your spirits neat,  the good news is that Linie is an excellent base for a mixed drink, imparting exciting spices, body and flavor to your cocktail.  The best way is to start simple, and then experiment from there. I have added a starter recipe below, that I’ve named after my dog, Thor. Skaal!!

THOR COLLINS

2 oz Linie Aquavit (or Aquavit of your choice, but please choose Norwegian – ha!)

1 oz simple syrup

1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in shaker, add ice and shake vigorously until all ingredients are combined. Strain and pour into highball glass filled with fresh ice, garnish with a lemon twist and enjoy!

linieaquavit

What is Norwegian Cuisine?

I often get asked by friends and acquaintances, “what exactly is Norwegian food? What is a typical dish?” This is not easily answered, because it depends where in Norway you’re from. Norway is a large country – despite its tiny population of only under 5 million people – and it’s divided by large mountains, fjords, valleys and rivers.  There are SO many national dishes, regional specialties and favorite meals that I could probably spend a lifetime writing about them all (and hopefully will!). This is what makes my country so fascinating though, and I am lucky because I will have plenty of material for my blog!

Tradition is very important to Norwegians, but tradition and our culture is also constantly changing. As I’m getting older, I’m becoming more and more interested in diving into the history of our food, culture and people and will be aiming to research and learn along with my readers. We as Norwegians, often don’t appreciate how rich the culinary history of Scandinavia is, and particularly in our own country. Hence many Norwegians will embrace the cuisines of other countries instead, and have adopted pizza, tacos and foods from the middle east as their favorite foods.  Living in a big city like New York, I naturally get a fair share of international delicacies, and while I love and appreciate the flavors from these other countries, I have recently become determined and passionate about discovering my very own culture.

Personally, I’m from a small town called Sykkylven, which is situated in a region called “Møre og Romsdal” in the western part of Norway.  The west coast is mostly known for it’s enormous fjords and waterfalls. From the Norse times, “Møre” meant “The land by the ocean”, and we’ve got lots of ocean! A large number of the population in this area live on islands and are dependent upon ferries which travel from the various islands to the mainland. The inner portion of the area is dominated by mountains, which attract a large number of tourists from around the world.  Because the area is separated by islands and ocean, our cuisine is very varied, and each household has their “specialty”.  Fish definitely dominates, naturally, because of our large coastline, and the fishing industry has always been a big part of the commercial life here.  Preparations are varied, from fish soups to dumplings, using the innards, fish heads, smoked, prepared in lye (“lutefisk” anyone?), grilled, baked or dried… we eat it all.  Of course, most of you will think SMOKED SALMON, and while we certainly produce our fair share of this, Norwegian cuisine is so much more. One of my favorites is fried trout (preferably caught in the small river not too far from my childhood home) with sour cream and pickled cucumbers.. and of course; our famous boiled potatoes that accompany 90% of Norwegian meals 🙂

stektorret

With the above dish I would drink a Gruner Veltliner or a Chablis – producer of your choice..Riesling with these delicate fish dishes is also a good choice.

I will be covering more in depth about the regional differences in cooking in Norway and perhaps in a more methodical fashion – but for now, I leave you with a stunning picture of “Trollveggen” (The Troll wall), one of the most famous tourist sites in the region where I’m from. It is the tallest vertical rockface in Europe and very popular with rock climbers and base jumpers. Now that’s what we call mountains!!

trollveggen