Fiskegrateng is a classic dish most Norwegians remember from childhood, aimed to please both adults and kids, even those that wrinkle their nose when they hear “we’re having fish for dinner”. Fiskegrateng is what I call true Norwegian comfort food, and a dinner I always looked forward to when I was growing up.
The traditional version is based on a creamy white sauce with dairy and eggs, macaroni and flaky fish that are put in a baking dish, topped with breadcrumbs (and sometimes cheese) and baked in the oven. As with so many Norwegian dishes, this was created to utilize any leftovers (in this case, fish) from previous meals. It’s also a super easy dish to throw together but will look really impressive on the dinner table. Many of my friends remember their moms buying a ready-made fiskegrateng at the store, but when you realize how easy it is to put together (not to mention how much better it tastes), you’ll never buy store versions again.
I’ve successfully veganized dozens, if not hundreds of dishes containing dairy, cheese and eggs. Flaky fish proved to be trickier, however with a little bit of creativity, thinking about the texture I wanted to mimic as well as the flavor, I landed on: wild mushrooms!
I used a mixture of hen of the woods, oyster and trumpet mushrooms. The latter two proved to be incredibly similar in texture; slightly chewy and ‘meaty’, with a mild flavor and a perfect companion for the macaroni and creamy sauce.
The addition of elbow pasta shows that this is a relatively “newer” creation, as I can’t imagine Norwegian using pasta in the 19th century, but I wanted to showcase a dish that is also very common in today’s Norway. Not to mention many plant based eaters have been begging me to recreate this dish, and so I took on the challenge, of course!
Fiskegrateng is what we call “husmannskost”, which is a common term used for traditional Norwegian dishes, based on inexpensive whole ingredients like potatoes and root vegetables, corn products, and often some version of pork. Other examples of ‘husmannskost’ include meatballs, or kjøttkaker, with potatoes, pancakes, lapskaus and porridge, or grøt.
The word “husmenn”, is a word used to describe those people that had to rent land and houses from other farmers. This term started going into use around 1650, although the husmenn were largest in nuber around the 19th century. Husmenn were the closest we came to the working class before the industrialization of the country, and has been a very popular subject for radical historians.
Ironically, husmenn didn’t eat “husmannskost, at least not the way we think of these dishes today. Most of them could only dream of eating the dishes described above, in fact we know very little of what they actually ate. Husmannkost more correctly describes the food you would find on Norwegian tables in the 1950s… More on that in another post!
If you don’t want to add pasta in this dish, you can easily replace the macaroni with cut up veggies like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., it will taste equally delicious.
I made the creamy sauce with cooked cauliflower instead of using the traditional roux base of flour and butter. Using cooked cauliflower to make cream sauces is a common trick us vegans have, and you get a cheesy flavor by adding nutritional yeast. You won’t believe there is no dairy in this!
Serve the fiskegrateng with shredded (or boiled) carrots, boiled potatoes and drizzles of melted vegan butter. My mom also used to chip some chives from our garden and add into the butter which added a nice touch.
Norwegian comfort food at its best! Velbekomme!
FISKEGRATENG (vegan, “FRESH” AU GRATIN)
1 1/2 lbs (600 grams) mixed mushrooms (I recommend oyster and trumpet mushrooms)
2 garlic cloves
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
olive oil for sauteing
12 ounces (350g) macaroni
1 small cauliflower, cut up into florets
1/2 cup (125 ml) almond or other non-dairy milk
1/4 cup (65 ml) cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours
1/3 cup (1dl) nutritional yeast
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 1-2 tbsp)
pinch of nutmeg
1 cup (250ml) panko breadcrumbs, unseasoned
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
pinch of salt and several rounds of freshly cracked black pepper
Lightly grease a 13×9 baking dish with oil or vegan butter. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celcius).
Place the cauliflower florets in lots of salted water in a medium pot and boil until soft, about 20-25 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs with the onion powder, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta/macaroni according to the package direction and set aside (use a little oil to prevent pasta from sticking).
Clean and dice mushrooms; I halved and thinly sliced the trumpet mushrooms, and just cut the oyster mushrooms in half. I also used hen of the woods, which I diced thin as well.
In a large saute pan, heat up a little olive oil, add in a couple of cloves of garlic with some fresh thyme sprigs and saute for 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Add in the mushrooms and saute over high heat until they start to shrink and get soft. Add a couple of pinches of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Set aside.
When cauliflower is cooked, drain and place into a high speed blender with the almond (or other non-dairy) milk, drained cashews, nutritional yeast, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, nutmeg, salt and pepper and puree until smooth.
Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta, fold in the mushrooms and pour the entire mixture into the prepared baking dish. Evenly spread the seasoned panko breadcrumbs over, and drizzle with a little melted vegan butter.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes on the bottom shelf, until nice and golden up top.
Serve with shredded carrots, boiled potatoes and lots of melted butter!