Thursday, December 17, 2009

a danish julefrokost

the julefrokost or christmas lunch is an essential part of danish culture. in a work context, it's an excuse to eat too much, drink too much and have a quick shag in a dark corner with one of your coworkers. in the home context, it's an excuse to eat too much and drink too much and generally have a hyggeligt time. hyggeligt is always translated as cozy, but it's much more than that word in english conveys - it carries with it the glow of candlelight and the art of keeping a sustained pleasant level of drunkenness for twelve hours straight, something at which the danes excel.

we're doing a family julefrokost on friday and one with our best friends on saturday. the menu at both will undoubtedly encompass the tradition. essential items include:

* several kinds of herring - usually one in a red wine vinegar,  one in a tomato-based sauce and a curry one (a very mild curry, we are talking the danes here, so it's not a chili curry).
* smørrebrød - danish open-faced sandwiches with toppings that include shrimp, boiled eggs, mayo and dill, fish filet with a yellow remoulade (in the tartar sauce family), creamy chicken salad with canned white asparagus (eewww), warm liver paté (leverpostej) topped with bacon and sautéed mushrooms and served with red beet pickles, a variety of hard sausages and various incarnations of ham served with the appropriate accompaniments (i'll do a separate post about all of this one day).
* tarteletter - light, fluffy pastry shells filled with chicken and more canned white asparagus or mixed seafood in a creamy white sauce.
* flæskesteg - pork roast with the cracklings on top, crisped to perfection, served with white and brown (caramelized) potatoes and red cabbage.
* bowls heaped with mandarin oranges, nuts, dried figs, dates and apricots that you can graze on in between.
* beer, snaps and loads of red wine.

as you can imagine, it takes quite a long time to eat all of this and it's all eaten in a special order - herring and snaps first, then fish, chicken, then pork products cold, followed by warm pork products. and there are all sorts of rules about which kind of bread goes with which - herring on dark bread that's been spread with lard and shrimp on light bread. of course, the danes will tell you there are no rules, but you can be sure there are indeed rules when you can tell by looking around at the horrified faces that you've just violated them by putting your warm leverpostej on white bread.

at the saturday julefrokost, there are ten couples involved and each couple brings a course. i bring something different every year, according to my mood (tho' i'm not allowed to bring dessert because there's an italian woman who brings tiramisu every year). one year it was a pepped up chili flæskesteg (because i can't leave the tradition well enough alone) and this year, i had the bright idea of making homemade pickled herring.

the problem with making pickled herring is that you don't actually know how it's going to turn out 'til you get there with it, so if it's vile, i'll be in big trouble, as herring starts the whole thing off. i spent a lot of time searching for recipes and pouring over old-fashioned danish cookbooks and i arrived at two recipes. one called for poaching the herring in the oven with the vinegar/sugar solution over it and so it is actually cooked and the one (pictured above) calls for letting the vinegar do the "cooking" for me.

for both recipes, i salted my fresh herring fillets (which i got from my fishmonger) and let them sit in the outside (now known as the herring) refrigerator for 24 hours.

poached pickled herring

8 fresh herring, sprinkled with 200g sea salt and a spoonful of sugar and allowed to sit overnight in the refrigerator

450ml white wine vinegar
300ml water
250g sugar
1 T allspice berries
1 T black peppercorns
3 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
2 sliced carrots
3 sliced red onions
2 tsp. grated, fresh horseradish
1 orange, thinly sliced, rind and all

place the marinade ingredients in a pan and bring it to a boil. place the fish in an oven-proof dish (rinsing off the salt) and pour the hot marinade over, baking in the oven at 200℃/375℉ for 20 minutes. transfer the fish to a prepared, sterile jar and pour over as much of the marinade as will fit. refrigerate up to a week before use.

i intend to use the poached herring recipe as a base for a herring salad with apple and creme frâiche.

herring with creme frâiche and apple salad

8 preserved herring fillets
250ml creme frâiche or sour cream
4 red apples, cored and sliced
2-3 T chives, chopped
2 small red onions, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. dijon mustard
juice of a half a lemon
1 pinch cayenne pepper
chopped dill
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

cut the herring into bite-sized chunks. mix the creme frâiche, chives, mustard, lemon juice and seasoning together in a bow, add the herring, apples and onions, cover and refrigerate for 4-5 hours. sprinkle with chopped dill and serve with rye bread.

pickled herring

8 salted herring fillets

3 T sugar
1 T peppercorns
1 T allspice
3 fresh bay leaves
2 small sliced red onions
250ml white wine vinegar

cut your salted, rinsed herring fillets into bite sized-pieces and stuff them tightly into a sterilized jar, layering in peppercorns, allspice, bay leaves and onion slices as you go. stir together the sugar and vinegar until the sugar is dissolved, pour over the herring filets until they are completely covered by vinegar. if you need a bit more than 250ml, add more vinegar until they are covered.

refrigerate up to one week before serving on rye bread with slices of red onion and boiled egg.

* * *

i'll admit that i'm apprehensive about how these are going to turn out. me, the non-dane in the bunch, making the essential herring that kicks the whole thing off. i'm going to bring a salmon ceviche with grapefruit as a backup in case these are vile. and i'm also bringing homemade horseradish snaps and cranberry snaps, in the hopes that it will help it glide down a bit easier. but as a last resort, i'm also thinking about bringing one of these to distract and redeem myself at the end in case it goes wrong, even tho' the italian woman is bringing tiramisu:

nigella's buche de noel (photo from last year)


KathyB. said...

I am very much enjoying your blog! How was Nigella's dessert ( from last year)? I love her show and many of her recipes, and I would definitely call her a "sensual cook".

Let us know how this year's event goes!

rachel said...

What an interesting and amusing account of what I could consider a delightful event if it wasn't for all the herring....

I definitely think you should challenge that rule about the Italian woman and the tiramisu!

Char said...

uhmmmm, no....i could not be danish, well unless i was born there and grew up eating that stuff. uh-uh.

and the sad thing that i don't even like tiramisu.

Bee said...

The buche de noel is a work of art!
It's pathetic of me, I know, but I will be skipping the herring course, despite these interesting recipes. It was fun to read about, though, and I was much entertained by the notion of maintaining a pleasant state of drunkenness for 12 hours. (Sig is at his office Xmas party right now. Somehow I don't think it is very hyggeligt.

dogimo said...

Hey! hyggeligt is the same thing as gezellig!

You can't fool me, I had a Dutch girlfriend.

She never told me about Jar Lunch, though. Seems the Danes have a big sweet bag of tricks all their own...

kristina said...

Oooh can I come to your julefrokost? I grew up eating herring and smørrebrød: very yummy. You might still have to issue me with a rule book though!

Love the sound of the herring with apple and creme fraiche.

And that's the most amazing buche de noel I've ever seen. I think you could give Martha a serious run for her money!

K x

Anne said...

I can't say that I'm one for pickled herring, but that buche de noel is incredible! Love the pine cones and greenery.

Like Bee, I am tickled by the idea of hyggeligt. Hope you enjoyed your julefrokosts!


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