It is time for another post on traditional Swedish food – husmanskost – and this time one of my father’s absolute favourites. Isterband is a smoky, slightly acidous and grainy sausage made of heart and tongue, originally from the Småland region. It is typically served with stewed potato and pickled beetroot, and to me it tastes of autumn like few other things – it belongs with the smell of burning leaves and crisp air. It is hearty, warm and packed with flavour.
– 1 pack of Isterband (this will be difficult to get a hold of outside of Sweden, but could probably be substituted with some other kind of large smoked sausage).
– One heap of fresh dill, chopped
– A few tablespoons of flour
– About 100 grams of butter
– A few decilitres of milk
– 1/5 kg of potatoes, a firm variety.
– Salt and white pepper to taste
– A jar of sliced pickled beetroots
Dill stewed potatoes is a mild, standard side to any smoky Swedish food, and very easy to make. It relies on the usual suspects for flavouring (dill and white pepper) together with the creaminess of milk and butter. Start by peeling, slicing and boiling the potatoes. Make the slices thick so that they don’t break in the water, and be careful not to overcook them. Start frying the sausages on a low heat in a wide pan (they should fry for about 25 minutes). Then make a bechamel base by melting the butter in the pan, and carefully whisking in flour until you have a thick paste.
Add milk slowly to the paste, to make a thick, creamy sauce. You can choose how voluptuous you like the sauce to be – if you want the supreme, extend it with cream or a bit of creme fraiche. If you’re feeling frugal, go with milk, which is the classic way of making it.
One you’ve reached a thick, smooth consistency, add salt and white pepper (you can be rather generous). Add the chopped dill and some nutmeg, then pour the sauce over the potatoes. Take the sausages off the pan and serve immidiately. The heavy smokiness of the sausages is rather dominant, and the potatoes are there to provide a smooth, mild balance. By serving this with pickled beetroot you also get a sweet contrast to the rest. It’s a well-balanced, autumnal and most warming meal.
I’m currently hiding away in a little cottage in the vast forests of Småland, after six consecutive nights of heavy Swedish Christmas dinners. The next few days I intend to eat only pizza and salad, and possibly a curry if I can be bothered making one. But it’s Christmas, so most likely I won’t. Since I’ve had the pleasure of being served food by everyone I’ve visited this Christmas, I will not present any recipes in this post, but rather a little run through of what Swedes eat at Christmas, and why it’s amazing despite its gluttonous repetitiveness (at Christmas, we tend to eat a variation of this for all too many nights).
The basis of Swedish Christmas food is our love for sandwiches – its basically sandwich food, just a bit over the top, and without much bread. Southern Christmas food (Skånskt julbord) tends to be the most over-the-top of them all, in line with the Southern tradition of exaggerating and bragging through food. You must start with the fish dishes (it’s always a buffet, all you can eat-style), and here the herring takes up most of the space. It’s normally eaten with eggs, caviar, boiled potato and dark bread. You will have several versions of home-made pickled herring (inlagd sill) and the guests are normally expected to contribute with a few kinds of their own. One of the tables I visited this year had ten different varieties, including the classics with mustard and onion. My undisputed favourite remains my stepdad’s curry herring with apple. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing.
The second staple of the fish table is gravlax. Ambitious people make this by themselves, by rubbing a salmon in sugar, salt, dill and pepper, and leaving it to ferment lightly under something very heavy in the fridge for a couple of days. The method of making gravlax actually stems back to VIking age, when people used to bury fish deep into in the salty banks of beaches, as a way of preserving it until they wanted to eat it. It tastes somewhat similar to smoked salmon, but with stronger hints of spices. The sauce that goes to it (gravlaxsås) is sweet, tart and full of dill.
However, the real star of the fish table is the smoked eel (rökt ål). It’s normally served with scrambled eggs, and its delicate smoky creaminess is simply sublime when done well. The conscious reader will know that due to over-fishing, fishing Baltic eel becomes illegal every now and then. However, stubborn traditionalists will still sneak it up on the table for Christmas with a sly smile to the general applause of other traditionalists. I’m not too bothered with tradition, but eel is one of my favourite kinds of food ever… and my aunt promised me that this year’s eel came legally, from a nearby lake.
Now, moving on to the meat table, the meatballs (köttbullar) are obviously a key feature, served with beetroot salad. The meatballs are so central that in some families, you will have several different batches of meatballs. One year my mother, gran, aunt and cousins had all set about making meatballs, with the obvious competition to go with it. Some opt for modern takes on meatballs, like putting thyme and parmesan in them. Others go with revival recipes from the 19th century which include sweet anchovy brine. My favourites remain my mothers: she makes them small, juicy and hot with white pepper. One thing is clear: never make them all beef, and never, ever, replace the butter with olive oil.
The Christmas ham (julskinka) is another central feature of the meat table, with different strong mustards (home-made, as seen in the background, makes for the strongest kind), cheeses and dark, sweet bread. One of Sweden’s most famous Christmas songs is about a julskinka that ran away. Julskinka is also the reason why you will be served so many home-made hawaii, capricciosa or other ham-based pizzas after New Years eve. No matter how much ham you eat, it just never ends. Adding to this equation, people tend to assume that the larger hams are tastier.
Danish paté (dansk leverpastej) with Cumberland sauce and cornichons is a sandwich-linked must-have on the Southern table. With home-made cumberland sauce it’s one of my favourites, as the aroma of the orange peel is delicious together with the creaminess of the paté and the salty pickle.
Janssons frestelse (The temptation of Jansson) is a creamy, potato based dish with onion, breadcrumbs and anchovies. Sometimes people sneak caviar into it for the perfect amount of saltiness. It’s eaten with the ham, meatballs or eel, or just about anything on the table. Beside the köttbullar and julskinka, Janssons is one of the most common things found on any Swedish Christmas table. No Janssons, no Christmas.
Lutfiskpudding is a weird one. This dish, prepared with white dried fish, butter and rice, is loved by many of the older generation but sadly not quite understood by me. But apparently there’s something irresistible about the crusty surface and the lutfisk flavour eaten together with loads of butter.
No julbord would be complete without sausages (julkorv). There are normally a few varieties of these, including reindeer, wild boar and normal smoked salami with green pepper. They are normally accompanied with four or five kinds of cheese as well.
All the savoury food is served with beer and frozen snaps of course, which is taken every five minutes with a rowdy or happy Christmas song. If you’re confused regarding which snaps to go for, always opt for Linie aqvavit, which is a safe bet and enjoyed by most. Try Piraten or Beska droppar at your own peril.
The dessert of the julbord is called risgryngröt and is a form of sweet porrige. In Sweden, it’s tradition to eat risgynsgröt with an almond smuggled into in. Whoever eats the almond is said to get married the following year. My aunt tends to cheat and add four or five, so that people have a bigger chance of getting married. 25 years and it still hasn’t worked. And for someone who’s not into desserts much, I have little love to spare for risgrynsgröt. It’s quite heavy, with lots of cream, and in the South it’s normally served with raspberry sauce (normally just wild raspberries, in the freezer since summer, and then gently simmered with some sugar on the stove). The anomaly on the picture is the Norwegian way of eating it, with butter and cinnamon (as preferred by my stepmum).
Of course, this is far from a comprehensive overview of what Swedes eat at Christmas, as I’ve left out dopp i grytan, rödkål, brunkål, svampgaller, lutfisk and many other dishes. But since it’s Christmas and I’m feeling lazy, I leave you with this for now. God jul!
This dish is probably as far away as you can get from the New Nordic cuisine and the ideals of Rene Redzepi. But its loved all over Sweden, and despite the fact that it probably consists more of fat than meat and comes pre-cooked, roast falukov is really delicious. It comes from the arch-Swedish region Dalarna, and is spiced with onion, white pepper, ginger and nutmeg. In order for it to be called falukorv the meat content has to be over 40% (which, lets face it, hardly sounds a quality-stamp) and inside there can be a mix of beef, pork and veal, so you might not want to look too closely on the ingredient list. It was invented by copper miners trying to make German Lyoner sausages in the 17th century, looks like a giant Frankfurter, and tastes somewhat similar. It is often eaten raw (by impatient children), or grilled over fire in the forest, or fried in slices and eaten with stewed macaronis. Always with ketchup. But my favourite is the oven-baked kind, which is far superior to the other ones (although grilling sausage over fire has its own dimension which is hard to beat). For this you need:
- 1/2 Falu sausage (can be bought frozen at IKEA, or at Scandinavian kitchen close to Oxford Circus tube)
- 1 large apple, de-seeded and sliced thinly
- 1 onion, sliced thinly
- Grated cheese (cheddar is actually really nice for this, even if it’s not a Swedish cheese)
- Potatoes for mashing (adding butter and milk, however you prefer your mash)
You bake the whole (or half, in this case) sausage by slicing it (about 1 cm between each cut) and stuffing it with thinly sliced apple and onion, finishing with a layer of ketchup, mustard and cheese. Whatever apple and onion you can’t fit into the sausage you leave next to it in the pan. You can also add some extra veggies to bake with it, but key is onion and apple which melt together during cooking, creating a sweet puree at the bottom mixing with the juices from the sausage.
When done stuffing, bake it in the oven for about 40-50 minutes on 230 degrees. In the meantime, make your potatoes and mash them with butter and milk. It is important to spice the mash with a light dusting of nutmeg, because this is crucial in marrying the mash to the sausage. Serve together with the leftovers from the apple and onion (which you roast alongside the sausage in the pan). Delicious.
Last week I went home to visit my parents who, surprisingly, do not live in the land of salted cod, but in Paris! Every visit home is a chance to indulge in all the amazing food and ingredients Paris has to offer (I will soon be doing a mini-guide to Paris).
Among many meals this one stood out, especially as it is a French classic. It can obviously be made outside of France as most of the ingredients are easily available (you can substitute Toulouse sausages for Cumberland sausages or use normal green lentils instead of Puy lentils). This is my version of Saucisses de Toulouse aux Lentilles du Puy, which might be slightly different from the classic recipe.
You will need (for six):
- 1 large onion, finely chopped.
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped.
- Half a Spanish or Portuguese chorizo, sliced roughly.
- 1,5 kg of Toulouse (if you can find it) sausage meat, cut in pieces.
- 650 g of Puy Lentils, rinsed (or other green lentils).
- Some rosemary sprigs.
- A glass of red wine.
- Half a litre of beef stock.
- Salt and Pepper.
1. Start by browning the meat in some olive oil. When all sides are brown, remove from the pan and reserve.
2. Using the same pan fry chorizo for a few minutes on a medium heat and then add the onion and carrot. When the vegetables become soft, add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes.
3. Turn the heat up, add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate.
4. Turn the heat down, add the sausages, the lentils and the rosemary and mix well. Add the stock (adding enough more water, if needed, to cover everything.
5. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for 25 minutes.