Nothing Rotten in this Denmark

Danish traditional cooking, like many other countries, is rooted in cuisine from a time long before international food was easily available.  Lots of authentic Danish dishes come from a culture of making the most out of what you have readily available.  Thus, in Denmark, the family farm was the source of a majority of the food and people ate a lot of potatoes, brassica (mustard plant, but also used in food like cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts), pork, fish and bread.  These farms also had storage and so could keep dry ingredients as well as smoked, salted, or pickled items.  There is a lot of French influence in Danish cooking and the introduction of wood-fired ovens and meat grinders made a huge impact on Danish cuisine, since it led to the surge in popularity for ground meats and sausages.

As I prepared for this week’s cooking challenge, all I could think about was, “How can I not make danishes for Denmark week?”  Unfortunately do to a very hectic schedule and a fear of making homemade puff pastry, I had to go in a different direction.  For those same reasons, I opted not to make my own rye bread.  I know, very un-Danish of me.  Smørrebrød is the traditional lunchtime fare, and it is an open face sandwich, consisting of various topping options on rye bread.  When I asked a friend of mine, who is not only an amazing cook but also Danish, she said rye bread would be the perfect thing to make – if only it didn’t take a week!  One of these days I will tackle making my own bread, but for this week, I took her other suggestion: frikadeller.

I am inexplicably drawn to foods/drinks with fun names.  During my first week cooking my UK food, I was literally incapable of saying sticky toffee pudding without grinning like an idiot.  So it is completely understandable that as soon as I heard about frikadeller, I wanted to make it.  It is in fact, a traditional Danish meatball of sorts, and not a fashionable 70s dance club.  I was instructed that it was more traditional to use pork or veal, and I decided to top it with a mushroom sauce.  They are a sort of meatball/meat patty, and I made mine with ground pork, garlic, chopped onion, salt/pepper, Dijon mustard, breadcrumbs and fresh parsley.  After forming the patties, I cooked them in a skillet on medium high heat until they were beautifully brown, then removed them from the pan and deglazed the pan with some red wine and Worcestershire sauce.  I added chopped mushrooms and a little flour and water to make a nice thick mushroom sauce to pour over the top of the frikadeller.

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I much prefer using the mustard as a binder instead of an egg because it gives such a good flavor to the meat and keeps it so juicy.  I started putting mustard in ground beef before making hamburgers and I love the results.  Of course, you can use any number of condiments, or even use an egg if you are so inclined, but I personally prefer the mustard.

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Frikadeller is usually served with boiled potatoes and cabbage.  As much as I am enjoying this whole experience so far, I either need to get out of northern Europe or come up with even more ways to make potatoes.  I don’t know about you, but I am just a fan of the boiled potatoes, so this week I made au gratin potatoes.  I did boil the potato slices first, so I guess that counts.  I layered the cooked potatoes with gruyère cheese and sour cream, then topped with some parm cheese and baked until the cheese was melty and the top was browned and crispy.  It was so delicious, but I am ready to eat something other than potatoes.  However, in Denmark, potatoes are pretty much the staple side dish for every meal, so I soldier on!

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Also, as I said above, frikadeller is normally served with cabbage, but since I also had that last week I made a quick cucumber salad.  Danish cooking often included a lot of picked vegetables because food had to be preserved and stored over long periods of time prior to widespread refrigeration.  Agurkesalat is a pickled cucumber salad that is a popular accompaniment to meat dishes, but the main problem with this: I hate pickles!  I’m sorry, but I do and I have no excuses.  So, instead of actually pickling the cucumbers, I sliced them up and tossed with some rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and a touch of oil.  Also, I used mini cucumbers because they were just too darn cute to pass up at the grocery store, and I love mini foods.

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This salad added a nice fresh addition to my meal and it is so simple it took all of a minute to throw together.  Also, because I used the mini cucumbers, I didn’t even need a cutting board!

Some other options I could have explored include making a cream sauce instead of the mushroom sauce since a lot of information I found talk about cream sauce over vegetables and even béarnaise sauces for steaks.  I liked the mushroom sauce because I was able to season it in with cooking remnants of the frikadeller.  I also didn’t even scratch the surface of cheeses and desserts, but I hope to make æblekage sometime, which is an apple charlotte made with sweetened apples, butter roasted bread crumbs, and almond meringue.  No time for dessert this week, but I will definitely be making it sometime soon.

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Though I started this project with the idea of moving geographically week to week in order to explore a lot of similar cultures and the influences they have on each other, I am really excited to jump around a little next week.  I will be rocketing over to Vietnam, to co-host a Lunar New Year celebration with a friend of mine, so check in next week to read about my first Lunar New Year experience as well as cooking all kinds of traditional Vietnamese foods!

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