Exploring Norway’s fresh-food culture

| April 12, 2012 | 0 Comments


Norwegian marinated salmon

Norwegian marinated salmon

A country’s culture rests in a composite — language, dress, music, dance, architecture and traditions. A country’s character reveals itself also through its food, what was, and is, cultivated in various regions, coupled with methods of food preparation and preservation.
My next series of articles will explore the national cuisine of various countries through my own personal experiences and research, conversations with heads of mission of embassies and high commissions, often with their chefs. The series begins with Norway.
Norway, like Canada, enjoys a great diversity of geography and topography, plus an enviable wealth of food products from both land and water. A country of magnificent fjords, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests and grasslands, Norway has more than the upper third of its length stretching beyond the Arctic Circle. However, unlike Canada, its climate is greatly influenced by the warm Gulf Stream. Also, with the entire country being situated so far north, all regions experience long summer days. These factors, of course, influence Norwegian food culture.
In Norway, what one eats today is closely related to what was available decades ago, even centuries ago, when “eating local” was the only choice. Historically, most Norwegians lived modestly in small villages where “nose-to-tail” eating was popular. That tradition hasn’t faded.
Norwegian Ambassador Else Berit Eikeland recalls with fondness her mother’s home-cooked meals. To this day, she loves dried leg of lamb (a definite “must have” at Christmas) and all the “exotic treats” retrieved from boiled lamb heads. Yes, eyes, cheeks and so much more. Interestingly enough, despite the amazing wealth generated in recent years from the oil and gas industry and easy access to international products, Norwegians continue to relish recipes drawn from local ingredients with an emphasis on fish, game, lamb, fruits and vegetables. And though there is great emphasis on “freshness,” culinary traditions linger. Many favourite recipes use cured, dried, salted, smoked and marinated products, reflecting and respecting long-established traditions of preserving seasonal products.
Norway’s long and varied coastline offers a bountiful supply of fish (cod, salmon, halibut, herring, trout and pollock). With their secluded areas and favourable water temperature thanks to the Gulf Stream, the fjords along the coast provide excellent conditions for salmon and trout farms.
Norwegians love fish. In the south, locals wait for spring when the mackerel spawn along the coast. They set the table and enjoy a festive meal of fried mackerel and rhubarb soup. Regardless of the region, traditional fish soup served with something on the side is a favourite. Ms Eikeland animatedly recalls eating fish five times a week as a child — fish caught by her own family or by neighbours.
For special occasions, there is shrimp. “Back home, it is boiled in sea water and flash frozen on the fishing vessels, and thus is quite salty,” she says. “The bigger the shrimp the better.” Guests feast on thawed shrimp presented in large bowls. They peel and eat the shrimp with fresh bread, lemon and homemade mayonnaise as well as suitable quantities of beer and a spiced spirit called aquavit [derived from Latin aqua vītae, “water of life”].
Turning to the land, game is abundant and part of the local diet. In the serenity of the north, reindeer is prepared and preserved in countless ways. Further south, the meat is elk and moose. To this day, Norwegian families enjoy dishes with names such as “bits and pieces” — made with what Canadians would call “leftovers.” Ms Eikeland proudly confirms “when food was scarce, we learned to use everything and to add a touch of luxury after frying everything in one pan, we would top the dish off with one fried egg.”
Because Norway is located so far north, Nordic summers provide a slow ripening process of everything that grows during those cool, long-light days (virtually 24 hours at one point). This imparts a depth of flavour and aroma to berries, fruits and vegetables. Even animals grazing on the succulent grass and herbs, similarly have a distinctive flavour. Indeed, Norwegian lamb ranks among the best in the world — finely muscled, always tender with a unique but mild flavour.
Respecting their traditional food culture, creative Norwegian chefs today are showcasing their country’s ingredients by devising innovative recipes and menus (often applying classical methods of French cuisine) and being recognized as international award-winning chefs.
Enjoy a touch of Norwegian food culture with my very popular marinated salmon. Bon Appétit!
Marinated Salmon
Marinated salmon is most often presented as an hors d’oeuvre or appetizer. However, served with a mustard drizzle and creamed potatoes (i.e., diced cooked potatoes gently tossed with a cream sauce), it makes a creative main course.

1 lb (450 g) fresh salmon fillet (deboned), with skin attached
2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh dill weed
2 tbsp (30 mL) vodka
1 1/2 tsp (8 mL) anise seed
1 1/2 tsp (8 mL) crushed black peppercorns
1 tsp (5 mL) crushed dried tarragon
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
4/5 cup (200 mL) Mustard Drizzle*

1. Place salmon fillet in a flat glass baking dish (slightly larger than fillet) with skin side down. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, chopped dill, vodka, anise seed, crushed peppercorns, tarragon and salt; rub mixture into flesh of salmon (upper flesh side and edges). Cover surface of salmon with plastic wrap and place dish of salmon into a loose plastic bag.
2. Locate a weight of suitable size to cover entire surface of salmon; place weight on salmon. (Note: Weight is placed on exterior surface of plastic bag that encloses salmon.)
3. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to a couple of days, turning salmon fillet over in dish from time to time.
4. Before serving, remove marinated fillet from dish and drain. (It is not necessary to remove herbs and spices that stick to flesh.) Carefully cut skin and any dark central fatty areas away from flesh, and discard. Cut marinated fillet into thin vertical slices (thickness: 1/5 inch or 0.5 cm).
* To make a quick mustard drizzle, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp (30 mL) of both Dijon mustard and a grainy mustard, 1 tbsp (15 mL) of sugar, 2 tsp (10 mL) of cider vinegar and 2 egg yolks. Whisking constantly, gradually add 1/2 cup (125 mL) of canola oil in a thread-like manner until the mixture is emulsified.

Margaret Dickenson is author of the international award winning cookbook, Margaret’s Table, also creator and host of the TV series, Margaret’s Table, and recipient of the University of Guelph’s 2011 Alumnus of Honour. See www.margaretstable.ca.

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Category: Delights

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