5@5 - Ways to go Scandinavian
September 1st, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

It's easy to mock the "bork bork bork!" of The Muppets' Swedish Chef, but internationally acclaimed chefs like René Redzepi from Noma, the number one restaurant in the world, and Magnus Nilsson from Fäviken Magasinet continue to rock the culinary world with their Scandinavian roots – and flavors.

And with the help of Aquavit executive chef Marcus Jernmark, you too can forage your way as a real Swedish chef in your very own home.

Five Ways to Go Scandinavian: Marcus Jernmark

1. Know the basics
"This is a small road map to better help you understand the meaning and pronunciation of certain commonly used Scandinavian words.

  • Smörgåsbord ('smoar-goas-bord'): A varied selection of hot and cold dishes served on a communal table, similar to a buffet. In Sweden, smörgåsbords are often reserved for holidays and celebrations. Traditionally, we begin with cold dishes, before moving to the hot. Cookies are the extent of desserts, but don’t worry, you will be full.
  • Aquavit ('ah-qua-veet'): A traditional Swedish flavored spirit, similar to vodka, that is 40 percent alcohol by volume and must have at least 5 percent caraway infusion. The name comes from the Latin word aqua vïtae or 'water of life.'
  • Gravlax ('graav-lox'): A Nordic cured salmon dish, often mistaken as smoked salmon, it is actually raw salmon cold cured in salt and sugar. The verb grava means to cure and lax means salmon.
  • Smørrebrød ('smoerre-brrod'): This Danish word simply means buttered bread. Smorre is the verb for butter and brod means bread. In the context of a menu, you will see it as an open-faced sandwich. Regardless of what the topping is, it will have always be buttered bread.
  • Skäl ('skoal'): Means 'cheers', always say before taking a shot of aquavit."

2. Pickling
"Every child in Sweden knows the one, two, three of pickling from a very young age. The traditional technique has been used for centuries to ensure a year-round supply of fruits and vegetables. While the traditional ratio for pickling is 1:2:3, I suggest switching it to 3:2:5 - 3 parts vinegar to 2 parts sugar to 5 parts water.

Today, pickling is used not only to preserve but also as a method for enhancing flavor. I regularly adapt my pickling solution to what I want my end result to be. One of my favorite pickling solutions is a sweet apple pickle, yielding a sweet apple hint without being overwhelming. It is composed of 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 2/3 cup sugar, and 2 cups water.

These unique flavor combinations all come from experimenting - some go horribly wrong and some go wonderfully. I suggest people add different aromatics, play with the proportions and switch liquids - you never know what the resulting flavor might be."

3. Aquavit
"Aquavit is much like vodka in that it is distilled from grain or potato, is clear in color, and contains about 40 percent alcohol by volume. Unique to aquavit, though, is its 5 percent caraway seed flavoring - the most common and widespread infusion and an EU regulation. Anise, coriander, dill and fruits are also used regularly for their flavor profiles, either individually or mixed.

Infusing aquavits can be easily replicated and enjoyed at home. The first step is to purchase a 40 percent by alcohol vodka and a secure, large mason jar or similar vessel. Your next step is to select an infusing agent, considering the flavors of each season and how to best complement the food.

For the fall, I suggest yellow beets as the earthiness of the beets brilliantly comes through in both flavor and color. For this recipe, I would suggest 1 pound beets to a bottle of vodka.

Wrap each beet individually, with their peel on, in aluminum foil and bake at 300°F until they are completely soft. Once roasted throw them in an ice bath. When completely cooled, gently peel each, and cut into small pieces. Throw into the vodka and seal tightly. Allow to seep for approximately one week. The color is the greatest indicator and this infusion should be a saffron liqueur color, or a deep yellow.

Serve chilled in a shot glass with a beer on the side - stay in Scandinavia and have a Carlsberg!"

4. Curing
"Curing is a very common cooking technique used throughout all the Nordic countries and gravlax is its most famous dish. I have heard from many people that they are hesitant to try curing and I understand their concerns, but keeping in mind a few small elements could make the difference. The first thing is you need a very cold refrigerator – keeping it at 38°F or lower is ideal. The biggest issue is timing; you must allot four days for prep.

My curing mixture follows the ratio 1:1 - 1 part sugar to 1 part salt. While this is a slight alteration from the traditional mixture, I find that if you handle the salmon properly the end result is superior.

In addition, I add a dash of crushed white pepper, dill and sometimes even crushed fennel. As is the case with pickling solutions, once you have a base ratio that works you can experiment with different flavors.

In Sweden it is common to add in a liquid element, traditionally aquavit to help the sugar and salt melt, activating the curing process. Something to keep in mind as you experiment with these ratios, with the addition of liquids, never add lemon or vinegar as it will cook the salmon. Stick to water, vodka, anise liqueur, etc. and you will be very happy with your result.

Once you have created your curing mixture you will want to rub both sides of the salmon evenly. Make sure you are wearing a rubber glove; it will keep the fish fresher longer, as it eliminates possible bacterial contact. For the four-day period, you will need to flip and re-rub the salmon with the mixture twice a day. Similar to the way one might test baked goods, your salmon is properly cured when you run a sharp knife through the edge and it comes back clean.

If there is any white debris, which is the fat of the fish, you must continue with the curing process."

5. Swedish meatballs
"One thing I cannot deny is my constant craving for Swedish meatballs, and it seems I am not alone. I present them traditional style with a potato purée, pickled cucumbers and lingonberry jam. Below is my recipe:

Swedish Meatballs
Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 teaspoon allspice
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon skånsk (or other dry) mustard
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Spanish onion
  • 3 cups veal stock (you may substitute beef stock)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Cooking Directions

  1. Mix together, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt pepper, allspice, milk and heavy cream until fully combined. Allow to soak for 10 minutes.
  2. Cook onions and parsley in veal stock until the stock is almost cooked off. Place directly into a blender, and process until smooth.
  3. Fully combine soaked ingredients with meat, onions and parsley. Using a 1-ounce scoop, scoop meatballs on to a lined sheet-pan.
  4. Cook in a 325°F oven for approximately 20 minutes.
  5. Remove and allow to cool. Directly before serving, reheat in a lightly oiled sauté pan."

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Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. VegetarianinMaine

    Babylon 5 season 3 episode 18: G'Kar reveals a strange discovery he has made–every race has their own version of what the humans call "Swedish meatballs." For the Narns, the name of the dish is "Breen"

    September 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  2. Noxious Sunshine

    -that- stuff sounds pretty good...

    Was reading the "Millennium Trilogy" by Stieg Larsson & like all of the sandwiches mentioned (that the characters ate) in the book sounded disgusting.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  3. k

    I clicked on this hoping to see the Chef from the muppets.

    September 2, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  4. Johnny

    It's pronounced "smer" as in "her" not "smoar". Smergoasboard.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  5. Jerv

    "One thing I cannot deny is my constant craving for Swedish meatballs, and it seems I am not alone. I present them traditional style with a potato purée, pickled cucumbers and lingonberry jam." Man, that sounds incredible. I'm trying this. Thanks so much!

    September 2, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  6. Brian

    He's dreamy.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • martin

      I'd do him.

      September 2, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  7. jillmarie

    Interesting facts here- I'm going to a Scandanavian festival this weekend- I'll look for some of these words now that I know what they mean. One item I had last year was a cucumber salad that I'd love to have a recipe for- I know there was some dill in it. They have some of the most delicious rye breads too- and their cheeses are the best. Thanks for the info here!

    September 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
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