I have to admit being completely charmed by my visit to Scandinavia. In the interests of full disclosure, I went to Denmark and Norway side-stepping Sweden, Finland and far distant Iceland on my 7 day Viking Homeland itinerary. But I felt completely immersed in Scandinavia because Viking Ocean is above all a thoroughly Scandinavian experience. Viking Star, a ship I have loved since I first stepped aboard three years ago, is an homage to this part of the world. The design of the ship from top to bottom is pure Norsk. As it should be considering that its Founder and Chairman is a proud native son of Norway. Torstein Hagen has imbued his entire fleet of both River and Ocean vessels with the clean lines and subtle elegance of his homeland, Norway and its neighbors. The story of the Vikings is told in every piece of artwork in every part of his beautiful pristine white ships. And from the Norwegian Deli, Mamsen’s, at the top of the ship to the glorious Restaurant you can eat an almost entirely Scandinavian menu if you so choose. But for variety, there’s Manfredi’s with its Italian accent and The Chef’s Table with its rotating menus of global cuisine at its highest standards.
Leaving behind the impeccable service you find at every turn on Viking was hard enough. But I had to start cooking some of the great food finds I’d made aboard ship and at home. I bought two cookbooks, one on Norway and one by a Danish woman named Trine Hahnemann, who describes herself as “Chef, Food Writer, Activist, owner of Hahnemann’s Kokken København a bakery, shop, café, take-away, cookery school and event space”. Lord knows where she found time to write “Scandinavian Comfort Food: Embracing the Art of Hygge” (Quadrille.Co.UK 2016). One of 6 cook books Trine has authored, it features 130 recipes. And its peppered with Ms. Hahnemann’s attitudes towards everything from Organics and the all-important “Hygge”.
Hygge–It’s pronounced Hugh-Ga—has had phenomenal amounts of press. In 2016, there were 132 titles relating to Hygge on Amazon with one Meik Wiking’s “The Little Book of Hygge” rising to the number 14 position on the best seller list. I can’t pretend to really understand the concept except for the extraordinary number of candle mentions. 28 percent of all Danes, I discovered, light candles daily in their homes regardless of season. Hygge is based on complete home comfort shared with all manner of guests in Danish homes. And of course there’s food and plenty of it. Ms. Hahnemann writes: “Hygge is more than anything the atmosphere created by hanging out. We love to hang out at each other’s houses for hours and eat, relax, eat again, talk.” “The biggest complement you can give a Dane is that their home is ‘hyggeligt’. I have to say I think Andrew and I actually do have ‘hyggeligt’ homes even if, unlike the Danes, we don’t demand guests remove their shoes the minute they walk in the door. And our use of candles is pretty well confined to Dinner Parties. Now on to the food.
I’ve already made Ms Hahnemann’s Mushroom Soup and I’m curing salmon using her Juniper Berry cure. Once I’ve perfected those recipes, I’ll make a mean Smørbrød, the Danish open-faced sandwich that’s the single subject of another one of Hahnemann’s books called “Open Sandwiches”. But what I really hankered for was a true Scandinavian delight, Frikadeller, better known the world over as “Swedish Meatballs” and served in Viking Star’s World Café. Now you would think Ms. Hahnemann would be all over this dish especially since she allowed that meatballs are made once a week in most Scandinavian homes. But she explains that meatballs are so universal that she embraces a recipe that’s non-traditional which includes red chiles. Now I’m all for cultural diversity but I wanted the genuine article. So I went in search of the most authentic recipe I could find. And it turned it came from a lot closer to home: Melissa Clark, one of my food heroes and resident of the borough of Brooklyn, New York provided the recipe. Ms. Clark, whose many recipes pepper this blog, came up with one so genuine, it was exactly what I’d hoped for. These bite-sized half beef and half pork gems were subtly seasoned with garlic, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. And to accompany them, the essential gravy—a creamy onion version with a hint of brandy and a last minute swirl of Dijon mustard. Ms. Clark suggested mashed potatoes but I had a surfeit of cooked boiled potatoes which were a perfect substitute. Lingonberry jam would be traditionally served on the side but finding none in my market, I used Wild Blueberry preserves for the touch of sweetness Scandinavians serve with theirs. I added some spinach to the plate for color as much as anything else. Here is the recipe which made 24 perfect Swedish meatballs.
Swedish Meatballs...or Frikadeller
An authentic recipe for the dish served in most Scandinavian homes once a week. One taste and you will understand why.
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ cup warm milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup beef or chicken broth, low sodium or homemade
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 large eggs
- 2 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane or minced
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- Pinch cloves
- Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed for drizzling
- Chopped fresh parsley or dill, for garnish
- Step 1 In a medium bowl, soak bread crumbs in warm milk while you prepare the onions.
- Step 2 In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir in onions and a pinch of salt and cook until pale golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer half the onions to a large bowl and set aside.
- Step 3 Prepare sauce: Add brandy to skillet with onions and ignite with a long match or igniter (or if you’re using a gas stove, just swirl pan, brandy should catch fire). Let flame die down, then add the remaining butter, letting it melt. Sprinkle in flour. Sauté until flour browns, about 3 minutes. Whisk in broth, cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer, whisking, until reduced to a sauce, about 5 minutes. Add mustard, if you like, and season with more salt, if needed.
- Step 4 To large bowl with onion, add remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, soaked bread crumbs, beef, pork, eggs, garlic, pepper, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Roll into 1-inch balls (about 2 tablespoons each), placing them on one or two rimmed baking sheets as you go.
- Step 5 Heat broiler. Drizzle meatballs with oil. Broil meatballs, switching pans’ positions if using more than one so they both get close to the broiler, until well browned all over, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with gravy, garnished with herbs.