Rakfisk is a Norwegian dish of fermented trout. Words cannot describe how bad it stinks. Evolution, which has given us a sense of smell and an instinctual ability to distinguish what food is good to eat from that which is putrid, has led up to the moment that one is confronted with rakfisk. It's a poignant moment, when, despite all common sense, you put the reeking fish in your mouth and chew. Seconds pass, and - as if by some magic - the smell vanishes. Instead of botulism, an otherworldly taste emerges. An aftertaste lingers. And you go in for more.
This post is about the Norwegian culture phenom that is rakfisk and about how to prepare it for a festive Christmas season.
Man, it feels good to post again!
This one is about a simple and lovely dish called fårikål, or "lamb in cabbage," which is Norway’s delicious and uncontrived national dish. First and foremost, I love this dish because it is so simple. As the name implies, it is literally just lamb and cabbage. But don’t let its simplicity belie its flavour. The end result of a good hour or two of gentle simmering, combined with the right selection of mature, autumn lamb, is a balance of flavours akin to a culinary magic trick.
Kristin makes the best knekkebrød I’ve ever tasted, and visitors to our home in Norway ubiquitously agree. It’s thick, crunchy, and fragrant - plus it's excellent with salty butter. Knekkebrød (literally translated to “cracky bread”) is a type of unleavened rye-based crispbread found all over the Nordics. Recipes vary depending on region, but generally the onomatopoeia of its namesake is an apt enough description of its contents: it’s like bread, only “crackier.” In Norway they tend to like it loaded with wholesome seeds. The first time I saw it made, I was skeptical it had enough flour to bind it together.
“Cod is best during the winter. Of course, you knew that, coming from Newfoundland?” I was with my Norwegian colleague, Egil, at the university I work at in Trondheim. I returned his question with a blank stare. During much of the winter in Newfoundland, the cod fishery is closed. And when it was available, I don't recall winter season cod being anything to write home about. So what was he talking about? Taking my silence as his cue, Egil launched into a lesson with a seafood lover's zeal. “The cod is spawning at this time of year. We call them skrei. They are full of health, full of flavour, and - most importantly - full of roe. It’s traditional to boil the cod and serve it with its roe and liver. It’s a meal for celebrations!”
I was totally stunned. Same fish, different side of the pond. So why was the spawning cod considered a delicacy in one fishery but virtually unheard of in the other?
This post is about rediscovering a fish in Norway that I was practically raised with in Newfoundland. I look into the skrei fishery, which refers to the unique Northeast Arctic Cod stock - and represents the world’s only remaining sustainable cod fishery. I also share a fantastic recipe that I've tested over the past several weeks for poached cod with its roe and liver, prepared in the traditional Norwegian style.
Sveler ("sveh-lehr") are thick Norwegian pancakes, enriched with sugar, butter, and cultured milk. In appearance and texture they are similar to the prototypical American pancake, so you'd be forgiven for the two were alike. Sveler, however, have ventured where no other pancake has gone before. Long ago they graduated from the brunch table and have since taken up residence in several niche Norwegian snack times, such in the daypacks of weekend cross country skiers and in the galleys of ferry boats sailing in the Western fjords of Norway. This post tells the story about how I got to know and love these pancakes. And I'll share my recipe to boot.
It’s my favourite time of year. Not Christmas exactly, and not quite New Years Eve, either. No, it's the lovely time warp in between; the Sunday evening to the calendar year, a time out, untouchable, slowed down. During this week I’m never quite sure what day it is, but there's a few things I can always count on: a fire in the fireplace (first time since last Christmas), books read, books completed, board games, long walks, and - most important of all - overeating of good food (without feeling the slightest bit bad about it).
I want to share a dish that’s perfect for the days between Christmas and New Years Eve: Karjalanpiirakka (Kar-ya-lan pee-rakka), or “Karelian pasties” in English. A classic Finnish dish, they are simple and they are delicious. They are perfect to make during the days between Christmas and New Years because at this time of year it’s okay to spend a whole day in the kitchen and make a mess and produce obscure Nordic foods to share with friends who have long overstayed their welcome. And if you totally fuck it up, that's okay, too. At least you've warmed up the kitchen with the oven (cranking the oven to max is mandatory for this recipe). So gather round your toasty kitchen, let your friends keep raiding your liquor cabinet, and share a round of piping hot Karelian pasties.
Finally! I’m finished with my Master’s thesis, done with a season of climbing in the Rockies, and settled into my new life Norway. That's right. I moved to Norway. It’s been a busy couple months, and at long last it’s time to focus on what’s really important: food. This post was inspired by a recipe for fishcakes passed down from my great-grandmother "Nan Fitz" on the Newfoundland side of the family (scroll to the bottom or see the recipe here). A comfort food true-and-true, the recipe was for me welcome fodder as a recent Newfoundland expat. And as circumstance would have it, salt cod, or klippfisk as it’s known as in Norway, is a traditional food in my new home, too. This post tell the story of how salt cod connects distant shores and offers a recipe for Newfoundland fishcakes in celebration of its trans-Atlantic history.
This heroic loaf, which I started regularly baking about a year ago, has gained a minor cult following. The recipe is based on Tartine bakery's, and so far just about everyone who has tasted it agrees that it's outstanding. One neighbour of mine trades her backyard chickens’ eggs for a half-loaf, adding exquisitely baked cakes to sweeten the deal. Once, a Dane, whom I had never met before, knocked on my door early one foggy spring morning, asking to buy some from my "microbakery" (I gladly sold her some, more chuffed by the idea of a microbakery than anything else). One Christmas I baked dozens of loaves and handed them to family and friends. I swear, never before have people been so glad to receive the gift of bread. This may be the best Danish-style rye bread recipe I've ever encountered, and I'll share it with you here. Skip straight to the recipe here or read more below.
Just when you thought cabbage was the pinnacle of banality in cooking, I give you sauerkraut.
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.