The New Nordic cuisine is still getting a lot of attention, most recently with the Mad Foodcamp in Copenhagen, where people gathered to discuss, cook and eat Nordic food. I delivered a speech to another conference arranged by Nordic Feed, a sidekick to the Mad Foodcamp. A few of the big questions from visiting journalists were: Is there a difference between Scandinavian cooking and New Nordic? What did we eat before this movement? Was there no food culture?
Scandinavia has a very strong food culture that goes back centuries. There is a lot of variation between Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and recipes, even for familiar dishes such as meatballs or cod, may differ from region to region within the same national borders. Most regions have their own kind of bread and cakes, their own way of preparing berries, etc.
The Scandinavian way of eating has been influenced by wars, trading, immigrants, religion and by people traveling around the world and returning with spices and new ingredients. After the two world wars, and after women entered the workforce, food culture was at a low point and appeared to be threatened. French and Italian cuisines were very popular, and restaurants were dominated by the French tradition.
Recognition of regional Nordic food
The food culture is now being reestablished. Until now, restaurants celebrating regional food, with the exception perhaps of smørrebrød, the open rye bread sandwich, have been essentially nonexistent. This may in part be due to the fact that in Scandinavia, inviting guests over for a home-cooked meal is more the rule than going out. Dining out regularly is still not part of people’s daily life. So it could be said that Scandinavian cooking has always been traditional for the home cook, and the New Nordic is a modernized version that, for now, is primarily happening in restaurants.
Just as traditional home cooking has influenced the New Nordic cuisine, the New Nordic is influencing home cooking. So is the idea of sustainability: sourcing organically and locally, eating seasonally and using the animal from nose to tail. Traditional recipes are very popular again, often reinvented with extra vegetables added, or with a few new ingredients. Seasonality is the main emphasis, although bananas are Scandinavia’s most popular fruit!
Scandinavian emphasis on seafood
We are surrounded by sea here in Scandinavia. Therefore, eating fish and shellfish ought to be the most common thing, but for many years we primarily exported it. In the biggest fishing towns, there were more butcher shops than fishmongers. Fish was for poor people, and the old tradition of eating local fish such as salmon, herring, mussels and oysters was suppressed. Eating meat was seen as sign of wealth. That is now changing for many, but not for all.
Blue mussels, potatoes, bacon and beer are all basic Nordic ingredients, and you get a great chowder (see recipe below) when they are added together. We have a lot of mussels in Denmark; they live in shallow waters attached to rocks or other hard surfaces. Limfjorden, a fjord in the northern part of Jutland, is a treasure trove. The water is about 5 meters (16 feet) deep on average, and mussels are in season year-round, never very expensive and therefore perfect for everyday supper.
The best potatoes also grow here. With fall approaching, soup and stew become popular meals. There are a large variety of potatoes. At the Mad Foodcamp, a potato booth offered more than 24 varieties. For the chowder below, I have used a variety called Sava.
Beautiful tasty celeriac is just back in season and is also a basic vegetable in Nordic soups and stews.
Our climate does not allow us to make wine, so beer is especially popular in Scandinavian countries. Using all of these ingredients in this Nordic Chowder recipe, you can explore the New Nordic cooking at home.
Serves 6 as a starter and 4 as a main course
- Rinse the mussels in cold water until they are clean.
- Rinse and chop the leeks and chop the garlic.
- Peel the potatoes and celeriac and cut into ½-inch cubes.
- In a large pot, add the olive oil and sauté ½ leek (save the rest for later) and garlic for a few minutes. Add the mussels and pour the beer in. Cover with a lid and let simmer at medium heat for 12 minutes.
- Strain the liquid from the mussels and set aside separately from the mussels, leek and garlic mixture.
- In another pot, fry the bacon in its own fat until golden.
- Add the potatoes, celeriac, water and the liquid from the mussels. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the cream, the mussels and the leek and garlic mixture. Boil for 1 minute. If too much liquid has evaporated, add a little more water to give the soup the right consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Before serving, sprinkle with the lovage or other herbs and serve with grainy bread.
Trina Hahnemann is a Copenhagen-based chef and caterer and the author of six cookbooks, including “The Scandinavian Cookbook.” She has catered for artists such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones. Her company Hahnemann’s Køkken, which runs in-house canteens, counts the Danish House of Parliament among its clients. Trina writes a monthly column in Denmark’s leading women’s magazine Alt for Damerne.
Photo: New Nordic mussel chowder. Credit: Lars Ranek