Cracking the Norse Code
It’s easy to see why “New Nordic” cuisine has become all the rage.
It’s made with local, seasonal ingredients, it’s healthy and it’s prepared using Old World techniques but presented with modern flair. And like any new culinary landscape, it provides a new playground for wine.
Though the arbiter of the cuisine is Copenhagen’s Noma—consistently voted the No. 1 restaurant in the world—chefs are increasingly replicating and riffing on this so-called New Nordic fare in America.
Noma co-founder Mads Refslund is leading the charge at Acme in New York.
“My Nordic roots are more of a way of thinking,” he says. “My philosophy is to follow the local terroir, but apply the Nordic approach. It can work anywhere in the world. You have to find your place, and then you create your cuisine.”
Refslund’s laser-focused food is alarming in its clarity of flavor and unexpected combinations. Nature is his inspiration, but it’s his skill and pedigree that create the magic. A farm-perfect pumpkin isn’t roasted, but juiced raw, then frozen and served with raw cucumber, all with the goal of replicating the raw pumpkin flavor.
Nordic cooking utilizes certain hallmark ingredients: a range of fish, game, root vegetables, grains and foraged greens and conifers. It also employs long-practiced preservation techniques, like pickling—and freezing that pumpkin juice—which help deliver potent, concentrated flavors.
“I’m Danish, so I’m smoking and pickling, preserving and fermenting,” says Refslund. “It makes sense to use what is local year-round, to stretch the seasons, but with an emphasis on taste.”
Chef Ryan Leinonen calls his Denver restaurant, Trillium, “a bistro rooted in the American and Scandinavian culinary tradition.”
To a classic foie gras torchon, Leinonen adds Nordic flavors like cloudberry preserves, pickled chanterelle mushrooms, birch-smoked Icelandic sea salt and his grandmother’s rieska, a Finnish flat bread.
At The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, Chef Paul Berglund finds inspiration from the simplicity and freshness of contemporary Scandinavian cooking, as he seeks to honor Minnesota’s (and his own) Nordic heritage.
Dishes like smoked duck breast with sweetheart cabbage, buckwheat and toasted walnut milk feature ingredients sourced from local farmers as well as vegetables and herbs grown on the restaurant’s roof.
“Our cooking, at its best, is connected with our land and the people that work with the land,” he says. “That is at the heart of the New Nordic manner of cooking, as I see it.”
While the thrilling dishes of New Nordic cuisine can seem intimidating to reproduce at home, we’ve made it simple with these recipes.
—Photos by Joseph De Leo
Recipe courtesy Ryan Leinonen, chef & owner, Trillium, Denver
Raaka, which means raw, is the Finnish version of tartare. At Trillium, the dish is sealed in a jar with horseradish cream, a raw quail yolk and lemon wood smoke, then opened tableside.
1 pound sushi-quality steelhead trout, boneless, diced
1 shallot, minced
1 small fennel bulb, white part only, finely diced
1 Fuji (or other) apple, finely diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh horseradish, finely grated
Whitefish roe, horseradish whipped cream and raw quail egg yolk (optional), for garnish
Marbled rye bread, for serving
Stir together all ingredients and serve with the bread slices. Top with roe, cream and egg. Serves 4.
Levo 2013 White Lightning (Ballard Canyon)
Boasting Juicy Fruit gum and honey notes, bright acidity and a hearty, almost waxy mouthfeel, this tasty Roussanne-Viognier blend plays the giant, lovable bar bouncer to the dish: It allows the trout’s oily richness and heat from the horseradish to have a wild time, but ensures they never step out of line.
Recipe from Fäviken © Magnus Nilsson, courtesy of Phaidon Books
An uncharacteristically quick-and-easy recipe from an off-the-grid restaurant in rural Sweden, this dish is the result of Chef Nilsson tasking his sous chef with creating “the perfect breakfast porridge” that’s also an ideal side for supper. It’s a great way to become familiar with the many grains and seeds common to Nordic cuisine. Hearty and rich, it’s a comforting dish any time of day.
½ cup unprocessed oats
½ cup unprocessed barley
½ cup whole barley
½ cup crushed rye
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup flax seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
Sea salt and honey, to taste
Combine grains and seeds and soak them in 8 cups of water for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. With its liquid, cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, adding salt and honey to taste. Serves 4.
With a hearty mouthfeel and surprisingly long finish, this blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier provides the perfect fruity tartness to this recipe’s earthy grains. It bursts with apricot, peach and pear notes, with a foundation of bright citrus, so when you take a sip after a spoonful, it’s as if you’ve added your own dried and fresh fruit to the bowl.
Recipe courtesy Mads Refslund, executive chef, Acme, New York City
Refslund has also made this with a granita of young pine shoots over wild berries, and paired a wheatgrass version with fresh cow’s cheese, as if the cow were grazing in winter. It’s a perfect illustration of how he showcases concentrated flavors and ingredients as they might be found in nature.
1 cup sugar
2 bunches (about 4 packed cups) of sorrel
¼ cup freshly pressed wheatgrass juice
2 lemons, juiced
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum (optional; gives a smoother texture)
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch dice
2 pears, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch dice
In a large saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in 2¾ cups water, then cool. Using a blender, purée the liquid with sorrel and wheatgrass juice. Strain, and mix in lemon juice and xanthan gum. Pour into a glass or metal pan, and put in the freezer. Stir the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes for first 2 hours, then freeze until completely firm, approximately 1–2 hours.
Preheat an oven to 140˚F. In a large saucepan over medium heat, simmer the apples and pears until tender, approximately 15 minutes. Remove fruit with a slotted spoon, reserving syrup, and drain well. On parchment-lined cookie sheet(s), place the fruit in single layer, careful not to have them touch. Dehydrate in the oven for approximately 5 hours.
Meanwhile, reduce the syrup by half, and cool. Refrigerate fruit in reduced syrup overnight.
To serve, place 2 tablespoons of fruit in the bottom of a chilled bowl. (Refslund recommends coating the bottom of the bowls with apple cider and freezing to create an icy surface.) Scrape the granita with a fork to create “snow,” then spoon it over the fruit and serve immediately. Serves 4.
The refreshing granita demands a bright and clean wine with just enough sweetness to carry it into the dessert realm, says Travis Benvenuti, beverage director at Acme. “The unctuous nature of late-harvest grapes in the spätlese works well with the concentrated apples and pears.”
- 1Steelhead Trout Raaka
- 2Johnny’s Porridge
- 3Fallen Fruits