Later this week I’m heading to Denmark to attend Copenhagen Cooking 2012, a gathering that celebrates both the “new Nordic cuisine” and international cuisines alike — with a bunch of events planned in and around the city. Up until this point I knew very little about Danish cuisine, outside of the wild tales from the MAD Symposium and, of course, the legend of Noma.
To offer me a little primer, I phoned acclaimed Danish chef Adam Aamann — best known for reinterpreting the traditional open-faced smørrebrød, or sandwiches, at his restaurants around the country. He will also be opening in New York City in the coming year. So, smørrebrød for all! Here’s what I learned:
1. There is a big tradition in curing, smoking and pickling meats and produce, which originates from the days before refrigeration. Think of preserving fish during warm summers, for the long cold winters. So in the early days, the focus was not so much on aroma or texture, but more on keeping your stuff for the winter or for the next half-year, especially the vegetables, and also to keep your slaughtered animals in any way possible.
2. Traditional Danish cuisine actually has a lot of spices in it: it may seem like a stretch, but it’s even comparable with Asian cuisine. There is sometimes sweet and sour flavor combinations, with a bit of explosion on the tongue. Not from chilies or ginger, but from mustard seed or horseradish.
3. Salting and marinating herring is very big.
4. 200 years ago, there was so much herring that, as the saying went, you could “walk to Sweden on the herrings.” A 25-mile (actual) bridge now connects the two countries in the south. So, a lot of herring.
5. There are many lunch traditions in Denmark. One is smørrebrød, which basically combines all of these great pickled and cured things on a piece of bread.
6. Today, the Danish cuisine is very farm-driven. Aamann picks a lot of the herbs and foresting a lot of mushrooms.
7. A popular traditional Danish dish is fried pork belly: slices of pork belly, roasted and soaked with a parsley sauce made from béchamel.
8. René Redzepi’s gastronomic temple Noma is pretty big at the moment. Their approach, as described by Aamann, has been to use Nordic ingredients, but they are in no way are “traditional.” They have been very dogmatic in their way of doing that, in terms of the ingredients.
9. Today, many other restaurants are following Noma’s lead. “For once in history, our cooking is coming to the United States, and not the other way around.”
10. Thusly, there has been a lot of copying Noma all over Copenhagen.