Neither of us has ever been anywhere in Scandinavia, although it is on the to-do list. We’d love to see the Northern Lights, visit world-renowned restaurant Noma in Denmark and retrace the steps of Lisbeth Salander in Sweden. However, none of that daydreaming was going to help us determine what constitutes a traditional Norwegian dish, and other than a few vague notions that it would probably involve seafood of some kind, and possibly some curing or pickling, we initially lacked inspiration.
Luckily, we have a beautiful cookbook called Bought, Borrowed & Stolen by Allegra McEvedy, which documents her travels around the world and the dishes (and knives) she encountered along the way. There were a number of recipe options from McEvedy’s time in the Norwegian Arctic Circle, but we particularly liked the look of her salt cod grill, even though she said it was an ideal meal for when it’s -19C outside and blowing a blizzard, and here in Britain we’re finally seeing some hints that spring might be on the way. Fortunately, the fresh flavours from the tomato sauce and the hints of the sea from the salt cod made the dish work just as well on a warmer, less inclement evening.
So, through combining our predicted seafood and curing to end up with a dish based on salt cod, we have an easy but satisfying dinner, that takes the best parts of a fish pie (cheesy mash and, obviously, fish) but combines them with a much nicer tomato-based sauce. It was also a treat for Ash because buttery, creamy mashed potato doesn’t normally make its way onto our table.
A note on the cheese: the recipe says to use Gruyere, but given that we live in the South London world of ‘Metro’ and ‘Express’ versions of supermarkets, we couldn’t find any, or our preferred substitute, the Norwegian Jarlsberg. We ended up just using cheddar, which probably added a stronger flavour than Gruyere or Jarlsberg would have, but we enjoyed it.
Salt Cod Grill
175g salt cod
625g mashing potatoes, peeled and diced
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
A big pinch of dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
60ml double cream
40g cheese (your choice which one!)
1. The night before you plan to make it, you need to rehydrate the salt cod: run it under cold water for 5 minutes, then leave it to soak in fresh water overnight.
2. On the day, first boil the potatoes.
3. Squeeze excess water off the cod and put it into a small pan with the bay leaves and milk over a low heat. Cook gently for 30 minutes or until the fish starts to fall apart.
4. Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a large frying pan and gently cook the onion, carrots, garlic, oregano and paprika with a lid for about 5 minutes.
5. Tip the tomatoes into the pan, then half-fill the tin with water and pour that in as well. Turn up the heat, season, cover mostly with a lid and simmer for about 20 minutes.
6. Drain and mash the potatoes, then add the fish bits (not the milk), breaking them up a bit. Stir in the rest of the butter, cream and parsley, and season with pepper.
7. Preheat the grill to medium. Pour the tomato sauce into a baking dish and spoon the mash in an island in the middle, not entirely covering the sauce. Top with cheese and grill until golden brown.
Serves 2 generously.
Next time we’ll be investigating Swedish cuisine… which will undoubtedly be more enjoyable than investigating Swedish flat-pack furniture on a bank holiday Monday, an experience of four years ago that still haunts us to this very day…