Like most traditional Christian nations, people in Denmark too, celebrate the coming spring during the Easter holidays. As a nation tied to the sea, fish are the dominant ingredient in traditional Danish Easter Lunch. Meet one of the most respected and celebrated traditional Danish chefs, residing in one of the oldest houses in Copenhagen, and take a look at how Easter is celebrated in the small Nordic Nation of Denmark.
People forget – we’re an island nation. We’re five million people, an appendix to Germany, the smallest of the Scandinavian countries. But we have a coastal line the length of Australia’s. We are traditionally a sailing and fishing nation, depending heavily on the foods from the sea”. Claus Christensen explains, bend over his massive Molteni stove, sitting in the middle of the basement part of his restaurant, were he serves his guests. The stove is like an alter: From behind the hissing gas he rules the floor, people who come here often tries to get a table downstairs, from where the massive, redheaded chef cooks right in front of his guests. Claus Christensen is a walking advertisement for his own cuisine, weighing in well beyond anything recommended. He is running one of the best traditional lunch restaurants in Copenhagen, at night serving a traditional French cuisine, based on Danish produce in season.
The restaurant where Claus resides, Gammel Mønt, is like a backbone in Copenhagen’s restaurant scene and Danish food. Everybody else can be creative and reinvent stuff – he does the classics the way they are supposed to be done, confiding in craftmanship and quality in produce. Many new chefs, especially in Copenhagen, are heavily influenced by the tidal wave of neonordic cuisine, spearheaded by the remarkable Noma restaurant. But the whole thing would not make sense, if there was no point of departure, no place dedicated to an original approach to Danish foods and traditions.
Traditional Easter lunch is like many Danish traditions built around fish, the pickled and fermented herring always with a place at the table. A lavish Easter lunch, a tradition all over Denmark for the Easter holiday is served every year at Gammel Mønt. Claus Christensen explains: “Being a peasant nation, the holidays were celebrated with a lot of different courses, setting the holidays aside from everyday life, where porridge more or less made up the main component of most meals. The holidays gathered near and distant family, at the farms the entire population, and the rural – later the bourgouis style of celebration – had to do with demonstrating surplus and serving plenty of courses, at a large table there could be twenty or thirty dishes”.
Very few, if any, get to do that many courses anymore. Getting an Easter Lunch in a restaurant in Copenhagen, like Gammel Mønt, wil take you through 6 or 7 courses before cheeses and dessert. If you can handle the weight – it is no walk-over.
The two most important things to me in Easter Lunch are eggs and fish. Eggs are, since before Christendom, a symbol of birth, of the arrival of something new, after Christianity it became the image of resurrection and has been the symbol of Easter. This is the feast of resurrection in a religious context, and in a seasonal one, of the coming of spring. Also eggs were a delicacy a couple of hundred years ago, not everyday food at all”. Claus Christensen explains, pointing to several other seasonal must-haves in Denmark in the start of April. Lumbsucker roe is very important, if you can get it, and the tiny Danish Fjord Shrimp that are painstakingly peeled by hand, which takes an insane amount of time, is the most sought after delicacy and April is the start of the season. The tiny shrimp, around 2-3 centimeters long, are slightly sweet and incredibly soft. To Danish shellfish eaters they are the most exquisite thing, very expensive, and found in no other food culture. Cabbages are meanwhilethe traditional vegetable in the lunch, in medieval times a soup was served called nine-cabbage soup – either because nine sorts of cabbage were used, or because every kind of cabbage left by winter was used. Cabbage should still find its way into a Danish Easter Lunch.
The beer is important too – many breweries do special Easter brews that try to get the fresh feel of spring fused with the heaviness of the departing winter. Easter Lunch is served with beer, and the omnipresent snaps or aquavit of course. In the recent years Denmark has experienced a surge in the number of breweries, and there are no single notion of what an Easter Brew should be. “The important thing is that it is not too heavy. It’s a large meal, you have to eat for a while, and the beer shouldn’t fill you up on its own. Traditionally Easter brew was like any other special brew for the religious holidays where work was suspended. Regular beer had very little alcohol, but intoxication was allowed at holidays like Christmas and Easter. So the brew was allowed to be stronger and better flavored one. Every farm and major household would have had their own recipes for flavoring beer, but basically it was the regular stuff, just stronger”, Claus Christensen explains. Many of the modern Easter brews are Ales, with a lot of hop for freshness, and some sweetness.
The Gammel Mønt Restaurant: Gammel Mønt 41 // 1117 København K // Danmark // 0045 3315 1060 // www.gammel-moent.dk
A Danish Easter Lunch – as served at Gammel Mønt Restaurant
(Can be served either in this order, or:Eggs in Mustard Sauce (In Danish nicknamed “Shitty Eggs”), historically a traditional dish for Maundy Thursday. Today often eaten as a starter.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in 2 tablespoons of flour stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but do not let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add ¼ liter of hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a rich spoonful of course mustard. If the consistency is too heavy, loosen the sauce with a drop or two of cream. Pour the mustard sauce on a hot plate, and cut in half two, seven minute eggs and place on the sauce. Serve at once with bread.´
Fermented and salted herring with mayonnaise and small potatoes
This is very simple – if you can get the salted and fermented herring. Simply serve with mayonnaise, capers, rings of red onion, and the smallest available potato. In the summer, this is easy, in winter it will most often be the asparagus potatoes that will have to be used.
Fried and pickled Herring
You can actually use smaller fish that you can filet completely for bones. Herring are dense in meat, fatty in the most healthy way and flavor intense – they come from the North Atlantic. They handle this harsh method of preservation best, but if you are interested in the effect, and cannot get whole herring - try another whole, small fish.
Take four fish - Filet the Herring whole, butting of the head, but keeping the two sides of the fish together, most often they come filleted like that too. Drizzle with salt and pepper, fold back together around the now removed bones. Roll in flour, Fry at medium to high heat in a pan with quite some clarified butter, browning the whole fish. Put in a deep tray. Bring to the boil 100g of sugar and 2,5 dc of plain vinegar, with 5 black peppercorns and a handful of bay leaves. Leave to cool for a while, and pour over the fish, it should cover them, if notmake more vinegar pickle. When cooled off, fill in a handful of red onion rings, and leave in the fridge for at least one day. Eat on black, unsweetened rye bread.
Cured and cold smoked salmon with soft-boiled eggs and herbal cream
Salmon used to be so plentiful in Denmark, that farm workers had it written into their contracts, that their lords and masters could only serve them salmon 6 days a week. Now wild salmon is a rarity, most is raised in farm, many now in excellent quality, being organic and with room for the fish to move and grow.
Purchase a piece of cold smoked and cured salmon in the best quality - from Denmark -could be Fanoe Salmon. Simply slice the salmon thinly – sharp knives are a chef’s best friend. Take a quarter liter of cream, whip it with the juice and rind of half a lemon, until it thickens. Voila – sour cream. Chop a handful of parsley, some chervil, chives, dill or other luscious greens in your general vicinity – spinach would be nice too. Put the herbs in your sour cream. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with a soft-boiled egg, or a poached one. White bread at the side.
Small Fjord Shrimp – with a broken Easter Egg
The tiny shrimps are virtually impossible to get outside of Denmark. They are boiled shortly – 1-2 minutes in salted and lightly sugared water. Cooled of, peeled by hand, and left outside of any refrigeration until eaten. It is one of the most treasured Danish delicacies. They are eaten “au naturel” most often, here on toast with a crushed, soft-boiled egg on top. If you come to Denmark when they are in season, treat yourself to some poor fisher lady tedious work, the little things are soft and sweet like little shrimp kisses.
Sole and Cabbage
Cut away the filets of two soles. Cut in quarters a head of pointed cabbage. Take a deep pan, heat it up, put in the cabbage with half a glass of beer, three spoonfuls of butter, the juice from half a lemon and a small bit of nutmeg – salt and pepper of course. Leave to simmer for 2 minutes, place the filets on top of the cabbage, put a lid on, three minutes later should be ready to serve with fresh dill.
Serve on at hot plate, cabbage, buttersauce and steamed sole. Remember that the beers should be light in color, and a little sweet, to match the sweetness of the cabbage.
Guide to classic lunch restaurants in Copenhagen
Aamanns Etablissement // www.aamanns.dk
Adam Aamann pioneered the new wave of “smørrebrød” in Copenhagen. He is modernizing the tradition, finding a more modern way of presenting the food. More importantly though, he is a fantastic developer of the craftsmanship, always seeking out new kinds of fish, experiments with wild herbs, creative pickling and a clear dedication to the ambition of creating a Nordic food language. But if you are one of those who thinks, that sometimes the top gastronomers in Scandinavia are making to mild a cuisine, lacking intensity in taste, Adam will show you a different direction in Nordic cooking, knocking your socks of with concentrated flavors. His food is both traditional innovative at the same time.
Schønnemanns // www.restaurantschonnemann.dk
Old school is often the only school: Schønnemanns is a place that does it the old fashioned way. Once slumbering place, that a few years back were turned around and now are amongst the top places for lunch in Copenhagen. It looks the same though, a traditional cellar, heavy waiters with a tone like a master sergeant, long list of classical interpretations, and no nonsense servings. This is a traditional place that has kept the atmosphere of en everyday lunch restaurant unimpressed by modern ventures in gastronomy or interior decorating. Try the fried, smoked eel with scrambled eggs on rye bread - it’s addictive. Most of the time you’ll dine with Copenhageners meeting for working lunches or catching up on old acquaintances.
Gammel Mønt // www.gammel-moent.dk
The place that was there all along, a place for traditional gastronomy, classic haute cuisine dominated by Danish seasonal foods at night, and during the day possibly the best lunch restaurant in Copenhagen, also serving several of the open sandwich classics. The charismatic patron, weighing past the scale of most weights, is a walking advertisement for his own kitchen. He has won several awards for his traditional pickled herrings, taking pride in setting the standard for traditional quality. The restaurant is located in and old brothel, one of the oldest and protected buildings of Copenhagen. It is often uniquely decorated by the finest artists of the town, that also eats here regularly, since the chef, Claus Christensen, has sponsored many since college and are running a gallery for contemporary art along side his passion for fish, wild mushrooms and some of the most concentrated sauces you’ll ever taste. His fried plaice is absolutely untouchable. Gammel Mønt is connoisseur’s place, but not for health fanatics overly concerned with their cholesterol count.
Restaurant Paustian // www.restaurantpaustian.dk
Bo Jacobsen is an institution in Danish gastronomy. He has run a first class restaurant several times awarded a Michelin star in Copenhagen. Besides running an haute cuisine restaurant, Bo and his wife has recently started a classical Danish restaurant in one of the famous architect Utzon’s (Sidney Opera etc) finest constructions in the northern harbor of Copenhagen. Here you can get their homemade hams, Danish cheeses and a lot of the best traditional products in contemporary style – but very rooted in an ambition of being the best guardians for Danish quality foods and an original culinary tradition. Bo Jacobsen is a self-proclaimed custodian of Danish food, and he serves an unpretentious but very ambitious cuisine.
Orangeriet // www.restaurant-orangeriet.dk
A beautiful old green house in the middle of the preferred recreational parks in Copenhagen, at summer filled with sun craving young people. Jasper Kure is a former Danish competitor at the Bocuse d’Or championships, where he came in at fourth place in 2009. He virtually grew up in the neighborhood and always dreamt of getting this charming and bright restaurant for himself. He has been a chef at several of the top restaurants in the city, and it’s a rare thing that a chef with a top gastronomy profile like Jasper is giving attention to “smørrebrød” which he interprets in modern style. This is a place where decorative and modern haute cuisine lives alongside the classic lunch. Orangeriet is great place for feeling the essence of Nordic gastronomy, which arcs both a working class tradition like open sandwiches and ambitious gastronomy.