In the Nordic Kitchen with CPH Good Food
Copenhagen is the jewel of Scandinavia’s culinary scene and in recent years gained the international spotlight thanks to Noma, which has four times been crowned the World’s Best Restaurant. Aside from Michelin starred restaurants and pastries (known here as weinerbrod or “Vienna bread” instead of danish), I sadly knew little of Denmark’s cuisine. In my opinion one of the best ways to learn about a culture is in the kitchen so on my recent trip to Copenhagen I took a class with Mia Kristensen of CPH Good Food to find out what Nordic cuisine is all about.
A quick train ride to the outskirts of Copenhagen delivered me to Mia’s home where she warmly welcomes guests into her kitchen. Her bright flat was efficient and cozy, equal parts Danish minimalism and warmth; which was currently stocked with overflowing bowls of late spring produce. Mia, who is currently pursuing her Master’s in Food Science, has authored several cookbooks and showcases local farmers and food purveyors highlighting the best of what makes Nordic cuisine unique.
After a quick introduction to our fellow classmate Javier, a yoga instructor from Mexico City, we were quickly put to work. Bread has been an integral part of the Danish table for centuries and provides the base of everything from smorrebrod (traditional Danish open faced sandwiches) to desserts. On board for this afternoon was parsnip bread, often served for breakfast or as an accompaniment for dinner; as well as rugbrod, a traditional Danish whole-grain sourdough rye bread that is dense and wonderfully malty. As we busied our hands peeling parsnips and kneading dough Mia instructed us not in times or amounts but rather by feel and intuition. Flour was added until the dough was no longer sticky and kneaded until it had the “texture of chewing gum”. We set our breads aside to rise and got to work on traditional Danish crispbreads. Again mixing and kneading by feel, we added sesame, flax and dill seeds to give our free-form crackers a little extra texture and flavor. After fifteen minutes in the oven I couldn’t resist sampling the results of my labor; these crispbreads were crunchy and nutty with an herbal pop from the dill, and they were just perfect topped with smoked cream cheese from a local creamery.
With the breads baking it was time to get to work on the main course. After a visit to her favorite butcher earlier in the day, Mia procured some pork cheeks vacuum sealed with mustard seed, thyme, garlic and juniper. Pork cheeks, typically very lean with a lot of connective tissue, do best with a longer braise.Smoked flavors, long ago necessary as a preservation method, remain a hallmark of Danish cuisine. Hay-smoked oil and bacon provided a smoky base for our pork cheeks while a local beer brewed from hay offered up some brighter notes to the dish.
As our main course continued it’s slow braise it was time to make our butter — by hand. If you have never whisked your own butter by hand let me assure you, it’s a workout but completely worth it. Creme fraiche, a 15 minute biceps workout and salt combine to produce some of the best butter I’ve ever tasted.
The bounty of late spring produce would be highlighted in a fresh grain salad. “Grandma Dressing”, a cream based vinaigrette studded with horseradish provided a surprising light foil for pearled barley, cabbage, ramps and freshly shelled peas. Nasturtium and other flowers, often foraged, are frequently featured in Nordic dishes.
After several hours of baking, cooking, talking and laughing it was finally time to reap the rewards of our afternoon’s work. Our table was graced with wonderfully complex breads full of character, richly flavorful pork that was fork tender, and a healthy flavorful salad each of which paired nicely with a selection of some of Copenhagen’s best craft beer.
Not only was my afternoon with Mia a wonderful introduction to Nordic food and flavors but also introduced me to the Danish concept of hygge; which loosely means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. It’s an atmosphere that Mia fosters perfectly and what makes a day with CPH Good Food a highlight of any trip to Copenhagen.