Scandinavians are partial to punchy flavours. Traditional food often plays on processes like fermentation which makes the food tasty, but seriously pungent, notes Jim Lofdahl, head chef at Frantzen’s Kitchen in Hong Kong.
Case in point: Surströmming, or rotting herring. The herrings are soaked in brine, and continue to ferment after being canned. So potent is this brew that the tin expands as the herring matures. “Once you open the can, the smell spreads like a disease, and the taste is so strong,” adds Lofdahl.
This Swedish dish is often described as the most putrid food in the world. But every August, the country holds its breath as surströmming gatherings take place. The herrings are gulped down with sour cream, onion, potato, flat bread – and a stiff drink.
Frantzen’s Kitchen is the first international offshoot of Björn Frantzén’s three-Michelin-starred Frantzen in Stockholm. Surströmming is not on the menu at the Hong Kong outpost, but many other tasty things are. And yes, as with the herrings, some form of pickling, fermentation or burying — like with the gravlax — adds crazy flavour and excites the palate. Unusual ingredients shipped in from the motherland, too, take pride of place. Take the signature Swedish sushi, which despite the name, has no fish or rice. It’s more of a reference to the Japanese technique of layering. This morsel includes crispy lichen, cep mushroom mayonnaise, roe deer, foie gras, and some hay ash. The result is a trip to the Swedish woods in one bite.
“This is like you’ve gone out in the forest just after it’s been raining, and you’re getting the full forest smells coming from the ground.”
The secret ingredient to the amazing tastiness is potato vinegar, used in the cep mayonnaise. “We use potato vinegar quite a lot, it’s the base for several dishes and is used in all emulsions,” says Lofdahl. “It’s a part of our flavour, like a sixth palate for Scandinavians.” Punchy and acidic, the aftertaste of the vinegar is soft and flavourful. Compare it to rice vinegar, and it instantly stands out as the stronger of the two.
Liquorice is commonly used in velouté, a creamy, nutty onion soup. But here, it’s produced in southern Sweden, by a woman who buys top-quality liquorice roots from Iran. She then processes and freeze dries the root. The relationship between her and the Frantzen’s group is exclusive – she sells only to them, and has worked with them for 10 years. Quantities are limited, and the Hong Kong restaurant gets just a single kilo, enough to last it a year. (A little goes a long way.)
A light touch is one of the key things that sets Frantzen’s Kitchen apart from traditional Scandinavian cooking. To Lofdahl, New Nordic is about refining the cuisine, rather than reinventing it, making it more accessible, and helping others understand the culture without changing its core.
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