Over the past year there have been mutterings among the British food cognoscenti that our cooking has become, well, a bit dull. Ramsayesque Franglais food seems to dominate, along with a liberal dose of Mediterranean. What we need is a fresh source of inspiration and, if Books for Cooks - the shop for influential foodies and chefs - is right, it's on its way from Scandinavia.
The thought of Nordic food may conjure up images of pickled herrings and Swedish meatballs but, according to Chris Galvin, executive chef at the Wolseley in London, the reality is very different. "Scandinavia is a hotbed for chefs at the moment," he says. "They travel much more than we do, and are experimenting with ideas from all round the world."
Nigel Haworth, chief proprietor of Northcote Manor in Lancashire, agrees. "I keep close links with Stockholm, the food scene there is very dynamic; the flavours blow me away. They will make a roast loin of venison taste amazing by sprinkling it with icing sugar and caramelising it on top of the stove."
This renaissance has been fuelled by a conscious decision by Scandinavians to improve their culinary reputation. In Sweden, for example, the chefs' association has been instrumental in creating a new, lighter form of Swedish food rather than remaining in the thrall of France. Fredrik Eriksson, chef owner of Villa Kallhagen outside Stockholm, is a famous exponent. "I've tried to develop the idea of my grandmother's Swedish kitchen into something much cleaner and lighter," he says. "We have superb raw materials here, such as fish, game, wild mushrooms and berries. I develop links with local farmers and avoid serving produce out of its natural season."
Eriksson tends to subvert foreign ideas to enhance his own Swedish style. Thus, his carpaccio of salmon and crayfish with spiced dill seed and horseradish is influenced by Japan, while his Jansson's Temptation (sliced potatoes with sautéed onions, cream and anchovies) has been transformed by Italy into a rustic dish served in a small cast-iron pan.
There is, however, one man who may prove to be the catalyst needed for a Nordic food movement in Britain. His name is Marcus Samuelsson and he is the Swedish (Ethiopian-born) executive chef and co-owner of the New York restaurant Aquavit. His interpretation of Nordic food resonates with sophisticated urban sensibilities. He combines elements of Scandinavian cookery - namely smoking, curing and pickling - with indigenous wild foods, global exotics and the best local produce he can find. Thus, Arctic char is lightly home-smoked with berbere spices and served with a spicy lemon broth, and fresh oysters are served with a spoonful of cucumber vodka sorbet and a little caviar. "Everyone has to follow their own personal journey with food," says Samuelsson. "Scandinavian cooking forms the building blocks of my food, it is where I grew up [he was adopted aged three], but ultimately my aesthetics - flavour, temperature and look - evolve from my ability to draw from around the world right here in New York."
Samuelsson was thoroughly educated in French cuisine, but after having worked as an apprentice in Georges Blanc's three-star restaurant outside Lyons, he realised that he was more interested in developing his own style. His palate may still be influenced by the Nordic balance of sweet, sour, salty and savoury, but he delves into other culinary philosophies to create his own unique food. Who else would serve pickled herrings - sushi-style - on spiced mashed potato with an artistic drizzle of home-made purple mustard? Samuelsson's food has already struck a chord with Americans. He has won three stars from the New York Times and was named Best Chef in New York City by the James Beard Foundation in 2003.
It was his book, Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine, however, that alerted Rosie Kindersley of Books for Cooks to the power of his food. It has already sold 25,000 copies in the US, and will no doubt set a new trend for cool, restrained food that reflects Northern tastes in its exquisite mixture of flavours. Kindersley imported a few copies when it came out in October. "We were amazed by how many chefs knew about him," she says. "It's going so quickly we have to keep ordering more in."
Marcus Samuelsson's Swedish roast chicken with spiced apple rice
1 medium sweet potato
1 large onion
2 Granny Smith apples
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh mint
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cardamom pods
2 star anise
2 whole cloves
2 black peppercorns
4 white peppercorns
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1.5kg/3lb 8oz chicken
For the spiced apple rice
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
11/2 tablespoons yoghurt
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Blanch the potato in boiling water for two minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again. In a bowl, combine the potato, onion, apples, shallots, garlic, thyme and mint. Combine the water and olive oil and add to the vegetable mixture, tossing to coat.
Using a pestle and mortar, crush the cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, cloves, peppercorns and salt. Add half to the vegetables.
Rinse the chicken inside and out and dry. Remove excess fat. Stuff the bird's cavity with about half the vegetable mixture and tie its legs together. Place it in a roasting pan and rub it all over with the reserved spice mix. Scatter the remaining vegetable mix around it.
Roast for about 90 minutes. After an hour, remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside. Occasionally check the chicken, adding a bit of water if it becomes completely dry.
When the chicken is cooked, cover with foil and set aside. Remove the vegetables from the cavity and add to the vegetables in the bowl.
Add some hot water to the pan and stir well. Pour the liquid into a cup and skim off the fat. Add enough water for one cup (250ml).
Combine the rice, water, deglazing liquid and salt in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover, and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat, fold in the yoghurt and reserved vegetables, and season. Carve the chicken and serve with the rice.
Beet and apple salad
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium red onion
2 Granny Smith apples
1/4 cup lemon juice (50ml)
4 pickled beets, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
Kosher salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and apples and sauté for five minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Add the beets and capers and mix.
Mix the mayonnaise and sour cream. Add to the salad and toss to coat. Season and serve.
Serves 6-8 as an appetiser
375g/12oz fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon mustard oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 whole pickled-herring fillets
Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan, add salted water to cover by 2cm (1in) and bring to the boil. Cook for 20 minutes. Drain.
When cool, peel the potatoes and mash well with a fork. Add the mustard oil, Dijon mustard, vinegar, wasabi and salt. Mix well.
Divide the potato mixture into four. Roll each portion under your palms into a log about 2cm (1in) in diameter and 20cm (9in) in length.
Slice the herring on the diagonal into 1cm (1/2in) wide strips. Cut the potato logs into 3cm (11/2in) lengths and top each one with a piece of herring. Serve chilled.Reuse content