A Vintage Norwegian Cod Dinner: Prince Fish with Asparagus and Wilted Cabbage with Bacon and Dill

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The book smells of old cabin wood, dusty, stale, with a hint of cedar. Printed back in the 1960s, it’s more than a half century old, in pristine condition apart from the torn corners of the jacket. Flipping through the unmarked, thick creamy pages and the still-crisp yet rustic deckle edge, I can’t help but wonder if had been forgotten on a bookshelf decades ago.

AsparagusAndCookbookDiptych

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I love old cookbooks, and have collected many Scandinavian and Nordic ones throughout the years. They offer clues to another time, often in subtle ways, and I can’t help but wonder how these might provide clues into what life must have been like for past generations of my family. I found my copy of The Complete Scandinavian Cookbook by Alice B. Johnson at Powell’s Books in Portland a while back. Nestled among Scandinavian and Nordic cookbooks both old and new in the high, crowded shelves, it made its way to mine, where I had all but forgotten again until this spring. With recipes grouped by country, it made it easy for me to go straight to the section on Norway and draft a menu for a vintage Norwegian dinner featuring one of the country’s most beloved fish: cod.

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Gently poached and then dressed in a creamy white sauce accented with a hint of mustard, the cod is simple yet flavorful. Vibrant asparagus gives the otherwise pale dish a splash of color. I served it alongside a dish of wilted cabbage with pieces of crunchy bacon and flecks of fresh dill.

I’ve preserved the essence of both recipes but have tweaked them a bit to reflect my tastes–primarily with the addition of a little mustard in the white sauce, a touch that livens it up and makes it something I can’t get enough of. There’s something deliciously old-school about both of these recipes. They’re neither new nor inventive, rather traditional and just the things to trigger nostalgia in each and every bite.

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Norwegian “Prince Fish” with Asparagus and White Sauce (Prinsefisk)
This recipe and the following are both adapted from The Complete Scandinavian cookbook by Alice B. Johnson (1964).

For the fish:
Approximately 1.5 pounds of cod fillets, skin and bones removed
Salt and pepper

For the Asparagus:
1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pat cod dry and season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Place asparagus spears in a baking dish and toss with olive oil and salt, then roast until tender, 10-15 minutes depending on thickness. Cover and keep warm.

While the asparagus roasts, place the cod in a large pan in a single water and pour water around to just cover. Gently poach until just cooked through. Reserve a cup or so of the water and drain, covering the cod to keep it warm.

To make the sauce, melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stirring constantly, add flour until it seizes up, then gradually pour in the milk while continuing to stir until it thickens a bit. Pour in the whipping cream and add mustard and salt, continuing to stir until it starts to reach a boil. Taste and adjust the salt as needed. If you need to loosen it up a bit, add a little of the reserved water, starting with a tablespoon or two, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Arrange the asparagus on a platter. Place the cod on top, then generously pour over the sauce. Boiled potatoes would be a perfect accompaniment.

Serves 4.

Wilted Cabbage with Fresh Dill and Bacon (Kål med Dill og Flesk)
A study in contrasts, the softness of the cabbage–which has yielded to the heat–gets livened up with crunchy bacon and the herby flavor of fresh dill. Do be careful with the amount of salt–you may need more or less depending on the saltiness of the bacon.

1 large head cabbage
4 slices bacon (I used uncured applewood-smoked bacon)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
A handful of chopped dill, plus more for garnish
Approximately 1/2 teaspoon salt (see note above)
Freshly-ground pepper, to taste

Slice the cabbage into 1-inch strips, discarding the core.

In a large pan, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, then remove to a paper towel-lined plate and pour off all but a tablespoon of the fat. Add the sliced leek to the fat and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about a minute or so. Add the cabbage, and scatter over the dill and the salt and pepper. Add about 1/2 cup water and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is tender, stirring it occasionally and adding additional water as necessary. Place in a serving dish and crumble the bacon over the top. Garnish with extra dill.

Serves 4.

CabbageAndBaconDiptych

The Reliable Cod Gets a Smoky Twist with Bacon

Bacon-Wrapped Cod with Roasted Vegetables

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Norwegian man in possession of much torsk must be in want of variety. Zucchini and Bell Peppers

Cod is plentiful in northern waters, making it a staple in the Scandinavian diet. If you have had more cod–or torsk, as the case may be–than you think you can stomach in recent years, let me urge you to give this simple yet versatile fish a second chance.

Roasted Vegetables

Simply wrap it in bacon and serve it alongside a classic Scandinavian cucumber salad and some herb-roasted vegetables, and you’ll have a dinner fit for the most jaded palate. The fatty, smoky aroma of bacon permeates the air as the cod cooks, and whose nose can’t follow the smell of bacon to the kitchen? When everything is served, the classic white-on-white meal of cod and potatoes is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a rainbow of colors is splashed across the plate, with red tomatoes, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, green zucchini and herbs, and brown and pink bacon. Rounding out the bold and hearty flavors is a crisp, tangy, and fresh cucumber salad, standing in as the modest yet predictable anchor in this Scandinavian–yet decidedly original–meal.

Cucumber Salad with DillBacon-Wrapped Cod
This recipe–which would probably be better described as a technique–is adapted from The Scandinavian Kitchen by Camilla Plum, and is about as simple as you can get. Make it once and then file it away under ideas for what to make when a you’re a guest somewhere and can’t remember quantities–because you don’t need them!

Butter
Cod
Salt
Bacon, preferably uncured

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a baking dish and place the cod inside. Sprinkle a light touch of salt over the cod, and then drape strips of bacon crosswise, covering most of the cod. Bake until cod is cooked through and opaque and bacon is crispy, about 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

Herb-Roasted Vegetables
I have included quantities here, but please treat them loosely and trust your own flavor judgment.

3 bell peppers (1 each red, yellow, and orange)
6 small zucchinis
10 young carrots
4 medium tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, peeled
Large handful (about 1 cup) flat-leaf parsley (mostly leaves, upper parts of stems okay)
Leaves from 2-3 stems rosemary
Leaves from 2-4 stems thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Prep the vegetables: Cut bell peppers into thirds and remove the stem and seeds, then cut each segment in half again lengthwise so you have six segments per pepper. Remove the stem from the zucchinis, then cut each on a sharp diagonal into 1 1/2-inch slices. Peel the carrots. Cut the tomatoes into quarters or eighths, depending on their size.

Scatter the peppers and zucchinis on a baking pan. Steam the carrots until tender, about ten minutes. Set the tomatoes aside.

Make the marinade: Place garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt, and olive oil in a food processor and pulse until chopped and combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Roast vegetables: Add steamed carrots to the peppers and zucchini on the baking sheet, and toss with the marinade. Roast on the center oven rack for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add tomatoes and move the rack to the upper third of the oven and roast until the vegetables begin to caramelize in places, stirring gently so as not to break apart the tomatoes, about 15 minutes.

Scandinavian Cucumber Salad
Adapted from Scandinavian Feasts by Beatrice Ojakangas

2 large English cucumbers
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly-ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Dill sprigs, for garnish

Thinly slice the cucumbers using a mandoline and place into a medium bowl. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, sugar, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Pour over the cucumbers and sprinkle with chopped dill. Cover and chill for at least three hours.

When ready to serve, stir the cucumber salad, drain the excess liquid, and garnish with sprigs of dill.

Serves 6.

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