“Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking.” By Darra Goldstein. Ten Speed Press, 2015. $40
My sister and I hiked across a small corner of Norway a decade ago, making for one of the most magical trips of my life. In Denmark several years later, I dined so well in a single week, I practically had to be force-marched onto the plane home. But even if I weren’t predisposed to like a cookbook about Scandinavia, I’d prize my copy of “Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking” by Darra Goldstein.
As a professor of Russian at Williams College, the founding editor of Gastronomica, and a frequent visitor to Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark over decades, Goldstein knows her subject cold. Cooks – and anyone curious about Nordic eating (and culture) – will feel in supremely competent hands.
She knows to adjust the recipe for Dill-Marinated Herring to account for “weakling American vinegar.” She relates the place that porridge (gröt, grød and grøt, “cognates of our English word ‘gruel’ with its harsh Dickensian association”) holds in Nordic hearts: “A Nordic Oliver Twist would ask for more gruel not because he’s so deprived but because the gruel’s so delicious.” She leads the reader on interesting detours, relating, for instance, that the log cabin – quintessential symbol of American humble origins – originated itself in Sweden. Her recipes range from homely sounding dishes like Rutabaga Pudding to complicated classics requiring homemade pork shank stock, gelatin and fresh horseradish (Beet Terrine with Horseradish Cream).
And oh those recipes. I lived with “Fire + Ice” for much of the winter, which gave me the chance to test many of them. If you’ve ever been to Scandinavia, you’ll know why the desserts chapter took me hostage. Blueberry Tosca Cake is a keeper. (And when I worried I was misunderstanding the recipe, I tweeted to Goldstein, who sent several encouraging tweets back.) Marzipan Bars brought three requests for the recipe. Whipped Berry Pudding (made with Cream of Wheat) sounds odd to American ears but is a classic in that part of the world; I was thrilled with the light, tart result.
On the savory side, Fish Cakes with Remoulade Sauce were a splendid weeknight meal, Honey-and-Beer Braised Short Ribs warmed me up on a frigid Maine winter’s night, and Root Vegetable Cakes had an earthy and unusual sweetness thanks to parsnips. Spinach Pancakes, which I haven’t yet had a chance to cook, will finally give me a use for that plättlagg (Swedish pancake pan) I picked up at a yard sale for $3 more than 30 years ago.
It’s impossible to review “Fire + Ice” without a shout out to Stefan Wettainen, whose beautiful photos more than do justice to a very beautiful region. The book will live in my kitchen, a bit of a pity, as it is really far too pretty for the cooking smudges and smears that are already accumulating on its pages.
FISH CAKES WITH REMOULADE SAUCE
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 pound cod or other whitefish, skin removed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 recipe Remoulade Sauce
Process the onion finely in the bowl of a food processor. Add the fish, dill, parsley, flour, egg, 2 tablespoons of melted butter, salt, and pepper and pulse until ground medium fine. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
Shape the fish mixture into 8 patties. Set them on waxed paper.
Heat the oil and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy, wide skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the fish cakes and cook for about 6 minutes, until golden, periodically sliding a spatula under the cakes to make sure they don’t stick. Carefully flip the fish cakes, lower the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking until nicely browned, about 6 minutes more, periodically using the spatula to keep the fish cakes from sticking. Serve immediately, with remoulade sauce on the side.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup minced dill pickle
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon snipped chives
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper
Make this sauce ahead of time and refrigerate for a few hours to give the flavors a chance to blend and the mayonnaise time to absorb the color of the curry powder and mustard.
Stir together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Scrape into a serving dish and refrigerate until well chilled.