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Delicious Iceland (September 23, 2008)

Have you ever opened a cookbook to find a dedication by the president of the country? We hadn't either until, while on holiday in Iceland, we found Delicious Iceland: Tales of Unique Northern Delicacies by Chef Völundur Snær Völundarson. On the first page is the eloquent dedication by former President Vigdis Finnbogadóttir to this ruggedly handsome, wildly talented young Icelander who has put together an epic love poem – with recipes and glorious photographs – to his astonishing and remarkable little European country whose closest landmass is Greenland. Iceland is remote, isolated, utterly spectacular and populated with 300,000 of the nicest people anywhere, all great reasons to go. The cuisine, however, is not on anyone's "must try" list.

A 3-week house exchange on the edge of Reykjavik enabling us to tour around some of the country changed our minds on the food; the Icelanders really know how to handle the freshest seafood... from eel to sea urchin to shrimp and trout and much more. We also sampled rabbit and free-range poultry, and couldn't get enough of the incredible duck and exquisite lamb. Historically, many of the classic old Icelandic recipes were concocted for survival in those harsh early centuries, and while we passed on the ram testicles and rot-cured shark, we never turned down any modern version of pickled herring!

While his roots are in Iceland, Chef Völundur, after graduating from the Icelandic School of Culinary Sciences, decided to venture abroad in search of further experience in the industry. He landed a place in the kitchen of Michelin-starred chef M. Philippe Giradon, then went on to Chicago, becoming Chef de Partie at the justly famed Charlie Trotter's. While Völundur continued south to Grand Bahama, where he runs the Ferry House Restaurant, the idea to write a cookbook started to take definite form while in Chicago. Völundur says, "Chef Trotter quite frequently sent me into the dining room to tell the guests about the native food of my country. I realized that knowledge of Icelandic cuisine was virtually non-existent outside my home country, and also that its fine and pure fish and meat had hardly been presented to the world at all. When I was speaking to the guests at the restaurant, my pride in Iceland and the culture I was raised in increased, along with a longing to introduce these things to the world."

And he had done so with a stunning mixture of his Icelandic heritage and expanded culinary talents; he roasts venison over molten lava flowing from fiery volcanoes, poaches Atlantic salmon over steaming geysers and has scaled sheer, rocky sea cliffs gathering sea bird eggs to turn them into fantastic dishes.

Völundur Snær Völundarson was raised in the northern countryside by the banks of Laxá (Salmon River) in Aðaldalur (Main Valley), one of Iceland's most renowned salmon-fishing rivers. He commented, "I learned to appreciate that river and no less the noble sport of fly fishing, in which I was trained by my father, who is one of the owners of a portion of the river, and a sometimes fishing guide."

He goes on to say, "Writing this, my mind goes back to the times when I have been fortunate enough to be fishing for salmon on a beautiful river, feeling its fight as it pulls at the line, executing the gentle yet firm touch needed on the rod and the reel. All those add up to an experience that has to be gone through to be properly appreciated. Then, pleasantly tired after a day spent by the rushing water, to sit down at table, viewing the catch of the day smoking hot and succulent, waiting to be savoured, is rewarding indeed, so much that I for one can imagine few circumstances more sublime!"

Delicious Iceland: Tales of Unique Northern Delicacies is more than a cookbook; it's also a glorious culinary and cultural tour of Iceland. The photography is of course spectacular, as all one has to do in this country is simply aim and snap the camera in almost any direction. Delicious Iceland took us back to our trip; as British travel writer Tim Moore describes it so well, Iceland is "like broken-off bits of green-iced chocolate cake... Like everything about Iceland's landscape, there seemed a peculiar sharp freshness to their jagged outlines and smooth, grassed surfaces... The whole country is fresh out of the Earth's core."

Visit www.deliciousiceland.com for more about the book (and the new special edition!) and www.sabor-bahamas.com for Völundur's restaurant in the Bahamas.

(Uncertain how all those Icelandic words are to be said? Don't worry, most of them are pronounced differently from how you think they are. A couple of good guides can be found at travlang.com and at www.sigur-ros.com.uk, a website about Iceland's internationally popular music group Sigur Rós.)

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (124 KB)


 

Citrus Shrimp Salad with Sesame Seed Oil

Chef Völundur states that Icelandic shrimps are quite small, but exceptionally full in flavour and pleasantly juicy. They were not fished much in former times, but nowadays they are greatly favoured by exacting gourmands all over the country.

We found this recipe a perfect blend of sweet/tangy citrus, creamy avocado, and rich sesame oil; it's satisfying, delicious and healthy all in one dish!

More, please!

Serves 4

  • 12 oz. shrimp
  • ½ onion
  • 1 blood orange, segmented and diced
  • 1 grapefruit, segmented and diced
  • 1 Tbsp chives, chopped
  • 1½ Tbsp quality sesame seed oil
  • ½ avocado
  • Optional: Pinches of red orach (see note below)

For this salad chop the onion, blood orange and grapefruit segments into small cubes. Mix thoroughly with the shrimps, sesame seed oil and chives. Cut the avocado into small cubes, and gently fold into the dish after all other ingredients have been mixed together.

Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

This dish is really perfect for starters. It is served in rather small portions and therefore ideally in small serving containers, such as Chinese porcelain spoons, which contain just the right amount of salad and are also so visually satisfying. Sprinkle a pinch of red orach on top for décor, or baby beet greens.

Note: Red orach: This is the purple-leaved form of a salad green first documented in the New World by John Lawson, Surveyor General of North Carolina, in his History of Carolina, 1714. It originated in Eastern Europe and is widely distributed in countries with temperate climates, and obviously Iceland!

Tony's wine recommendation:
A crisp dry white - Chablis, Muscadet, Gavi, Champagne Brut


 

Guillemot Egg Mousse Terrine with Frisse Salad Tossed in Raspberry Vinaigrette and Topped with Crispy Parsnip

Chef Völundur says, "Sea-bird eggs have a singular and very pleasing taste. Here is a fine dish, featuring guillemot eggs, which I definitely consider very much worth while." He gathers his own in death-defying climbs up sea cliffs... so you know how good this recipe is!

We point out the obvious, that most of us will sadly never taste a guillemot egg. You can substitute chicken eggs, information for which we thank the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service!

Serves 4

The Raspberry Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup raspberry vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh raspberries
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put the berries in a bowl and crush them with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk thoroughly. Put the whisked mixture in a jar and refrigerate.

Egg Mousse

  • 2 large guillemot eggs, hard-boiled (or 4 large, 5 small chicken eggs!)
  • 1 tsp gelatin
  • 5 oz chicken stock
  • 1 cup whipped cream
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced
  • 1 scallion, finely diced
  • 20 slices of proscuitto ham
  • Salt and pepper

Separate the yolk from the white of the eggs. Finely chop the whites. Put the yolks through a fine meshed sieve. Add the gelatin to the chicken stock and heat it until the gelatin dissolves completely. Cool and allow the stock to begin to set. Mix the stock, the diced tomatoes, and the diced scallion with the whipped cream. Finally, fold in the yolks and the chopped whites and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Use a square mold, open at both ends. The length should be about three and a half inches, and the width about 2 inches. Cut the prosciutto ham so that it fits inside the mold, covering the sides and the bottom. Put one tablespoon of the egg mousse on the bottom slice of prosciutto ham and spread it out evenly. Then put a slice of ham on top of the mousse and another tablespoon of egg mousse, and so on until the mold is full. Finally, put the mold into a refrigerator for the egg mousse to firm up.

The Salad

  • 1 head of frisse lettuce, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, cut in thin strips
  • 3 cups vegetable oil for frying

Heat the oil to 350°F and fry the strips of parsnip until golden brown.

Toss the frisse lettuce in 3 tablespoons of the raspberry vinaigrette. Form a bed of lettuce on a plate. Remove the egg mousse terrine from the mould and place it on the bed of lettuce. Top the arrangement with fried parsnip for decoration and added taste.

Chef states, "In this dish the singular taste of the eggs really comes to the fore. It is pleasantly enhanced by the salty tingle of the prosciutto ham which gives the course a delicious base. The fresh lettuce and the fried parsnip make for an enticing whole."

Tony's wine recommendation:
Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire or Ontario, unoaked Chardonnay, Soave


 

My Father's Gravlax Recipe

You know how much we love gravlax; Ron makes it fairly frequently, and we've tinkered with lots of recipes... then tried this one!

Chef Völundur's father, Völundur Hermóðsson, a sometime fishing guide and part owner of the Laxá River, kept his gravlax recipe a secret for years. His son was permitted to publish it for the first time, and we have to say we'll never go back to our other versions. Þakka þú (thank you!), Daddy Völundur!

Serves a hungry crowd!

  • 1 large salmon, about 4-6 pounds

The Curing Mixture

  • 11 oz salt
  • 13 oz sugar
  • ½ Tbsp ground white pepper
  • 4 Tbsp lemon pepper
  • 4 Tbsp fennel powder
  • ½ cup dry dill

The Gravlax Sauce

  • 6.8 oz sweet mustard (¾ cup)
  • 1.7 oz Dijon Mustard (3½ Tbsp)
  • 1.7 oz honey (3½ Tbsp)
  • 6.8 oz vegetable oil (¾ cup)
  • 3.4 oz mayonnaise (full 1/3 cup)
  • A dash of Cognac

The Curing

Thoroughly mix all the ingredients, except the dill.

Fillet the salmon, but do not skin it. Arrange the fillets side by side, skin side down. Liberally spread the prepared mixture over the salmon meat. Sprinkle dill on top. Stack the fillets, applying the mixture to each layer, in a tray. Cover tightly with plastic wrap; leave the salmon to cure in a refrigerator for 36 hours. When the time is up, the fillets are turned over, the tray is again closed with plastic wrap and the salmon left to cure for 36 hours more.

Finish the process by thoroughly scraping off excess curing mixture, then cutting the fillets into bits of a size appropriate for each use. Wrap up those not to be used immediately and put them in a cooler or, if they are to be preserved for a long time, in a freezer.

Making the Sauce

Chef says, "This recipe is from my mother, Halla Loftsdóttir. We used to spend a lot of time together when I worked with her at the salmon fishermen's lodge. I know that I was driving her crazy one summer with my tiresome adolescent behavior, but in spite of my unruliness, I fortunately managed to learn the recipe from her!"

Mix the ingredients together thoroughly, adding the oil last. A dash of Cognac may be stirred in if desired.

Chef adds, "This sauce was always used with my father's gravlax in my home. I know no other that fits it better."

"The gravlax is serviced in slices with a liberal amount of gravlax sauce on top and around the slices. More sauce is served on the side and also some toasted bread to eat with the gravlax."

"Writing this, my mind goes back to the times when I have been fortunate enough to be fishing for salmon on a beautiful river, feeling its fight as it pulls at the line, executing the gentle yet firm touch needed on the rod and the reel. All those add up to an experience that has to be gone through to be properly appreciated. Then, pleasantly tired after a day spent by the rushing water, to sit down at table, viewing the catch of the day smoking hot and succulent, waiting to be savoured, is rewarding indeed, so much that I for one can imagine few circumstances more sublime!"

Tony's wine recommendation:
Dry Riesling, Champagne Brut (or ice cold vodka)


 

Oatmeal Crusted Fillet of Plaice with Spring Salad and Cold Caraway and Cucumber Sauce

Chef Völundur says "Plaice is a common fish in Iceland. It is very much appreciated for its fine taste and firmness. Icelanders eat their plaice both boiled and sautéed, and like to vary it with other fish as they are among the greatest fish consumers in the world." This is a wonderful, savoury recipe; to our minds delightfully inventive, using available ingredients that one can keep on hand, yet utterly delicious in the finish!

Serves 4

The Plaice

  • 1¾ lb fillet of plaice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1½ cups oatmeal
  • 1 Tbsp roasted caraway seeds
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Juice from two lemons
  • ½ cup grape seed oil
  • 3½ oz butter
  • Salt and pepper

The Salad

  • 2 oz diced chopped celery
  • 2 oz purple kohlrabi
  • 2 oz watercress
  • Lemon vinaigrette
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup grape seed oil
  • Salt and pepper

Put the lemon juice into a bowl. Slowly whisk in the grape seed oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. The vinaigrette may be made three hours before it is used; if so, cover and chill. Before use, bring to room temperature.

Trim a fillet of plaice and then cut it into pieces about two inches across. Beat eggs and milk vigorously together to form an egg wash; place fish in liquid. Place oatmeal on plate, add salt and pepper and mix well. Remove fish from egg wash; roll in oatmeal mix until completely coated by the flakes.

In a medium hot pan heat grape seed oil with butter, add fish and sauté until coating has turned light brown and crispy, about two minutes on each side. (The egg and oatmeal coating keeps the juices inside the fish, so it remains soft and moist.)

Roast caraway seeds in a hot dry pan or toaster oven, then grind fine in, for example, a coffee grinder. The cucumber is peeled and halved lengthwise and the seeds scraped out. Then the cucumber is put in a food blender followed by the caraway seeds, next the juice from the lemons and finally the sour cream. These ingredients are mixed thoroughly into a sauce which is seasoned to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad, toss watercress (ends removed), diced celery and purple kohlrabi with the lemon vinaigrette.

Using some of the sauce, make a pool in the middle of each plate, and put the salad into the pool to form a bed. Then stack two or more fillets of plaice on top of the bed of salad. Serve immediately.

"In this", says Chef Völundur Snær Völundarson, "We have a simple and wholesome dish fit for kings."

Tony's wine recommendation:
Riesling Kabinett, white Rhône, Verdicchio


 

Skyr Topped with Blueberries

Nothing is more Icelandic than skyr; this seemingly simple cultured dairy product is a type of fresh cheese that has been strained, like Bulgarian yoghurt. We're told that it originally come from Norway, brought to Iceland by those Vikings centuries ago, but today skyr is unique to Icelandic cuisine. Rich, creamy and heavenly, it's a favourite breakfast food of many Icelanders, and makes a perfect, healthy dessert with fresh picked berries or in a cheesecake! Sigh... Available in Iceland, and in selected Whole Foods outlets throughout North America and Europe. For more information go to www.skyr.is and www.wholefoodsmarket.com.

Serves 4

  • 1 lb skyr
  • ½ cup water or milk
  • Milk or cream
  • Sugar to taste

Blend ingredients, sweeten to taste. Add berries, honey, or anything else you want to. How can anything this good be so healthy!

Tony's wine recommendation:
Moscato d'Asti, Asti Spumante, Icewine


 

Dedication: From The Right Honorable Ms. Vigdis Finnbogadóttir, who as President of Iceland in 1986 hosted the historical meeting between president of USA Ronald Reagan and Secretary of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. She was the fourth president of Iceland, serving from 1980 to 1996. Vigdis Finnbogadóttir is the world's first elected female president and Iceland's first and so far only female president and head of state.

We wish to thank Salka Publishing, Reykjavik, Iceland for permission to publish material from Delicious Iceland: Tales of Unique Northern Delicacies by Chef Völundur Snær Völundarson. Text © Völundur Snær Völundarson and Haukur Ágústsson. Photographs © Hreinn Hreinsson. © Salka Publisher. www.salkaforlag.is

For more information and glorious photographs, go to www.volundur.com

A special thanks to Sigrún Böðvarsdóttir at Salka for her patience and enthusiasm in showing us so much more about Icelandic culture!

Special thanks to Alaska Extension service, www.alaska.edu/uaf/ces/, for their help and information on guillemot eggs! .

Delicious Iceland: Tales of Unique Northern Delicacies by Chef Völundur Snær Völundarson is available from the Cookbook Store, Toronto, Canada. US and Canada toll-free at 1-800-268-6018, or at cooking@ican.net.

Tim Moore's Frost on my Moustache is available in paperback. Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, New York.

 

Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (124 KB)

 

 

 

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