Geir Skeie loves Thai food and “some French dishes”, the ones made without heavy sauces. The 28-year-old Norwegian, who earned the “Chef of the Year 2007” title in Norway, was recently in New Delhi as part of the Norwegian embassy’s initiative to promote the Scandinavian nation’s culture. Skeie says he is well-versed in traditional Norwegian methods of cooking fish but likes to experiment with Japanese techniques. The chef at Mathuset Solvold restaurant in Sandefjord is partial to salmon and his creation Salmon Austevoll (baked salmon in avocado and nori with egg yolk) helped him qualify for Bocuse d’Or—a prestigious cooking competition held in Lyon, France last week. Skeie won the contest beating 23 other chefs. Edited excerpts:
For starters: (above) Skeie prepared Parsley Prawns with Fennel and Tomato; and his creation Salmon Austevoll, which won him a qualifying spot at the Bocuse d’Or 2009, where he was named Best Chef. Sudhanshu Malhotra / Mint
Can Norwegian dishes be grouped under Scandinavian cuisine?
Yes and no. Our cuisine is almost the same, but Norway has specialities. Like, we use very fresh fish, but (that is) not so in Sweden and Denmark. In Norway, we also use a lot of lamb, which is not common in the other countries.
Are there any specific dishes which are a part of the winter menu in Norway?
In winter we eat a lot of lamb. There is a special course called fårikål—meat from the lamb’s leg is cooked with cabbage and whole peppercorns for many hours. It is served with potatoes.
In the western parts, pinnekjøtt (lamb ribs), which are first smoked, salted and dried for a couple of months. This is an old way of preserving meat. This method of salting and drying is still used for foods that are cooked for feasts such as Easter and Christmas, but otherwise, in restaurants, we use more fresh fare.
What’s a typical dinner in a Norwegian home?
Dinner is normally a one-course meal. Meatballs in brown sauce served with cooked potatoes and mashed peas is a staple. Norwegians also eat a lot of salmon. A popular way to eat it is to poach the salmon and serve it with hot boiled potatoes, butter and carrots. We use minimum spices in Norway—just salt and pepper for seasoning.
What about lunch?
Matpakke (an open sandwich with one chunk of bread) is what most Norwegians carry to work. Usually Norwegians use dark bread made with whole wheat and rye, not white bread. A dried and salted lamb sausage is put on the bread with brown sweet cheese— made from goat milk or cow milk—and cucumber slices. We do not use too many vegetables in a sandwich. People also like to eat fish salad made from pickled herring or mackerel with tomatoes.
For an elaborate meal, what courses are a must?
For a party at home, like a wedding, there are usually three courses. We start with soup— cauliflower soup or smoked salmon soup is popular and is served with scrambled eggs. The main course is usually a steak of pork, calf or veal with vegetables and potatoes. Norwegians eat a lot of potatoes. We even have potato bread called lompe, which you can wrap around a sausage and eat like a hot dog (called Sausage in Lompe). This is followed by dessert.
The best way to make salmon?
I like it best when poached or baked at low temperature. First, marinate the salmon with sugar and salt for a few hours. Then poach on low temperatures (about 40 degrees Celsius) for about an hour, so that it keeps the colour. You can serve at that temperature or cool it and serve it as a cold starter.
Any other fish specialities you can tell us about?
A special fish dish is Rakfisk, which is fermented trout usually made from freshwater trout, not sea trout. The trout has to be small in size. I don’t like it. It smells a lot.
I like Lutefisk the most. The story goes that long ago, cod fish had been hung out to dry on wooden boards that caught fire. The dried fish had ash on it. Since there was nothing else for people to eat, they just washed the fish, boiled it and ate it. Surprisingly, it tasted good. That’s when the recipe for Lutefisk was created.
Now, once the fish is dried, it is washed with caustic soda (when water and wood ash are mixed, you get lye solution which is similar to caustic soda). The fish is then rinsed, steamed and served with bacon and mashed peas.
What about desserts?
A very quick and easy recipe is Apple Crumble, especially popular in autumn and winter. Strawberries with milk, cream and sugar is also popular.
4 red apples, peeled
100g bread crumbs (very fine crumbs)
30g brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon powder
1 tbsp butter
Slice the apples finely. Cook (3-4 minutes) with a little bit of water until they start to break up, like when you cook apples for a marmalade. Leave to cool. Heat the butter and fry bread crumbs with cinnamon powder and 20g brown sugar until golden brown. Set aside to cool. Whip the fresh cream with the remaining brown sugar and set aside. Take a glass and put in a layer of cooked apple, top it with fried bread mix. Repeat twice. Top with whipped cream.
Tip: If you like the apples to have a tangy/sour taste, add 1 tbsp of lemon juice while the apples are cooking.