For many of us living in big cities, survival during the chilly winter months no longer depends on our abilities to preserve foods – however, when the process is as beautifully laid out as in Simon Bajada’s new cookbook The New Nordic, it’s a pleasure to understand it just the same.
The New Nordic demystifies the methods at the heart of Scandinavian cooking, with chapters devoted to smoking, curing and pickling, and recipes laid out by where their ingredients are foraged. With sweeping landscape photography and dishes that reveal much about Nordic culture, it’s a refreshing look at Scandinavian cuisine through the seasons.
The following extract narrows its focus on pickling.
The process of pickling in vinegar is an age-old technique traditionally used to preserve vegetables and fish. Today, we are attracted more to the flavour and texture that pickling brings to dishes than its practical uses in storing food. Still, we should not discount its original benefits. If you’re at a farmers’ market and there’s a particularly glorious vegetable in abundance, buy it in bulk and pickle it. Later in the year you can enjoy travelling back in time via your taste buds.
Nordic folk are by no means opposed to some sweetness in their food, and the acidity from the vinegar in pickles plays an important role in balancing those flavours. The dishes in this book are often garnished with a vegetable that has been lightly pickled for this purpose. They also add a satisfying crunch and are very attractive to the eye.
Some pickling tips
- Avoid using metallic or reactive materials when pickling as they can affect the flavour. Use ceramic or glass.
- Non-iodised salt helps prevent the pickling solution from becoming cloudy.
- The best vegetables for pickling are those that have a low starch content. Vegetables with higher levels need longer in pickling brine – at least a week. Cauliflower, carrots, beetroot (beets) and cabbage all pickle well and will keep in a lidded jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.
- How thinly you slice your vegetables will determine how long they need in the pickling solution. Don’t leave them for too long; the ideal is a sharp, fresh crunchy vegetable that rounds off a dish and balances any sweeter flavours.
- Vegetables with a high water content break down quickly if sliced thinly, so they only require brief pickling.
- Traditionally, recipes may call for pre-boiling or curing and then rinsing vegetables before pickling, but if you slice them thinly enough you won’t need to.
- Try to use organic or farm fresh produce and always give it a thorough rinse.
- Pickling fish is a classic technique in Nordic cooking and for those willing to endure the process it is very rewarding. Pre-cured fillets of small oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and herring respond the most effectively. The fish will need to be soaked in water for 24 hours, rinsing occasionally, to remove the salt, then they should be pickled for at least 24 hours. The sweeter, light pickling solution is best for this. Pickling raw, or unsalted fish is a much lengthier process, taking at least 5 days.
The vinegars that best complement Nordic cuisine are malt, apple and basic white. It is unusual to see vinegars from other parts of Europe being used, such as balsamic and wine vinegars. A good pickling solution using a regular vinegar would be 1 part water to 1 part vinegar.
Almost any combination of spices can be used to flavour your pickling solution but I find the best use common Nordic ingredients. Be careful with cloves and allspice berries though, as they can be overpowering. Some of my favourites are:
- Allspice berries
- Bay leaves
- Celery seeds
- Dill seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Juniper berries
- Mustard seeds
- Star anise
This is an edited extract from The New Nordic by Simon Bajada, published by Hardie Grant, RRP $AU 49.95