Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Norwegian Julebord

The Norwegians are a funny bunch. For the majority of the year, they eat pretty healthy. There are only 2 American fast food restaurants in Oslo - Burger King and McDonald's. I very rarely come across anything deep fat fried, whereas in Florida I couldn't walk down the street without tripping over a deep fry restaurant. Health food stores are hugely popular here. Whole wheat bread isn't something eaten just to be healthy - it's a way of life. Also the portion sizes are small and just enough, although that might be an Anything-but-American thing.

That's why Christmas is such a funny time here in Norway. This is the time where people indulge. Maybe it's the severe lack of sunshine, maybe it's the one time for release all year. Alls I know is that people are crazy go-nuts this time of year. Everyone plans and attends Julebord(Christmas Table) parties where there is excessive eating of Christmas food and Christmas drink.

Traditionally, three items are served around the Christmas season. The first is a lamb's rib called pinnekjøtt that has been salted and dried. When Christmas rolls around, the ribs are soaked to release the salt. After about 2 - 3 days of soaking, the ribs are steamed. Some chefs finish off the ribs in a frying pan or a broiler to give the ribs additional color and texture but the traditional way is to eat it out of the steamer. It is served with boiled potatoes and mashed kohlrabi. Another holiday treat is called ribbe. Ribbe is delicious and probably the only Christmas food I will partake of next year. Ribbe are essentially pork ribs, from the rib all the way out to the skin. The entire rack is salted (that's the only seasoning that's used) and then put into the oven to cook. There has been some spirited lunch-table debate over how best to get the skin crispy, but the one technique that holds value to me is to cover the rack of ribs with foil for the majority of the cooking time. When the ribs are done, uncover the ribs and broil the top for an additional 20 or so minutes. This will provide the crispy skin that is so fun to gnaw on. It's got pork, pork skin, and salt - what's not to love? This is served with a brown gravy, berry sauce, red cabbage, and boiled potatoes. The last, traditional holiday dish is the infamous lutefisk. Lutefisk is cod that has been soaked in lye as a preservative. When lutefisk time rolls around, the toxins are soaked out and it's cooked either in an oven or on the stove (it's still unclear to me which one is used) until it's just done. It's served with rendered bacon fat, mashed peas, and the ubiquitous boiled potatoes. When I first heard about this, I was told that it was served with a bacon sauce which sounded pretty darned fantastic. I was not prepared for a gravy dish of lardon and bacon drippings. It was good for the first couple of bites but after a while, my stomach started to turn. Firstly, lutefisk night was also the night I figured out that cod does not agree with me. Secondly, I finally believe that there's such thing as too much bacon. It was a night of revelation and self-discovery.

There are two appropriate drinks that complement a Christmas dinner - Juleøl and Akevitt. Juleøl is Christmas beer - a special brew made for this very special time of year. Akevitt is an alcohol distilled from potato or grain and steeped in herbs such as caraway seeds, anise, dill, fennel, coriander and grains of paradise. Let me tell you - it tastes like it. Akevitt has a very spicy feel to it and it burns a little on the way down. This is probably why it is used as a digestive to wash down all the pork fat, bacon drippings, and residual lye of a Christmas dinner.

I'm sorry I have no pictures. I was negligent in bringing my camera with me to all the places we ate. But if you are curious about what any of these things look like, you can find it easily by using Google.

Note: The cooking times on this post probably aren't right so they should not be used as any sort of recipe.

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