There is a restaurant way up in the tip of Sweden, 600 miles north of Stockholm that I have been longing to go to for quite some time – it’s called Fäviken, I managed to get a booking a couple of weeks before Christmas. It’s quite a mission to get there, you have to fly from Trondheim via Oslo, hire a car and drive two and half hours north through the snow and then Alleluia, there it is, a sign for Fäviken like a mirage in the dark.
We drove along a windy snow covered avenue, lots of fir trees and a collection of traditional Swedish timber houses painted in brick red. We’re greeted by Robert a friendly young man who sounds as though he is from New York, turns out he’s now from a local town who watches a lot of American TV! The rooms are cosy and chic, beautiful linen, lots of timber, spruce I think and Swedish grey paint. The sauna and shower is just across from our bedroom. They’ve laid out a timber ice bucket with champagne, a Petit Chablis and several bottles of their home made beer, and then a little snack of wafer thin house-cured ham and pickled vegetables. After a delicious sauna and lots of cold beer, we go down to the comfy drawing room at 6.30, we’re determined to enjoy every second. There are several clusters of seats and a big log fire, Magnus greets us warmly like long lost friends, I’d forgotten that I’d sent him a copy of Forgotten Skills last year and apparently he loved it, he’s planning to come to the LitFest in 2015. It would be brilliant to have him speak about opening a restaurant 600kms north of Stockholm out in the back of beyond; Ballymaloe is positively urban by comparison…
We had a couple of homemade Negroni, A couple from Sweden joined us and then delicious little bites started to come, the first was paper thin linseed crackers to dip in mussel sauce. Then a little crackly tartlet made from blood with trout eggs to be eaten all in one bite, next lingonberries and crow berries in a tiny bowl with a hot dashi like broth on top, all these bites came with instructions on how best to enjoy them. Next, on a flat stone a beautifully arranged pickled herring that had been buried underground for two years. A heavily disguised piece of pigs head inside a crispy croquette on a little birch twig, delicious and we still hadn’t got upstairs to the dining room – this is another timber lined room which doubles as a curing room for occasional hams and other cured meats. Fäviken serves only 14 people each night, it’s always full and guests fly in from all over the world.
The meal itself started at quite a lively pace, one delicious morsel after another, there were 27 ‘courses’ in all and exquisite handmade butter and sourdough bread.
Altogether it was a memorable experience; the staff are all local and so sweet and knowledge and delighted to be part of Fäviken.
After dinner, a selection of little sweet treats, homemade liqueurs and fresh herb infusions and Swedish snus for those who felt inclined.
Magnus came out of the kitchen and gave us a tour of the butchery and curing room and the underground Root Shed where they store all their root vegetables and pickles during the long cold Swedish winter.
Magnus only uses local ingredients with a couple of rare exceptions , they don’t even use citrus or spices but use lots of preserved, pickled and fermented foods in the Winter. Magnus has tremendous respect for inherited wisdom and tradition and an insatiable appetite to learn time honoured ways of doing things. He and his small team of chefs, five in total, kill their own deer, moose, elk and wild fowl and catch fat brown trout in the Summer. They butcher them and use every scrap including the delicious nutritious blood.
Early this morning we had a superb breakfast, one of the rare breakfasts that lived up to the dinner the night before. There were several unusual things, a smooth reindeer pâté, potted trout, a kind of special Swedish yoghurt and a Nordic porridge, also cloudberry jam and sour cream, homemade caviar and more of that wonderful butter. Sadly we had to rush it because our flight left Trondheim at noon.
As we drove back to the airport we fantasised about, how Ireland could be the new centre of the gastronomic world, we certainly have the produce and without question, many of our young cooks and chefs have the skills, but do we have the combination of curiosity and respect for our traditional food culture and appreciation of what’s unique in our landscape ? This is the special experience that brings people from all four corners of the globe on a daily basis to places like Noma in Copenhagen and Fäviken in Northern Sweden. Just shows, as the old saying goes you “If you make the best mousetrap, people will go out of their way to find it…” A lesson to us all…
Magnus Nilsson’s book Fäviken is extraordinary, published by Phaidon Press, it costs €45.00 and is worth every penny.
Fäviken’s Scallop I skalet ur elden Cooked over Burning Juniper Branches
Taken from Faviken Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson
This is a dish I am very proud of. In my opinion, not only is it very close to perfection at every stage, from the raw product to the technique used to cook it to the presentation, but it is also our only truly iconic dish. The recipe has been printed countless times, and even if people know in advance that they are going to eat it when they visit us, it never seems to stop surprising diners with its simplified complexity and deliciousness.
The reason I love this particular recipe is that it exemplifies everything that I think is desirable in a dish. It is a perfect product cooked very simply and presented with an even greater simplicity, which tells the diner a story of passion, and in which you can sense the skill of the chef’s cooking in every bite and sip.
The origins of this dish go back to when I was around 20 years old, at a Biarritz beach barbecue. When I lived in Paris I quite often went to the Basque town of San Sebastián in Spain to eat at one or another of its great restaurants. I usually stayed in a little bed and breakfast run by an old French lady in Biarritz. It was actually a bit impractical, since San Sebastian is quite a distance away. The first time I went I didn’t realize this, but afterwards I just kept going back because I liked the lady and the place, with its beautiful setting high up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, impractical or not.
One night when I had just arrived, I went for a walk on the beach and soon met some surfers, who invited me to a barbecue with them and to have some drinks on the still sun-warmed sand. As I was sitting there, talking and enjoying myself, I remembered a Swedish friend telling me some time before about placing some oysters, whole in their shells, on a grill, cooking them until just barely warm and then enjoying them straight from the shell. He claimed it was delicious and I had no reason to disbelieve him.
A couple of hours earlier I had met a girl who turned out to work in a local restaurant. I later befriended her and grew very fond of her, meeting up with her every time I went to Biarritz for years afterwards. I like to believe we had a bond because of what I served her later that night. I asked her if she thought we could find some oysters somewhere at this hour (it must have been three o’clock in the morning). I was thinking that she might have a key to the restaurant where she worked and that we would go there and raid the fridge, but instead she just pointed towards one of the cliffs a bit farther down the beach. It was one of those beaches that will be familiar to anyone who has been to Biarritz, that looks as though large pieces of rock have just been thrown out on the beach, some with their bases standing in the water. I must have looked a bit perplexed because she stared at me as if I was foolish and asked if I did not know that oysters live attached to cliffs. She said that she had seen them there, and that when it was low tide you should be able to walk there and pick them. She took me by the hand and we walked away from the bonfire and away from the other people, towards the looming shapes ahead.
We didn’t realize beforehand how firmly the oysters were attached to the cliff, and, lacking other tools to break them loose I used the key to my rental car (making them the most expensive oysters ever) and she used a bottle opener, but we managed to harvest about ten small oysters after quite a lot of hassle, some badly bruised knuckles
and a lot of laughter. When we finally got back to the party, it was more or less dying out and so was the fire, which had been fuelled by driftwood and a piece of old telegraph pole.
A few people were dozing on the sand, but when I walked past them they hardly noticed my footsteps as I dragged with me some branches broken from a big bush that was growing a bit farther up towards the back of the beach. When I placed the branches on the hot coals it began to smoke a little and we set the oysters out, straight onto the embers; after a minute or so they slowly opened and we picked them off the heat and ate them as we watched the sun come up over the Bay of Biscay. They were briny and creamy, utterly fresh and had a faint aroma of sweet smoke. It was a magical moment.
I don’t know if it was because of the girl, the place or the utter deliciousness of the oysters, but this meal has always stayed with me as a very strong and important memory. It was the basis of what I started developing some years later at Fäviken, ending up with what it is today. We don’t use oysters at Fäviken because there aren’t any this far to the north; we use scallops instead. We don’t use beach bushes, but juniper. And we don’t use telegraph poles as firewood because creosote is neither delicious nor very good for your health, so we use birch charcoal instead.
Even though it is a very simple dish, it is extremely demanding to produce. The scallops must be nothing less than perfect, the timing of the cooking has to be very precise and the process needs to be perfectly rehearsed to be executed quickly enough. To be able to reproduce this recipe with good results you need to have at least two people working on it, otherwise the critical moments will take too long and the precision, which makes for perfection, will be lost.
The iodine saltiness of the almost-raw broth, together with the perfect scallop eaten and drunk directly from the half-shell covered in fresh smoky soot, is excellent with some good bread and mature butter.
−−fresh juniper branches, for the fire
−−some dry hay with a high herb content, or a piece of moss that covers the plate, to serve
−−6 perfectly fresh, very large and absolutely sand-free live scallops in their shells
−−good bread and butter, to serve
Light your birch charcoal with a hot-air blower or an electric coil – never use lamp oil or any other chemical. Spray the hay or moss lightly with water.
Put the juniper branches on top of the charcoal and when they start burning, cook the scallops directly over the fire. They are finished when you hear them making a crackling noise around the edges.
Open each scallop up and pour all the contents into a preheated ceramic bowl. Separate out the scallop meat and put it back in the bottom shell. Strain off the beards and intestines quickly and pour the cloudy broth back into the shell with the scallop in it. Put the top half shell back on, place the whole scallop on the dampened hay or moss with some fresh juniper and hot coal for
a few moments, then serve right away with good bread and mature butter. No more than 90 seconds must pass between taking the scallop off the fire and serving it.
Taken from Faviken Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson
I devised this technique after watching Tove, my wife, making crisp flatbread at home from a mixture of many grains that seemed to be suspended in what can best be described as a solidified nothingness. The texture and purity of flavour were so remarkable that I soon started experimenting with the recipe to work out how to reproduce this extraordinary effect.
The reason I took such an interest in this in the first place was because I felt so bad every time we had someone in the restaurant who could not eat gluten, someone who never got to enjoy the delicious bread we bake. Tove’s recipe contained no gluten and was by far the most delicious gluten-free bread I had ever tried.
After working a while with it I understood that what makes it work is the high proportion of linseed (flax seeds). When steeped in water, these tiny, shiny, almost beetle-like seeds exude a gelatinous substance, which when cooked becomes virtually crystal clear and very, very crispy.
After a while the only grain I was still using in the mixture was linseed – the other seeds were eliminated for not adding enough to the end result. The linseeds were mixed with a little potato starch and some salt, then infused in hot water before being spread on baking trays and cooked in the oven.
After making and serving this a couple of times, I started to notice that at the edge, where there were always a few escaped seeds lying a little distance from the bread, a very thin film formed, giving the impression that the seeds were suspended in the air with several millimetres between them. So I tried rolling the mixture out even thinner, between two sheets of baking paper, to the thickness of one linseed. When this was cooked it looked like a piece of distorted glass in an old-fashioned window with seeds in it, and it was extraordinarily crisp. We soon started serving it not as a substitute for bread but as an appetizer, the crisps (chips) sprayed with a little vinegar and then left to dry before being served with a cup of sea-urchin or raw blue-shell-mussel dip on the side.
All along I had the idea that this could be very interesting in a dessert, especially because nutty flavours are very scarce in our climate, and in the end it became an accompaniment for a sweet dish made from birch-sap syrup (page 175). A dollop of delicious ice cream in a deep bowl is dressed with syrup and then covered in a layer of flakes of linseed crisp so thick you can’t see the ice cream, and eaten with a spoon pushed straight through the crackling layers to the bottom of the bowl.
Makes 5 53 x 32.5 cm trays of crisps
−−200g linseeds (flax seeds)
−−40g potato starch
Mix the dry ingredients. Pour 700g boiling water over the seeds, whisking thoroughly. Leave to soak for 20 minutes, or until thickened.
Spread out onto a sheet of baking paper, cover with another sheet of paper and roll out to the desired thickness. Remove the top sheet, transfer the dough on the bottom layer of paper onto a baking tray and bake at 150°C (300°F) for about 10 minutes, or until perfectly dried. Leave to cool on paper – as the temperature falls the crisp will shrink a little and release from the paper. Serve within an hour or two; it does not get any better with keeping.
Wild Trout Roe in a Warm Crust of Dried Pigs’ Blood
Taken from Faviken Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson
This recipe, together with the scallop over burning juniper, is the most iconic that this young restaurant has come up with. Served as an appetizer before the main meal, I love it for its deliciousness, and for the egg-yolk flavour of the trout roe and its popping texture. It started when I was searching for a good vehicle for the different types of roe that are available from the clean, crisp mountain waters around Fäviken. At first it was a little potato pancake, which turned into a blood pancake, which later turned into a crispy disc of fried Swedish black pudding (blood sausage). This process took about two years and the change to something closer to perfection occurred when I found an old croustade iron in a flea market. I bought it and started experimenting with the batter – a hellish task, as it turned out. The idea is that you heat the whole iron in hot fat, then dip it into a very runny batter just long enough for some of it to cook and stick to the surface. When the iron is lifted out, the excess batter drips off the iron, which is once more dipped into hot fat to cook the thin crust formed on it.
You can probably imagine how difficult it was to find a recipe that didn’t stick too much to the iron, especially when I started to substitute some of the egg for pigs’ blood. At first it was just that, a thin crust of pastry containing blood, which we filled with trout
roe and a little salt on top. After a while we added a kind of custard containing blood, which was piped
into the crusts to fill them halfway and then baked
at the last minute, topping the now custard-filled
pastry with trout roe. The dish took on its final appearance when I saw some dried blood on a plate in the kitchen; shiny and almost black, it had an extremely fragile texture when you touched it, and running a fingernail through it shattered it into tiny, almost glass-like fragments, which were delicious.
From then on we dipped the crusts in raw blood and baked them before piping the custard into them. This process is what gives the crust its very particular texture and appearance.
For the croustades
100g unbleached, wholemeal (whole wheat) flour
1 pinch salt
100g double (heavy) cream
50g pig’s blood, plus 100g for dipping
1 egg yolk
10g melted butter
fresh, unsalted trout roe, taken out of the fridge about 2 hours before serving
neutral oil, for deep-frying
For the custard
100g pigs’ blood
100g whole eggs
Mix together the flour, salt, double cream, 50g pigs’ blood, egg yolk and melted butter to make a batter and leave it to rest in the fridge overnight. If you rush this you will get bubbles in your croustades.
Heat the oil with the croustade iron in the casserole. When it is nice and hot, take the iron out and dip it quickly into the batter, then put the whole thing quickly but carefully back into the oil and cook until crisp.
Loosen the little croustades from the iron and place on a paper towel.
When all the croustades are cooked, dip them one by one into the blood and place them upside down on a rack so the excess blood runs off. Turn them right way up again and place on a baking tray. Cook at 150°C (300°F) until the blood is dry and completely coagulated. Repeat until the desired thickness is achieved – it depends on the thickness of the blood, but 3 times is usually enough.
To make the custard, place all the ingredients in a Thermomix and process at 80°C (175°F) until thick and silky smooth. Place in a piping (pastry) bag and keep it at room temperature until later.
When the croustades are ready, halfway-fill them with custard and warm them through in the oven at 150°C (300°F). When warm, spoon a nice mound of
roe into each croustade and place them on preheated stones or plates. Finish with a tiny pinch of salt on top
of each one.
Wild and Free Food
Wall Pennywort or Navelwort, Umbilicus Rupestris grows in mossy stone walls and is abundant at present. The slightly crimped thick roundish leaves are juicy and succulent and delicious in salads and make an intriguing garnish for starter plates. Presumably named navel worth because of the indentation in the centre of the leaf but they also have several local names like ‘Bread and Butter’ or ‘Walkers Friend’ because the leaves hold moisture in Summer and are known to be thirst quenching. Just pick them, rinse and add to your green salad.