THE GREAT EUROPEAN FOOD ADVENTURE | Copenhagen | The Smørrebrød Succession

The front cover of Af Ole Troelsø’s Insiders Guide to Smørrebrød shows two pieces of breaded plaice, topped with large shrimp on a layer of creamy yellow mayonnaise, garnished with dill.

It all began in the 19th century in the Tivoli Gardens, the heart and soul of Copenhagen, where restaurant Nimb introduced these open-faced sandwiches, Oskar Davidson later setting the record with 177 different smørrebrød pieces. Troelsø recommends the Grøften and Kähler restaurants in Tivoli but he issues a word of  warning.

Smørrebrød contains hundreds of choices, but Danes have rules regarding the succession. The traditional way is to start with herring on rye bread, with butter or lard as the spread. Yes, it is contradictory to begin with such a fat and spicy dish, but that is why we drink akvavit, to clear the palate. After the herring it is time to savour the smoked eel or the smoked salmon, and it is considered correct to change your plates after the herring.

Having done away with the elements of sea, you change your plates once more, and move on to chicken salad or directly to the pork. This could be sausage, liver paté and roast pork. Afterwards it is time to taste the red meat – raw beef tartare, slightly fried tartare and the roast beef. The cheese is your guarantee of not leaving the table without being absolutely full.

Dessert is out of the question.’

Troelsø reviews 31 restaurants and lists 13 classic smørrebrød recipes in his book, his symmetry as precise as a smørrebrød piece. Among the recipes are pieces made with the shrimp from the north Atlantic and with breaded plaice or turbot from the same ocean. Put together with myriad ingredients they are known as stjerneskud.

Stjerneskud (shooting star)

A shooting star because this is an out-of-the-world introduction to smørrebrød. Featured on Troelsø’s cover, the image is emblematic.

  • 3 plaice / pangasius fillets
  • 8 large shrimp, cooked
  • 30 g sour cream
  • 15 g caviar
  • 1 slice of brown bread
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 lemon, juice
  • Asparagus piece
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Butter
  • Cayenne, pinch
  • Cucumber slice, twisted
  • Dill, pinch
  • Egg, hard boiled, halved
  • Lemon slice, twisted
  • Lettuce piece
  • Paprika, pinch
  • Salmon slice, cooked or smoked
  • Sunflower oil
  • Tomato, sliced
  • Flour, for dusting
  • Black Pepper, large pinch
  • Salt, pinch

Speed is of the essence. Whip a pinch each of cayenne and paprika into sour cream, mix in caviar. Bring a steamer pot of salted water to the boil, turn heat low and put a plaice fillet in the tray, cover and leave for three minutes. Roll up.

Heat a small piece of butter in a frying pan with a splash of oil. Break and beat an egg into one dish, put breadcrumbs in a second dish, coat a fillet in the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Fry each side, two minutes each.

Repeat with final fillet.

Toast the slice of bread, butter it, place one or two small leaves of lettuce on top, followed by the fish.

Garnish with shrimp, and a large splash of lemon juice. Spoon cream mixture on top. Finish with the salmon rolled around the asparagus, tomato slices, twisted cucumber and lemon slices, the egg halves and the dill.

Sun over Gudhjem

Sun over Gudhjem is one of the most iconic members of the smørrebrød family, named after the Bornholm island town where the silvery-white herrings of the Baltic sea are transformed into golden fish by the smoking process, ‘the gold from the sea’. Sun Over Gudhjem is made with a slice of rye bread, two smoked herrings, chives, radish and a fresh raw egg yolk on top, the aforementioned sun. There is really only one place to taste this delicious treat and that is on Bornholm itself.

Flæskesteg med Rødkål (roast pork with red cabbage on rye)

Traditionally smørrebrød is made with buttered rye bread (Troelsø’s book contains an amazing recipe for rye bread). When each piece of smørrebrød is presented in an array, they provide a perfect glimpse into Denmark’s culinary traditions, past and present – fish, meats, vegetables with dressings, seasonings and toppings. Among these are flæskesteg (roast pork) and rødkål (red cabbage). Together on dark rye bread they epitomise Danish food, crispy and crunchy. This is one of Denmark’s signature dishes – flæskesteg med rødkål og brunede kartofler (roast pork with crispy crackling and red cabbage with caramelised potatoes) – in minature, minus the potatoes. Flæskesteg med rødkål usually comes topped with cucumber slices, orange slices and halved prunes.

Leverpostejmad (liver paste on rye)

Buttered bread (the literal meaning of smørrebrød) is an inadequate term for these high-topped luncheon enterprises, but one piece sits nicely with the concept of a simple open-faced sandwich. Butter is lavishly spread on a thick slice of rye bread, followed by a sprinkling of salt and a thick layer of liver paste. After that the choice of modest toppings is personal. Danes choose a combination of cucumber, fried bacon, fried onions, lemon, lettuce, mushrooms, pickled beetroot, pickled gherkins, red pepper, salted meat, savoury jelly. Leverpostej was among the first smørrebrød pieces in the late 1800s and it remains popular.