North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland

Editor’s Note: Name three things you know about Icelandic food. How many did you come up with? Me? Zero, until I read Linda Avery’s piece below about a new cookbook from the most sparsely populated country in Europe. 


North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland

by Gunnar Karl Gíslason and Jody Eddy
Photographs © 2014 by Evan Sung

Facts: Ten Speed Press, 352 pages, $40.00 (or Amazon Hardcover $25.30, Kindle $19.99)
Photos: Lots. Both food and Icelandic landscape
Recipes: 81

What a fascinating book. There is so much to say and learn about Iceland.

Imagine coming upon a field peppered with thick, rusted metal plates. You spot curious handles attached and realize the plates are lids covering holes in the ground. Later you’re told a baker is using geothermal energy in the form of geyser steam to bake rugbraud, a sweet dense rye bread. Ingenuity.

Numerous artisan producers are showcased in this book. Evidently chef/author Gunnar Karl Gíslason will always have respect and gratitude for the purveyors who provided supplies without demanding payment in the down-turned market when his investors pulled out. And, in addition to sharing his recipes in this book, he wants you to meet the purveyors.

Cured-Arctic-Char-NorthChapters are named for each vendor: The Rugbraud Baker, The Bacalao Producer, The Arctic Char Producer, The Seabird Egg Collector, and it continues with salt maker, dairy, barley, goat and sheep farmers, birch and mushroom forager, fisherman, Hardfiskur (dried wolf fish) producer and mussel harvester. Beginning the chapters with a conversation with the vendor, he creates an intimate connection.

The Icelandic diet is heavy in fish, dairy and lamb – and, of course, available local produce.  Several recipes in this book include skyr, a cultured dairy product resembling thick Greek yogurt. Each recipe (81 in total) gets your creative juices (and salivary glands) flowing.

Every image is as stunning as the Cured Arctic Char , Buttered Potatoes, Mixed Salad, and Smoked Fresh Cheese you see to the left. Go to Amazon and use the “Look Inside” feature for more.

I don’t know if Icelanders go Trick-or-Treating, but Halloween is just around the corner. Surprise the children with some Licorice Lava.


Photographs © by Evan Sung

Licorice Lava

Since the first day he opened Dill, Gunnar has been serving what he calls “sweet goodies.” He often serves them before dinner as a way to build anticipation for the good things to come, and his Licorice Lava has been in the repertoire from the beginning. Perhaps no other sweet better represents the area of Lake Mývatn where Gylfi Yngvason smokes his arctic char. The otherworldly region is mapped by lava fields that stretch to the horizon of a world that feels more like the surface of the moon than somewhere on earth. Although the flinty texture of the Licorice Lava mirrors the porous lava stones that inspired it, don’t be fooled by the airiness of this sweet. Its intense flavor will leave you wanting more.

Makes about 30 Bite-Size Rocks | Preparation time: about 1 hour

1-1/4 cups (250g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) water
1-1/2 teaspoons egg whites
1/4 cup (30g) confectioners’ sugar
3 grams licorice powder (see note)
8 drops powdered black food coloring (see note)
Nonstick cooking spray

Note: Both licorice powder and black food coloring are available at specialty baking stores or online. The only word of warning when using the food coloring is to wear gloves, as it will stain your hands.

1. Combine the granulated sugar and water in a tall, heavy pot. Place the pot over medium heat, and heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, stop stirring, and heat the mixture to 284°F (140°C).

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg whites, confectioners’ sugar, licorice powder, and food coloring until blended.

3. Line a heatproof bowl with aluminum foil, spray the foil with cooking spray, and wipe off the excess spray with a paper towel.

4. When the sugar mixture reaches 284°F (140°C), rapidly whisk in the egg white mixture until fully incorporated. Whisk at lightning speed to prevent the mixture from becoming a solid mass, letting the contents concurrently foam and rise to the top of the pot. As soon as it has reached its rising limit, which should take about 1 minute (including whisking time), immediately pour the mixture into the prepared bowl.

5. Let cool to room temperature, then break into bite-size rocks. The rocks will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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