Elemental Cooking

Swedish Cabin

Our Swedish travels took us very far north, into Sammi land, to visit with Jogge and Nina at their summer cabin. The small town of Overkalix is not far from the Arctic Circle, a land of cold rivers fed by snowmelt from the mountains, many lakes, and forest. Nina and Jogge’s cabin is reached by ferryboat, and then a 10-minute boat ride to a small landing beach. The lake was once a river flowing through the forest…tannin-dark and ringed with marshland. This part of Sweden is home to moose and reindeer, salmon swimming from the sea upriver, moss and lichen-covered rocks, and many trees twisted from winter wind and ice. The landscape is elemental and spare, and filled with deep silence.

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Jogge warned us, “It is very rustic…no electricity, no running water, no road…” But we are prepared. We lived this way for six years in the Boomer Bill cabin. Cooking here is like the landscape– elemental and spare. There is a direct connection with earth, fire, and water.

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We caught small fish from the lake. Jogge salted them and put them in the cold storage pit under the house until we were ready to cook them over an open fire. We scraped the blackened skin off and pulled the sweet white fish off the bones on to thin toasted flatbread. That’s it. What more do you need?

Cooking with Fire

Freshly caught lake fish and an open fire are not always at hand. Later on our trip, Beth and Annalie showed us how to make delicious roasted fish in the oven or over hot coals in an outdoor grill. Place a thick fillet of mild white fish (Beth used cod) in the center of a large rhubarb leaf. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover with thin rhubarb stalks. Wrap the leaf snugly around the fish and tie it to make a package. Roast the fish in the oven at 375 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on thickness), or on a grate or metal pan over indirect heat in a covered charcoal grill. I used the same method for whole trout at home. The rhubarb leaf is not edible, but it imparts an earthy, lemony flavor to the fish. The roasted rhubarb stalks are superb.

Whole Trout stuffed with Herbs

Whole Trout

When frost comes, foil takes the place of rhubarb leaves, and lemon stands in for the rhubarb stalks. Herbs enhance the delicate flavor of trout, and the results are aromatic and juicy. Our end-of-season trout are quite large and perfect for baking. If you are using smaller trout, make a separate package for each one.

Ingredients: whole, cleaned trout(s), extra virgin olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper, 2 lemons, thinly sliced garlic cloves, sprigs of fresh rosemary, parsley, mint, fennel, and/or thyme, dry white wine, and aluminum foil

Place the trout on a square of aluminum foil that is large enough to fold and seal into a package. Rub the inside and outside of the fish with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with lemon juice inside and out. Place the garlic slices and herb sprigs into the cavity of the trout. Close the trout and place thin slices of lemon on top. Drizzle 1 or 2 Tbs white wine over the fish and fold the foil closed so that no liquid can escape. Place the foil wrapped fish on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F. for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness of fish. A large trout takes about 20 minutes; the flesh should be just opaque. Transfer the fish and all the juices to a platter.

This is especially good served with crusty bread for dipping and a bright green herb pesto: Finely chop a handful Italian flat-leaf parsley, a few fresh mint leaves, a little fresh thyme, and 2 garlic cloves. Add a big pinch sea salt and 4 Tbs toasted walnuts or pine nuts. Continue by hand or with a mortar and pestle to make a rough paste. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and add extra virgin olive oil to the desired consistency.

Trout with Bread

Another night at Overkalix we had a feast of reindeer meat and vegetables seasoned with wood smoke from the fire. Our appetizer was baby chanterelles sautéed in butter on toast.

Mushrooms with Bread

Jogge’s Reindeer Stroganoff

Ingredients: 1 lb. reindeer or venison tenderloin, 1 onion. 2 garlic cloves, 5 or 6 crushed juniper berries, 1 or 2 minced fresh hot chiles, 8 oz. sliced fresh button mushrooms, 1 cup thick Turkish or Greek yogurt

Cut the meat into very thin slices and season it with salt and black pepper. Warm 2 Tbs olive oil in a large skillet with 1 finely chopped onion. Sauté the onion over medium high heat until softened, 5 or 6 minutes. Add the finely chopped garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add the meat, chile, and juniper berries. Sauté 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer to a warm plate. Add 1 1/2 Tbs oil to the hot pan and sauté the mushrooms 5 or 6 minutes. Add the meat back into the skillet and toss with the mushrooms. Reduce the heat, add the yogurt, and stir until warm through. Serve

I made a version of this meal with tenderloin of “wild” goat (an escapee that lived in the forest for four months) and fresh shitake mushrooms. I followed Jogge’s method, briefly searing the thinly sliced meat with onion, chile, juniper berries, and garlic. I sautéed the sliced mushrooms separately, tossed the two together, and we ate it wrapped in fresh tortillas…with yogurt sauce and salsa.

Beth and Annalie’s Yogurt Sauce

Stir together 1 cup thick Greek-style, Bulgarian, or Russian whole milk yogurt with 1/2 tsp freshly toasted and ground cumin seed, 2 tsp minced garlic, a pinch of salt, and 4 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, cilantro, lemon balm, chives…).

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