It was my 24th birthday on Wednesday. For me birthdays are not so much a deal. These past couple weeks have also been pretty stressful, gearing up to leave on our second month-long field work trip to research insects in cuisines around the world. A birthday felt like even more of an afterthought than usual.
The day started with a plant, a bottle of port, and two letters – one written by my collective (the culprits behind the plant and the port), the other written by Douglas, our 70-year-old resident ‘husalf’, collectivist-emeritus, astrologue and ‘uncle in the clouds’. It is the start of my third solar cycle, in the year of the wood horse.
When I arrive my chair is adorned with a cluster of white and pink balloons. They are a good backrest.
The day on board is a flurry of flights being booked, emails sent and received and too many interesting conversations that distract.
The first inkling I had of anything was when Ben texted me from Edinburgh saying “Langos at noma for us?” I asked if anyone had ordered langoustines for a project. There were glances but the “oh shit” gave it away with a round of smiles.
The team on the boat – Guillemette, Roberto, Avery, Justine, Edith, Kritika, and Alicynn – had planned a little more for lunch today.
Langoustines are, as Guillo said on the day, one of the things that are really truly of this place – they mainly live in the north-east Atlantic and Baltic, and in Denmark this is the season. They are currently very good value, and excellent taste.
Roberto took the lead with the lunch. The appetizer: raw langoustine marinated in honey and Viili, pears with lemon, roasted koji and ginger and gluten free bread crumble.
One really can’t go wrong with langoustine. The best part of this was the different slicknesses – the raw, lightly cured lango tail slipped into a skin of slurpy Viili. Distinct textures in play.
One can see Edith’s Finnish and deftly gluten-free influences here. I love when projects and experiments find their way into our daily meal.
The first course used the rest of the langoustines – a spicy, garlicky kale soup, thickened with potato, built on a bisque made from the lango heads. It was so good – an adept blend of something peasant and something refined. Without the langoustine it would have been a flat green thing with aromatic accents; on the other hand a bisque treated more classically with cream or other heavy luxury (at some point to round is to blunt) would not find the nuance between the sweet and umami qualities of a simple well-made stock. This is what happens with a professional at the stove. We were all nodding unanimously.
The claws found their way into the soup whole. The shell was thin enough to crack with the teeth, the flesh sweet enough to suck out with no cares in the world but being thorough.
The main course was spearheaded by Guillo. Whole mackerels, lightly smoked and finished in the oven with oil and salt. They were whole whole, entire, with all the viscera. This added a stupendous flavour. We were going crazy. I ate the whole fish with my hands, studying the changes in texture and fat, pulling the small morsels from the fin muscles, sucking the spine dry.
Roberto had made some potatoes, a recipe from the time he spent living and working in the Canary Islands. They are called ‘papas arrugadas’, potatoes cooked in sea water and lemon – once they are cooked, the water is tossed and they are returned to the heat for the remaining water to evaporate, leaving a thin, crispy crust of salt on each skin.
The papas are served with ‘mojo’, a bright green sauce made with fresh coriander, cumin seeds, olive oil, salt, garlic, and a couple drops of vinegar. This version is even more basic, with just fresh coriander, garlic, and oil. When I write him for more info, Roberto replies “immangine a kind of African version of Italian pesto, AMAZING! we can try to do a nordik version to if you like ;-)”. We could. For now I’m cool with this.
There is also a killer salad by Guillo – spinach with loads of fresh ginger and lemon. We shouldn’t eat Nordic every day.
We lounge and talk and clean up a bit. When I return to the table, there is yet another thing set out.
We resume the table armed with coffee and plates. Guillo breaks out our lighter/blowtorch.
Who said overkill.
Avery the baking queen strikes again. A clementine almond cake, delicious and moist and also happens to be gluten free for our intolerant Finn. No one is complaining.
Here’s the recipe, from Avery.
250 g almond flour
225 g sugar (although I think this cake was a bit too sweet so next I will use less)
1 tsp baking powder
Place clementines in a pot of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 2 hours.
When clementines are ready, strain off water and puree the whole clementines (skins included). In a separate bowl whisk eggs, almond meal, sugar and baking powder. Then add clementine puree.
Pour into spring form pan and bake at 190˚ for ~15-20 minutes then check the cake. If top is brown, cover with foil, and reduce the heat to 180˚. Finish cooking for about 15 more minutes.
Cool before serving.
A wonderful meal – simple, various, satisfying, thoughtful. A sweet respite in and otherwise saturating day. I am thankful for my work and my team. There is something special about the place – Sardinian, Finnish, French, American all cooking together and it works. And that’s even before bringing the Indian and the Québecois into the mix. And that’s just the team right now. And most of us aren’t even ‘nordic’. What a crazy weird boat. Tak for mad.