I hope you’ve been following along with my Visit Norway series. Up until now I have been presenting mostly broad information about the cuisine of Norway, as well as fun things to do (and eat) in Oslo. I even did a post about the nightlife in Oslo.
But today I want to get very specific. There’s a new restaurant in Oslo. It’s called Maaemo. Though it’s been open since December 2010, I say “new” because Norway has seen nothing like it before. Maaemo (Finnish for Mother Earth) is one of just a very few (only?) Norwegian restaurants that uses 100% organic, biodynamic or wild produce, coming almost exclusively from Norway. Their philosophy is groundbreaking, and the story is fascinating. Worthy of a post all its own– so I asked Nordic Nibbler to come with me to Maaemo. He conducted a very in-depth interview in a guest post you can read here.
The time I spent with Maaemo’s chef Esben Holmboe Bang and co-owner and sommelier Pontus Dahlström was probably the most exciting 2 hours of my entire stay in Norway. They took me into the kitchen. The chef taught me to make my own vinegar powder. Previously I bought vinegar powder to use as a super-charged sour element in some of my cooking. It adds so much flavor (especially as a garnish) without adding any liquid. So it’s possible to use it in ways traditional vinegar could never be used. So I was already a fan of the ingredient– but the commercial stuff doesn’t even come close to the intense flavor of what can easily (I learned) be made at home. I promise to share the technique soon.
But today I plan to share with you another little cooking adventure from Maaemo. It’s a recipe for a Pickled Mackerel & Ramson appetizer. Ramson is a type of wild garlic found in Norway. It has a mild garlic flavor with a hint of sweet onion. The chef uses it in both a puree and a vinaigrette like sauce served alongside the barely pickled fish. The ramson has just the right bite to offset the delicate taste and texture of mackerel.
It’s a very restrained and artistic dish and is surprisingly easy to prepare. I have attached a video of the chef making this dish for me. But you can make it at home too. I swear you can! Though I admit you’ll probably never find true Norwegian ramson in North America. But I do believe that the greens from ramps, chives and/or green garlic could be substituted. Chive blossoms could even replace the ramson flowers. The small, honey-tasting viola flower called for in this recipe is actually a European wildflower that is commonly found all over the world as a garden annual. It’s called Johnny Jump Up in North America, and it’s like a tiny little pansy. I bet you’ve seen it before, but have you ever tasted it?
WINE NOTES: Pontus Dahlstrøm co-owner and soomelier at Maaemo recommends a German Riesling for this dish.
In the restaurant they pair it with Weingut Schätzel, Pettenthal Spätlese Trocken 2009. Which might be hard (or impossible?) to find in North America. But he did have a few words about what you need from the wine when pairing for this mackerel.
Look for a Riesling. Rieslings are great food wines because they has high enough acidity to handle the richness of the Mackerel and the oil in the sauce. At the same time the fruit and the body of the wine balance the intensity of the ramsons and the vinegar. A young wine will have the fruity aromas that accent the floral quality of this dish, adding an an extra dimension.
Recommended districts in Germany for Riesling are: Rheinhessen or Pfalz
Specific wineries that Pontus like include:
In Rheinhessen: Wittmann, Keller, Schätzel and Wagner-Stempel
In Pfalz: Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Mosbacher and Rebholz
Pickled Mackerel & Ramson (Ramsløk & Makrell)
serves 2 CLICK here for a printable recipe
- 2 small filets (about 6‑inches long) of very fresh mackerel, trimmed & cleaned
- 4 c brine (1 part sugar, 2 part vinegar, 3 part water, salt to taste)
- 150 g garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
- 100 g cream
- 300 g ramson greens, roughly chopped (see note)
- 200 g sunflower oil
- 90 g canola oil
- 50 g balsamic apple vinegar
- 6 wild ramson flowers (see note)
- 6 wild viola flowers (see note)
Bring a small saucepan half-filled with water to a boil. Add the garlic and blanch about 1 minute. Discard water, reserving the garlic. Then refill the saucepan with fresh water and repeat blanching one more time. Empty saucepan and reserve garlic.
Add the cream to the saucepan along with the blanched garlic. Simmer the garlic in the cream until it becomes quite soft. Using a blender purée the mixture to a completely smooth texture. Push it through a fine-meshed strainer back into the small saucepan and set aside.
In a clean blender purée the fresh ramson greens with the both the sunflower oil and canola oil, then strain it into another small bowl; pressing the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much of the oil as possible. Set aside.
Pour half of the reserved ramson oil into another small, clean saucepan. Add the apple balsamic vinegar, whisk to emulsify. Add the remaining ramson oil to the saucepan with the garlic purée, mix until well incorporated.
Pickle the mackerel in the cool brine for 11 minutes.
Gently heat the ramson vinaigrette sauce and the garlic ramson purée separately, stirring each the whole time, to just about body temperature.
Serve a dollop of the purée next to a room temperature mackerel filet. Garnish with the wild flowers and then spoon the ramson vinaigrette sauce onto the plate while tableside. Enjoy!
NOTE: True Norwegian ramson will be difficult to find in North America, the greens from ramps, chives and/or green garlic could be substituted. Chive blossoms could replace the ramson flowers. The small honey tasting viola called for in this recipe is a small European wildflower that is called Johnny Jump Up in North America.