A Yule Feast

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

The holidays drew near and with them came the need to give the lab a deep clean before the break. And the best way we know to clear out the fridges and freezer is to cook.

It is common in Denmark to have a julefrokost at one's workplace – a 'Christmas lunch' with food, drink, and good company that starts in the afternoon and often goes into the night. An NFL Julefrokost would be the perfect way to put our leftover ingredients and experiments to good use: by turning them into dishes. And it would give us the welcome opportunity to celebrate the season together and the end of these past few months' good work.

Best of all, it gave us the chance to spend a good few days just cooking with and for each other.

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Julius, a masters student in Gastronomy and Health from Copenhagen University, has been working on smoking. He built a smoker out of an old closet and has been churning out a steady stream of duck, goose, venison, pig, and all manner of flesh and organ meats. He made us an appetiser – a reinterpretation, in crostini form, of liver and onions. Pâté of duck liver and heart and smoked garlic, onion jam with rhubarb vinegar and beet juice, smoked white onion and thyme.

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Emil took care of the veggies. A chef de partie at noma, he was with us at the lab for the past month before he heads off to Tokyo for a stint at Ryugin. Turnips cooked slowly in butter, carrots, brussels sprouts, pearl onions, with lots of fresh parsley. Sunchokes, given the same treatment, with black garlic and lemon thyme.

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Nurdin was also with us for the past month, he is an r&d chef with Raymond Blanc in London, a student of nutrition, and a  supper club leader. He created a beet raviolo stuffed with broccoli purée and quail's egg yolk, with blanched broccoli, toasted hazelnuts, shaved celery and hare consommé.

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I made a dish of brined wild apples, green elderberry capers, and tarragon oil – the result of a few experiments with lacto-fermentation. It had quite a strong flavour on its own but worked well with the meats.

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Ben was the mind behind the meat.

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Venison rack roasted in an herb crumb; roasted reindeer marrow with angelica seeds, freeze-dried raspberries, and lemon thyme; fondant potatoes, and walnut cream.

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And the unequivocal centrepiece of the meal, our take on the infamous turducken: a goose stuffed with a ptarmigan stuffed with a whole quince. Served with kale purée, lacto-fermented lingonberries, and a jus made from eleven different wild beasts. Its colours were very festive, and its splendour undeniably medieval. Could it be a Goosiguince? We have yet to settle on a name.

Jonas, our master's student in Food Science and Technology from Copenhagen University, took charge of dessert. There were two.

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Frozen pumpkin seed pudding, dehydrated pumpkin, and thyme dust.

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Skyr mousse and verbena kombucha granité. Jonas is working on kombuchas and this was the perfect outlet for the verbena, a particularly successful trial. He included some of our bee larvae granola for colour and texture. It was good, but we decided to make another without it, to focus on the stark whiteness of the creamy skyr and frozen kombucha, the contrast in mouthfeel as they melted together.

We cooked together all afternoon, sat down and ate together all evening. A relaxed, family-style meal with colleagues to welcome in the holidays.

And a beaker of Kenyan coffee before the final clean.

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A big thank you to Chris Tonnesen for the photography.

Happy Holidays from Nordic Food Lab.

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The real reason we remove drone brood

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

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I recently met with an entomologist at Copenhagen University who specialises in apiculture and bee pathology, and it turns out that the reason beekeepers remove some of the drone brood early on in the season is not to enhance honey harvest (as I naïvely thought) but rather as a strategy to regulate the Varroa mite population in a hive. The larvae are an easy target for the mite, and the drones in particular attract the highest concentration of mites because of their extended developmental period, staying in the larval stage for a few days longer than worker bees. Once the queen lays the eggs in the comb, the individual hexagonal cells are sealed with wax until the larvae pupate and hatch – but not before the mites find their way into the cells too. Since the drones attract the greatest number of mites, beekeepers use drone brood as a sort of decoy, drawing the mites into the cells then removing the brood to keep overall mite levels low – they remove about one third of a hive frame per week during the season. This technique, called the 'safe strategy', was devised by the Danish Beekeeping Association (Danmarks Biavlerforening) as a way to contain Varroa mite populations without using chemical pesticides.

The mite harms the bee by biting holes in the bee's tissue which cannot heal, opening their circulatory system to the environment. It then serves as a vector for viruses to attack the weakened bee. So why do we eat the drone brood if it's covered with Varroa mite? In fact, the mite itself poses no threat to other organisms. The drones would almost all die anyway, so we are in some sense helping our apian friends by consuming the most serious threat to their population.

Thanks to Annette Bruun Jensen for the information. The story keeps getting better.

How to shuck bee larvae

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

In our last post on experimenting with bee larvae, we mentioned the challenge of how best to separate the larvae and pupae from the wax and honey residue that clings to their bodies. It is a time-consuming and tedious task, and we have been trying to find a way to separate the bees from the chaff efficiently, cleanly, and with high accuracy.

After trying out different techniques, we realised we needed to bring in the big guns.

LN₂ at 77 K / -196˚c

LN₂ at 77 K / -196˚c

Liquid nitrogen is so far the best method we've found. We drop a handful of larvae/pupae/mature drones/wax/honey – a complicated mixture – into the LIN, where everything freezes on contact with the roiling, smoking liquid. After fishing everything out with a strainer, simply rubbing the solidified bees between the hands quickly removes all wax and honey while keeping the bees intact – leaving clean, white larvae, pupae, and drones, which are then easy to separate and store.

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Thank you science. Now we can blast through the prep and get on with the experimenting.

Let The Game Begin

Added on by Ben Reade.

posted by Ben Reade

Male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos)

Male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos)

At Nordic Food Lab we have a constantly evolving focus. One fundamental idea, however, is how the study of whole ingredients comes down to a study of biology. We analyze the ‘edible biogeography’ (the distribution of edible species within our area) using a systematic approach to enable us to build a system of ‘gastronomic taxonomy’, or ingredient classification. Modeling our outlook on the phylogenetic trees used by biology to represent the evolutionary similarity and difference between species, we can start to build our own ‘culinary phylogeny’. 

While analyzing the edible biogeography one of the first things to become apparent is the furred and feathered wild game. These wild animals spend their time eating so many of the ingredients which are so celebrated by the gastronomic world, such as mushrooms, herbs and berries - which all impart their flavour to the meat. Typically wild animals live very active lives which gives the meat unique texture and taste. Getting to know a good hunter could be one of the most valuable things a chef can do. As a neophile (someone always searching for new tastes) wild animals offer a unique opportunity to step away from the norm and serve something with genuine character. It may seem ironic to talk about new tastes when talking about game - after all, it is the single most traditional food source on the planet. In Scandinavia we have fantastic examples of rock art depicting exactly this in Alta in northern Norway.

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Let us take Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) as our first example. After being shot, the gutted animal can then be hung to develop more flavour. Perhaps a good rule-of-thumb for how long to hang the deer is this: to find the number of days to hang,  multiply the hanging temperature by the number of days until you reach 40 – this will give you an appropriate length of time. For example, at 6°c the deer might be left to hang for around 7 days. The deer should be suspended from its hind legs. Once hung and skinned, the chef has many options - but I’d like to talk about how we can introduce this deer to salt in order to cure it, thus spurring an intimate relationship between the dead meat and living microorganisms – representatives from the transformative branch of our gastro-taxonomy.

Curing meat is the product of cultures dealing with the problem of how to extend the shelf life of meat by making it inhospitable to pathogenic microbes. The earliest preservation techniques would have dried meat using the sun, wind, rock salt, or salt from partially reduced seawater as well as ash from certain salt rich plants. Partially drying meat allows the survival of only certain microbes with anti-pathogenic qualities whereas removing all water makes it impossible for the survival of all micro-flora. 

In Northern Europe the ancient meat preservation techniques have used smoke to create a physical layer on the salted meat which keeps it from spoiling. In the photo below is a leg of roe deer onto which we have put to salt, making our version of the Norwegian Fenalår. Though normally the meat used for this process is lamb, we've chosen to experiment with different meats. Last year I made two of these ‘hams’ both of which turned out to be very delicious. As these were so successful I kept one of these hams way past its prime in order to use the molds and lactic acid bacteria to inoculate this year's ones. Using wild bacteria, yeasts and moulds can be a risky process, but when a successful fermentation occurs, this can and should be used to inoculate the next batch. This year’s venison fenalår has also been smoked (more on this in the next post) adding an extra dimension to the flavour - and of course, over the year of meditation I have had time to adapt the recipe. Of course as venison lacks the thick fat of pork, it must have some protection to stop it drying too much over the year, so after two months of drying it will be dipped in fat to slow the drying process, after a further 4 months it will be dipped in bee’s wax to completely halt its dehydration. The recipe for our fenalår is as follows:

Roe deer legs curing with juniper and salt

Roe deer legs curing with juniper and salt

Rub a well-trimmed and clean roe deer leg with yogurt whey

Leave at 5 degrees overnight

Rub the leg with juniper dust and salt (around 2% of weight)

Leave at 2 degrees for 7 days

Rub the leg with spruce resin tincture

Hang the leg at 2 degrees for four days

Place the leg in cold smoker for 4 days

Remove and hang for two months

Dip into rendered deer fat

Leave a further 2 months

Dip into melted bee’s wax

Leave a further 2 months

Remove wax, slice thinly and enjoy!

Products that are designed to age for a long time are traditionally made during the cold months of November or December. This allows the drying process to happen in cool temperatures; the aging process, a slow enzymatic process can then occur over the summer months to then have your cured product ready to eat thinly sliced the following winter. Now is the season, get experimenting!

Finally, I have to tell you about a bird that stole my heart: the beautiful ptarmigan. For those of you who have been denied the opportunity to work with this very special bird you should do your utmost to get your hands on a brace. The bird comes from the grouse family, and in its winter plumage, this pure white bird is one of exceptional natural beauty. Upon plucking the carcass free of its white down, I eviscerated the animal. I have to say it was quite a surprise, for never have I gutted an animal and found its entrails to smell, well, pleasant. The insides of this little guy smelled incredible, an evocative terpenous note of pine and forest started to fill the room. After a quick investigation I found that it had been eating only crowberry foliage and it was this which had imparted its incredible flavour to the bird. I have never in many years working with food found such a clear example of how the feed of an animal can effect its flavour.

Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

When cooking ptarmigan, treat it like grouse, and cook it gently. High heat will destroy it. Don't worry too much about the colour on the outside and take the cookedness of the flesh into primary consideration. To preserve the fantastic aroma, I suggest cooking the crown sous-vide at 62°C until warmed through, followed by a flash in a medium hot pan with plenty of basting with butter.  This is a spectacular bird, and the eating only enhances the awe of the raw product.

Nuka

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

Part sourdough starter, part pickling machine, nuka is a versatile Japanese technique for fermenting any and all sorts of vegetable. Traditionally, the Japanese mix the rice bran left over from polished white rice with water and salt, as well as beer and/or sake, to form a stiff paste. A new vegetable is pressed into the paste each day until it tastes sufficiently sour, at which point the nuka is ready for full use.

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We became interested in nuka from Sandor Katz' The Art of Fermentation, and we wanted to explore other versions beyond rice. We've landed on oat bran as an exciting alternate, for its sweet and nutty flavour, and a dark beer for big body (we found ourselves with plenty of the Herlev Organic Stout, which we also used for brining). 900g oat bran, 500g beer, 40g water, and 29g salt (2%). 

We started our nuka with a nub of carrot. We rubbed it with salt to abrade its skin, then buried it beneath the bran paste and left it for one day covered with a cloth and tied with string. The next day, we replaced the carrot with a kale stem, and the next, a heart of cabbage. Adding a new vegetable each day contributes fresh lactobacilli, allowing the nuka to become fully enculturated and preventing the growth of moulds. After the third day, our vegetables began to taste mildly tart, barely softening, springy. 

Then we started the full-on pickling machine, packing a 5-litre container with layers of peeled jerusalem artichokes and active nuka.

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After one day, the sunchokes were slightly soft and acidic, but we left them in for a few more days – we were after the big flavour of furu-zuke, 'old pickles'.

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After four days we broke the surface and hauled one up from its subterranean home. Almost like digging for potatoes.
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And we met a whole new character – lightly sweet from the oats, full and deep from the beer, sour and lactic from the bateria, yielding to the teeth but with crunch, like marinated daikon radish. The unmistakeable flavour of the sunchoke. And a hint of fizz – I wonder if there might even be some yeasts in there, from the beer perhaps.

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We packed them under vacuum to bring with us to Terra Madre, to share with some friends who were exploring other pickling methods on jerusalem artichokes.

Next up: nuka'd plums.

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