Inspiration / Lifestyle and Opinion

Julbord (the Christmas table)


Inspired by the trend for Nordic cooking and the art of hygge (a look which influenced the photography in this year's Christmas gifts brochure), we turned to Swedish cook and illustrator Johanna Kindvall for some recipes from her homeland. We thought it might be fun to ring the changes and recreate some of that Nordic hospitality here in the UK. In the absence of snow, just add fairy lights and your favourite Christmas cocktails, mulled wine or glasses of fizz.

'Swedes celebrate Christmas during the entire month of December, going from one party to another, where they are served saffron buns, ginger cookies, and warmed mulled wine (glögg). Many restaurants proudly offer their specialities arranged as a classic smörgåsbord, some more abundant than others. The julbord is also something that is prepared at home. It's not unusual for such a table to have up to thirty dishes. Even if some Swedes take shortcuts by buying premade traditional dishes, many still use much of December to prepare for the festive meal by curing ham, stuffing sausages, and baking bread and cookies. The idea is to stock up enough food to last for the entire holiday, so nobody has to think about what to prepare for dinner.

The scent of oranges, raisins, cloves, ginger, fir, and flickering candlelights are all good signs that it is Christmas in Sweden. on Christmas Eve, the prepared dishes are brought out and arranged beautifully on the kitchen counter. While outside the snow may be falling, Swedish families sit down and eat for hours.'

Flæskesteg/danish roast Pork with crackling

Flæskesteg/danish roast Pork with crackling
Flæskesteg/danish roast Pork with crackling

When I was growing up in southern Sweden, my mother would often prepare flæskesteg as a Sunday roast, but in Denmark it's mainly served for Christmas Eve dinner. flæskesteg is a pork loin with a scored skin, prepped with bay leaves and cloves, and roasted until the skin is crackling. This recipe is based on a method I learned from my Danish friends Jytte Hansen and Bent Bøgedal Christoffersen. They serve it in the traditional way with red cabbage, redcurrant jelly, and sugar-caramelised potatoes. leftovers are often made into classic smørrebrød (open sandwiches) on thin slices of Danish rye bread, topped with red cabbage with prunes, and pickles.

It can be hard to find a pork sirloin with the skin still intact, but any butcher should be able to provide you with one; just remind them NOT to cut off the skin.

Serves 6 for a meal or more on a smörgåsbord


3 pounds (1.35 kg) boneless pork loin with skin and fat intact
1 to 2 tablespoons coarse salt
6 to 8 bay leaves, preferably fresh
6 whole cloves
2 cups (480 ml) water
5 sprigs of thyme
1 or 2 sprigs of rosemary


Preheat the oven to 200°C

Remove the pork loin from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking it. With a sharp knife, score lines across the skin and through the fat almost all the way to the meat, with approximately 1cm in between each incision (or ask your butcher to do this for you). Rub the salt into the skin, making sure it gets in between the incisions. Insert the bay leaves and cloves into the scores.

Arrange an oven rack on top of a deep baking pan, then place the meat on top and insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part. Roast the meat on the lower rack of the oven for 1 to 1½ hours, until the skin is evenly firm and crisp and has a nice golden colour.

Pour the water into the baking pan below the meat and add the thyme and rosemary. (This liquid can be used later to make a gravy.) Roast for another 50 to 60 minutes, until the internal temperature has reached 65°C to 75°C.

The skin should be crisp and bubbly; if not, roast it under the broiler for a few minutes, but keep a close eye on it because it can burn easily.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the roast rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Reserve the fat and juices to make a gravy or use later for roasted potatoes. Serve the meat warm or cold.

Store any leftover roast in a covered container in the refrigerator for several days. for longer storage, freeze the meat for up to three months.

Fänkålsgravad lax / Gravlax with Fennel

Fänkålsgravad lax / Gravlax with Fennel
Fänkålsgravad lax / Gravlax with Fennel

Curing fish such as salmon has a long tradition in the Nordic countries. In olden times, gravlax was made by salting salmon and burying it in sand on the beach to ferment. Today, the cure is all done in the refrigerator, and, depending on which texture and flavour you want, the dish can be ready and served within 4 to 24 hours. A shorter cure makes the salmon soft and mild, while a longer cure makes it firmer with a richer flavour. Traditionally, gravlax is enjoyed year-round and served with lemon, cucumber, and classic mustard sauce. But it's also delicious on fresh bread topped with Quick Pickled Vegetables and Pickled Mustard Seeds (all recipes you'll find in the book).

Because gravlax is not cooked but rather lightly cured, it's extra-important to buy good-quality fresh salmon, preferably sushi-grade. You can also freeze non–sushi-grade salmon for at least 48 hours before curing it; this will kill any potential parasites. Just defrost before you start the curing process.

Serves 6 or more on a smörgåsbord


2 pounds (900 g) salmon fillet, with skin on
¼ cup (2.25 oz, 64 g) kosher salt (without iodine)
½ cup (3.5 oz, 99 g) sugar
3 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted and crushed

To Finish

Fennel blossoms or slivers of fresh fennel, for garnish

Rinse the salmon, pat dry, and remove any bones with a pair of tweezers. Place the fish skin side down on a piece of plastic wrap.

In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and fennel seeds. Rub some of the mixture all around the fillet. Distribute the rest of the mixture evenly on top of the fish; the mixture should cover the fillet. Wrap the fish tightly with the plastic wrap (or use a plastic bag) and place the package on a plate. Refrigerate and let cure for 48 hours. Turn the package twice a day.

After 2 days, wipe off the fennel seeds and any remaining cure. Pat dry with a paper towel. Starting at the end of the fish, use a fillet knife or any other sharp knife to slice very thin diagonal slices. Arrange the slices neatly on a platter, then decorate with fennel blossoms or thin shavings of fresh fennel.

Gravlax can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

Reprinted with permission from Smörgåsbord, copyright 2017 Johanna Kindvall. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Illustrations copyright 2017 by Johanna Kindvall.

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