Vikings have been frequently in the public eye lately, what with the notoriously bloody historical drama Vikings (2013 –), inspired by legends of the exploring Norsemen of early Medieval Scandinavia, not to mention the popular blockbuster movies such as The 13th Warrior (1999), Pathfinder (2007), and Northmen: A Viking Saga (2013). Even children are sharing in this Nordic cultural re-awakening with animated movies like How to Train your Dragon (2010) and its sequel How to Train your Dragon 2 (2014).
Unlike many seem to believe, certain Viking traditions are not and have never been actually lost. When it comes to Viking cuisine in fact, many original recipes, which perhaps made up the backbone of traditional Nordic everyday life, are still prepared and eaten to this day. You can’t let a bloodthirsty Viking warrior go hungry, that’s for sure.
The northern climate and lifestyle were factors which largely shaped the Vikings’ diet. Long, dark, cold winters are and have always been one of the basic tenets in Nordic countries, and this, coupled with the fact that industrialisation arrived in countries such as Iceland and Scandinavia fairly late, resulted in various inventive measures. Since they did not have any fridges or freezers to store their food in, medieval northmen had to make the best of what was available to them. Since the lack of plant life due to the climate narrowed down the list of edible foodstuffs considerably, the Viking’s diet consisted mainly of meat and fish.
Kaestur Hákarl (Rotting Shark) is an Icelandic national dish, originating from isolated settlements in the 9th century. The recipe’s main ingredient is what is commonly known as Greenland shark, whose flesh is poisonous when fresh. This is why it is used when it is rotten or fermented. The traditional method used is to put the meat in a shallow hole and cover it with sand and gravel, putting stones on the top. The stones press away the blood and fluids from the shark, which is left to ferment for six to twelve weeks, after which it is cut into strips and hung to dry for a number of months. Eating hákarl is often associated with courage and strength. This may be due to the strong, rich smell and taste of ammonia, similar to many cleaning products, which characterises this special dish.
Lutefisk (Codfish preserved in lye) is both a delicacy and a traditional recipe in Scandinavia, Norway, Sweden and certain areas of Finland. The codfish is first dried, then soaked in a lye solution for several days. Lye, a chemical solution made from ashes, is a highly dangerous substance, generally used to unclog drains and make soap. It explodes when in contact with aluminium. After being immersed for a long time in this substance, the cod is then rinsed with cold water, then boiled or baked, and served with butter and salt.
Surstrӧmming (Soured Herring) has been part of Swedish cuisine since the 16th century, at least. The herrings are marinated in a brine solution in order to draw out the blood and are then put into barrels at room temperature (that is, room temperature for northern Sweden) for around six months. The fish is then tinned in cylindrical containers where they continue to ferment, so much so that the containers themselves usually tend to noticeably bulge due to the gas produced. Surstrӧmming is only eaten outdoors, as the strong overwhelming odour takes forever to dissipate, and often induces spontaneous gagging, or worse, in first-time eaters. Although it is to be found in Swedish supermarkets today, many airlines have banned Surstrӧmming since its pressurised containers can be potentially dangerous. Therefore, it is far more difficult to find this delicacy outside its country of origin (not that I would personally be interested to try it out).
In this colourful parade of traditional, ‘tasteful’ Viking monstrosities – I mean recipes, perhaps Súrsaðir hrútspungar takes the biscuit. Not literally, of course. Súrsaðir hrútspungar is a dish made primarily out of ram testicles. These are usually eaten raw, cut into blocks, boiled and cured in lactic acid. However, there are a variety of other original ways in which they can be prepared. I could not help but share one with you, just in case you decided to try it out.
Ram’s Testicles in Honey Sauce with Sweet Potato Chips
Ingredients (for 2 servings):
4 rams’ testicles
10 ml mild chilli powder
2.5 ml cinnamon
15 ml honey
1 sweet potato
Spices to taste – Paprika, cinnamon, cumin
Toss the rams’ testicles gently in salt without crushing them, and rinse well in fresh water. Slice into strips and drain on a paper towel. Meanwhile, peel the sweet potato and thinly slice it. Heat the frying oil in a skillet and cook the sweet potato slices until crispy. Drain and place on paper towels. Add salt and set aside. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the spices (paprika, cinnamon, cumin), stirring with a spatula to blend the ingredients well. Add the sliced rams’ testicles and cook for a few minutes, before adding the honey. Cook over a high heat for several minutes. Remove the rams’ testicles and keep them hot.
To make the sauce: reduce the cooking juices to form a sweet, slightly-thickened sauce.
Serve the rams’ testicles with the sweet potato chips and spoon the sauce over top. Enjoy!
Recipe taken from – www.theworldwidegourmet.com