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At Skál — pronounced “scowl,” which is the prevailing toast in Icelandic — in New York City, Canadian chef Ben Spiegel is using what he learned cooking for two years in Scandinavia, including five months at Noma.

“What I learned a lot over there was just about quality of products and designing dishes that in a way are quite austere, but at the same time flavorful and very light,” he said.

That includes a beef tartare made out of hanger steak, a naturally chewy cut that he makes chewier by cutting it along the grain instead of against it. He mixes in little neck clams, some of which are coarsely chopped so their chewiness contrasts with the chewiness of the beef.

“Others we mince real fine so you get the same kind of protein action that you get with an egg yolk,” he said.

He emulsifies the minced oyster with buttermilk that he uses to ferment ramps, and some fish sauce. He also adds the ramps to the dish and garnishes it with nasturtium leaves and garlic chive flowers.

The Scandinavian aesthetic is also brought to bear with Speigel’s lamb dish, which uses the Nordic practice of cooking in hay, which imparts a grassy, nutty flavor. He mixes rendered beef fat with rice flour and coats a lamb saddle with that and lets it age, refrigerated, for two weeks. He said the coating of fat allows for aging without evaporation, making it more cost effective and less wasteful. He cooks the lamb in a 300-degree Faherenheit Dutch oven with toasted hay and burning leeks. He garnishes it with leeks that have been marinated in beef fat, grilled and puréed, along with grapes, bottarga and cured hazelnuts.

Spiegel’s “last season’s potatoes” reflect the conservationist approach of Nordic cooking. “We have a producer who basically harvested a ton of these butterball potatoes, and then she forgot about them,” Spiegel said.

As a result, they were partially dehydrated and a little shriveled, and thus had an even more intensely nutty flavor than butterball potatoes usually have.

He poaches the potatoes in saltwater and mashes them thoroughly. “Work it like you’re making butter,” he said. That activates the starches, making the potatoes “kind of gluey,” but giving them a creamy mouth feel, which he accentuates with some grapeseed oil.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
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