herring at homeWhen I first came back from Denmark, I sought out all things Danish. I made trips to Nordic House, a Scandinavian food store on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, where I could get nearly everything I missed: all sorts of lakrids (licorice), Lurpak smør (Danish butter), and, of course, sild (herring). Once or twice I made a huge smørrebrød dinner, complete with sild and a bottle of Aalborg Akvavit frozen in ice.
But then Denmark faded into the background of my life. I married, moved to Portland, raised three kids, and except for the yearly Christmas Scanfair at PSU, I didn't think very often about Denmark.
herring board at BroderBut it's been back in my mind lately. One reason is Broder Restaurant, in SE Portland. It's really a Swedish restaurant, but they do sell æbleskiver (those wonderful Danish pancake puffs), and a delicious pickled herring board. Broder piles herring on slices of rye bread, and tops it with pickled red onions and cucumbers. If that's not enough crunch for you, they also give you a little dish of pickled beets (pink and golden) and cucumbers, all tasting of marjoram. Off to the side of the board sits a little dish of horseradish cream. I usually dip my fork in, since I love horseradish and cream, but I'm never quite sure how to eat it with the herring. Apparently some of the old exchange student fears linger; I don't want to eat my herring incorrectly!
Broder does serve aquavit as well--in fact, they make an excellent Bloody Mary with local House Spirits Krogstad Aquavit. But sadly I never partake--somehow, even Portlanders don't seem to have enough chutzpah to yell skål (bet you never expected ‘chutzpah’ and ‘skål ‘ in the same sentence!) as they drink aquavit on weekday afternoons.
And about that aquavit. While Oregon's population (3.4 million) ranked 28th in the US in 2000, we have the most small distilleries of any state! I'm not even talking per capita here--that's in absolute numbers. One of my favorites is House Spirits (the people who bring you Aviation gin). You could buy their bottles at the liquor store, but if possible, stop by the distillery. Located in SE Portland, they open their surprisingly small space up on Saturdays for interesting tours, and are the nicest people. Though why shouldn't they be, surrounded by all those delicious bottles? They make Krogstad, a traditional Scandinavian aquavit, flavored with caraway and star anise that has the crisp finish I remember from Aalborg Aquavit, but a more delicate flavor.
House Spirits has also started a second line of small-batch spirits called 'Apothecary Line'. These are their experiments--when I visited I picked up a bottle of 'Gammal Krogstad', their Krogstad aged in a French oak barrel that previously hosted pinot noir. Same caraway and star anise, but the flavors have deepened, and ask to be sipped. Perhaps for after the guests have gone home?
Krogstad in iceSo when I want to eat sild properly, that is, with a small glass of snaps at hand, I stick to weekend lunches at home. I've discovered that Pastaworks on SE Hawthorne sells very good housemade pickled herring. I always use one of the boards my father-in-law made for us, instead of a plate. It's how it was done in Denmark, and rightly so--much easier to butter the bread on a flat surface. And butter the bread you must! The herring goes on next, and some chopped red onions on top. It's awfully good. A glass of snaps makes it perfect.
2508 SE Clinton, Portland, OR 503-736-3333
House Spirits Distillery
2025 SE 7th Ave., Portland, OR 503-235-3174
3735 SE Hawthorne, Portland, OR 503-232-1010
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