shewhomust (shewhomust) wrote,

Maike Hanneck: Cuisiner islandais

I bought this Icelandic cookbook at the Þingvellir visitor centre; cookbooks are one of my favourite kinds of holiday souvenir, and besides, it has a glossary at the back. (Admittedly, this didn't stop me, later on, ordering the 'mackerel runner carpaccio' under the impression that it was - well, mackerel. It wasn't until after I'd eaten it - it was very thin slices of frozen fish, which melted fishily on the tongue, and quite delicious - that they told me a mackerel runner was a kind of shark.)

The book is designed for visitors to Iceland -

Oh, maybe the fact that it's in French makes that a little obvious. In fact it's a translation from the German, but even so -

Well then, it's a slightly curious mixture. It's very attractively produced, in a slightly advertising design sort of way - by which I mean, I suppose, that the illustrations are decorative rather than informative: the photograph on page 88, for example, beneath a recipe for mashed swede, appears to show someone feeding a cassette tape into a hot spring. The introductory text is entitled 'Cooking with the four elements' but assembles some solid information under this elevated rubic - and ends by listing, in order to demonstrate how people typically eat, the lunch menus served over two weeks at the agricultural college in Hólar.

The recipes are similarly concerned with what people actually eat, rather than with fancy restaurant deconstructions of traditional dishes. Some of them are rather daunting - and no, by this I don't mean the notorious rotten shark, but for example the pink 'cocktail' sauce used as a salad dressing and served with chips: its ingredients are mayonnaise, sour cream, ketchup, pineapple syrup (from the tinned fruit, I think), sherry, paprika and seasonings. A curried rollmop salad contains mango chutney and a banana as well as pickled herrings. This confirms that on the one hand, Icelanders do have a sweet tooth, as well as being heavy handed with the salt, and on the other hand that the banana has a special place in the national cuisine. Snickers and banana tart?

There are some usable recipes, especially for fish, but the main interest for me was in the more traditional dishes. I don't suppose I shall ever want to cook a guillemot, but it's good to know that if I do, I have the recipe (the trick seems to be to soak them in milk to remove as much as possible of the flavour of guillemot, and then to lard them liberally with bacon to conceal the rest. And add redcurrant jelly to the sauce).

There's also a recipe for the traditional rye bread - otherwise known as 'that dark, sweet cake that tastes a bit like parkin, provided you don't put ginger in your parkin' (frequently served with smoked salmon). It's simple to make, say the instructions, but the key point is that it has to be baked very slowly for 24 hours in a closed container. The traditional utensil for this is known as a makkintossdós - a Quality Street tin.

There is a web site for the German edition of the book; the French edition invites you to visit, which leads to one of the best "we are going to put a web site here when we get round to it" pages I have ever seen: a blank page with the single line of text: i<3 u
Tags: books, cookbooks, iceland

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