Venison with mead, haunches of boar and the occasional bowl of RISOTTO: The surprisingly tasty treats enjoyed by the Vikings revealed
- Jesper Lynge, 44, from Aalborg is attempting to revive Viking food
- Says they used spices and lots of vegetables as well as roast meat
- ‘Beserke’ warriors would eat anything – including magic mushrooms
- Others had considerably more refined tastes and loved barley risotto
Jesper Lynge, 44, is a chef on a mission. But it’s not the pursuit of the perfect foie gras or uncovering the world’s tastiest oysters that gets him going. Instead, his passion is for Viking food.
Based at the picturesque Lindholm Høje just outside Aalborg in northern Denmark, Lynge, a red-haired giant of a man, looks every inch the beserker – and has learned to cook like one too.
But don’t expect charred cuts, industrial quantities of schnapps and barrels of pickled herring. The Vikings, says Lynge, not only loved spices, they were partial to a bowl of risotto too.
Man on a mission: Chef Jesper Lynge is attempting to revive Viking cuisine from his Aalborg restaurant
‘The menu during the Viking period was decided by the season, as they needed to take use of the available ingredients,’ he explains.
‘Lots of the food that is fashionable today is similar to what they ate. They ate lots of root vegetables, cabbage and lots of different types of wheat and corn – definitely not just meat.’
Indeed, so adept were the Vikings at preparing vegetables, many of the techniques they pioneered are still in use today, notably the method of fermenting cabbage used to make sauerkraut.
They also, says Lynge, liked a sweet and sour supper, combining savoury game meat such as venison with sauces made from foraged berries.
Nevertheless, not every part of the Viking menu sounds quite so tasty. ‘There was one sort of warrior called berserkere [beserkers] who would eat anything,’ he concedes.
‘These types of warriors were very special. They would have eaten everything they could get their hands on, including psychedelic mushrooms.’
Tasty: Despite their ferocious reputation, Mr Lynge says Vikings loved vegetables – and barley risotto
Feast: Roast boar and venison were feast day favourites and awaited warriors in Valhalla
Luckily for visitors to Lynge’s Viking themed restaurant, there are no magic mushrooms on the menu, although there are plenty of unusual herbs, many of which he grows himself.
There’s also ‘festive’ wild boar and ‘barleyotto’ – an early version of the classic Italian dish made with barley grains.
Fish, mostly taken from the icy North Sea waters off the Aalborg coast, is also a highlight, although this being Denmark, much of it is herring.
‘We do not use any ingredients that weren’t available for the Vikings,’ insists Lynge. ‘Many of the techniques they used, we do too.’
Lynge, who himself bears more than a little resemblance to the beserkers of years gone by, is certainly in the right place.
Denmark is famous for its Viking past and Aalborg, with its network of fjords, sandy bays and concealed islets, is no exception.
Further north is Skagen – known to the terrified English as ‘The Scaw’ – which, despite its picture perfect modern face, was, during the Viking period, the ideal jumping off point for raids on the Norfolk coast.
Lindholm Høje, where Lynge’s Viking eatery is based, was itself a Dark Ages settlement and was once directly on the coast, although the passing centuries have left it landlocked.
A cluster of what initially look like stone circles, it is in fact a burial ground where clan chieftains and slaves alike were buried with varying degrees of pomp and circumstance.
They were also buried with jewels, tools and crucially – for Lynge at least – their cooking implements, all of which have helped him build up a picture of the Viking menu.
It was, with its vegetables and grains, a varied one and one that was enlivened considerably once the Vikings worked out a route to Constantinople (now Istanbul) where they proved enthusiastic customers at the city’s many spice markets.
‘They travelled to Constantinople regularly,’ explains Lynge. ‘It all began with Halfdan Skallesmækker, who travelled there and brought home a lot of fine spices.
Delicious: This sweetheart cabbage and berry salad (recipe below) is a Viking classic
Food fit for Thor: Venison with ham and mead (recipe below) was another warrior favourite
Remnant: Mr Lynge’s restaurant is based at Lindholm Høje, an important Viking site in north Jutland
THE BEARSKIN-CLAD WARRIORS WHO MENACED BRITAIN
Fiery portents, a dragon seen streaking across the Northumbrian sky and whirlwinds lashing the coast could mean only one thing to the fearful Anglo-Saxons watching the heavens in 793 – doom was imminent.
And doom duly came in the shape of the Vikings, who between 793 and 1066 were a hazardous part of life for the Anglo-Saxons.
Beginning with the Lindisfarne attack, their power and influence grew and by 849, the year King Alfred the Great was born, they held much of the north and east.
Although King Alfred managed to halt their advance, raids didn’t cease until after the Norman Conquest.
And while the Vikings may be gone from British shores, their influence does live on in our culinary traditions as well as the English language.
Beserk, which means murderous rage, comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘beserker’ or clad in bear-skin – an early term used to describe the Vikings.
Other words inherited from the Vikings include the days of the week, most famously Thursday – or Thor’s Day.
‘This was the Viking’s first encounter with exotic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, ginger and black pepper.’
The Danes first encounter also proved to be the British people’s first encounter, as Lynge enthusiastically points out.
‘In the Nordic countries and in England, the same spices are still used today. Among other things, English blood sausage contains many of these spices, and you will also find them in Scottish haggis and Christmas cakes.
‘In Denmark, there’s a popular Christmas biscuit called the pebbernød, which can be traced all the way back to the year 1200.
‘At Christmas, it is tradition to make pebernød and another biscuit called brunkager, both of which contain variations on these warm spices, which is also the case with many British Christmas cakes.’
Spices, risotto and sauerkraut aren’t the only culinary traditions passed down by the Vikings, however.
Porridge too was a Viking favourite as was the classic roast dinner, although the beserkers, unsurprisingly, preferred Danish pork to British beef.
‘The pig is one of the most festive animals that were present in the Viking time,’ says Lynge. ‘This is evident in the mythology, most notably in the story of Frej – the god of fertility.
‘His transport animal is not a horse; it is a wild boar. Today, the ultimate Nordic feast dish is still roast pork. Or the Christmas ham.’
Like their neighbours, the Vikings were also fond of game and, come feast days, would tuck into Valhalla style banquets based on venison, poultry and even songbirds.
‘They also had rabbit, hare, birds and ducks,’ says Lynge. ‘They weren’t too bothered about what sort of bird they were eating. A bird was a bird.’
All change: Picturesque Aalborg is now a lively modern city but was once a Viking settlement
Remote: North Jutland’s network of pretty bays and winding fjords made it the perfect haunt for Vikings
The Skaw: Now a pretty fishing port, Skagen was once a jumping off point for Viking raids on England
Ancestors: According to Mr Lynge, 80 per cent of English people boast Scandinavian genes
While Lynge is yet to cook any songbirds, he does think the Vikings deserve more credit for their culinary traditions, many of which still influence modern British, Danish and Swedish dishes.
‘There’s a common cultural heritage,’ he explains. ‘Much of northern European culture has its roots in the Viking Age.
‘The British might talk about the Vikings attacking and being violent and that might be true, but 80 per cent of English people have Viking genes. In that sense, we are one common people.’
Nevertheless, the Viking menu certainly helped fuel the raiders, even if stories of mass schnapps sessions prior to battle are nothing more than a myth.
‘What made the Vikings such great and feared warriors was their perception of heaven and the afterlife,’ says Lynge.
‘They were not afraid of dying and they were especially not afraid of dying in a battle. Just imagine fighting against a big man, who believes that if he dies while he is giving his best in a battle, then he will be sent on to an eternal party.’
And with spiced venison and perfectly cooked roast boar on the party menu, you hardly blame them for looking forward to it.
FANCY EATING LIKE A VIKING? JESPER LYNGE REVEALS HOW IT’S DONE
Roast boar might have been the Vikings’ party food of choice but venison was almost as popular, as Jesper’s delicious recipe proves. Here’s how cooking like a Viking is done:
VENISON WITH MEAD AND MUSHROOMS
One venison filet
Four slices of mature ham or good bacon
Handful of fresh mushrooms
Check the fillet for tendons and remove. Cut the meat into four pieces and wrap each one in a slice of ham, fixing it in place with a tooth pick.
Clean the mushrooms and slice or chop them. Next, brown 50g butter in a frying pan, then add the meat and cook to medium. Remove from the pan and cover with a paper towel and leave to rest while you make the gravy.
Place 100g of butter in your pan and let it brown. Fry your mushroom until they take on some colour. Next, add the mead and let it reduce by a third before adding the cream. Reduce again by two thirds, before removing the pan from the heat and stirring in the rest of the butter.
Serve the meat in the pan and grin along with the Norse gods as you enjoy it.
BAKED BABY BEETROOTS
1kg baby beetroots
Peel the beetroots and dry them. Melt the butter and honey in a frying pan, then add the beetroots, covering them completely in the mixture.
Bake the beetroots for approximately 45 minutes at 175 degrees. Check and turn the beetroots regularly.
SWEETHEART CABBAGE SALAD
400g sweetheart cabbage
Eight baby leeks or one large one
A dash of apple cider vinegar
Small handful of blackberries and blueberries
3tbsp rapeseed oil
Sprinkling of chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the sweetheart cabbage into 5mm slices and place in a large serving bowl.
Cut the pear into thin slices, add the parsley and drizzle both with apple cider vinegar before throwing all of it over the cabbage with the blackberries and blueberries.
Fry the leek in rapeseed oil with a pinch of salt until the edges turn brown and add to the salad as a topping
All dishes serve four
For more information on Aalborg, Skagen and North Jutland, see visitdenmark.co.uk