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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, June 21

Gapers Block

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I love new food. I delight in coming across ingredients I've never heard of before. I can spend hours wandering around the aisles of specialty grocery stores thinking about what to make with juniper-infused vinegar and mustard oil. Cheese counters are overwhelming treasure troves of new experiences. But as I've cooked and experimented more, these "brand new" experiences are becoming fewer and farther between.

So imagine my delight when I found out that a coworker's husband is Icelandic and had a few recipes he regularly made. She'd brought leftovers to work and gave me the last two portions. As the dish sat on my desk for the last half hour of work, I must have opened the lid and smelled and tasted the sauce a dozen times.

I couldn't believe I'd never thought of looking for Icelandic food. It makes sense that it would be significantly different from its European neighbors since it is an island. Not only did I have an authentic Icelandic dish sitting on my desk, I had access to someone who was generous enough to give me his family's tried and true recipe. I felt honored and grateful, and still do.

It turns out his mother worked at a very well-respected restaurant in Iceland before they came to the US and she somehow finagled this recipe away from them. She made it regularly and taught her son how to make it.

Imagine tender succulent lean pork loin simmered in a creamy, mustardy date sauce and then served with sweet glazed potatoes. It's fabulous and remarkably easy. One of the other websites I encountered while looking for Icelandic recipes has a similar dish made with puffin. Yes, the sea bird.

Now before you go thinking that people from Iceland make it a habit to go out killing cute birds that Disney has anthropomorphized, think about how many times you've gone out hunting pheasant. Probably never, right? However before travel became easier, before it was common to have fully-stocked grocery stores, people had to eat was around. And for folks stuck on a frozen island in the middle of an ocean, sea birds were common. The same way turkeys were here at one time. I will admit to trying to track down a local source for some puffin. If nothing else, I know Paul would help me eat it.

Creamy Mustard Date Pork:
3-4 pounds of pork tenderloin
4 (or more) tablespoons of Caribbean Barbecue seasoning*
1 can (14oz) of beef broth
3/4-1 pound of pitted dates, cut in half
1 pint of heavy cream
Sharp stone ground mustard

Cut the pork tenderloin into 2- or 3-inch chunks. Rub the barbecue seasoning all over the pork. In a large skillet over medium high heat brown the pork on each side. Don't crowd the pan — there should be some space between the pieces so they brown instead of steam, so do this step in batches if necessary. You can add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet to keep the pork from sticking. Once all the pieces are browned, pour the broth into the skillet, lower the heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Now add the chopped dates, cover again, and let it cook for about 15-20 minutes.

While that cooks, you should have just enough time to make the cream sauce. Add the cream to a pot and bring to almost a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Then add about 1/8 cup (several large heaping tablespoons) of the mustard and stir everything very well. Don't let this boil but keep it very warm. Once the mustard is blended into the cream, pour the sauce over the pork in the skillet. Cover and let it simmer for another 10 or so minutes, but stir it occasionally. For timing purposes, you can cook the potatoes at the same time you have the pork simmering.

Sugar Glazed Potatoes:
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled
4 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of butter
A few ounces of close-to-boiling water

In a large pan of water over high heat, boil the potatoes and let them cool to the touch so you can peel them.

Put the sugar into a skillet over medium heat. It will take a while for the sugar to start melting, but keep an eye on it and lower the temperature if necessary to prevent the sugar from burning. As soon as there is any smoke, remove the skillet from the burner, lower the heat, wait for the skillet to cool slightly, and then return the skillet to the burner. You don't want to burn this, just melt it. Once your sugar is melted, add the butter and whisk the two together. Add a splash of water (I used some of the water the potatoes had cooked in — about 2 tablespoons). Add the potatoes one at a time and stir to coat them in the sugary goo. If the mixture isn't coating, turn up the heat a bit and add another tablespoon or two of water. Once all the potatoes are added to the skillet, stir them occasionally for 5-10 minutes or until they are coated and warmed through.

Serve the potatoes alongside the pork. The cream sauce blends well with the potatoes so feel free to use them to soak up leftover sauce. While the pork makes wonderful leftovers, the potatoes are only good the day you make them. You just can't reheat them.

As I ate this dish, I found myself thinking of a map of the world and wondering what types of cuisine exist out there that I've never thought about or tried. I look forward to trying more of them and I'll be sure to share the best with you. However, if you have a family dish from the "Old Country" that you'd like to share, send it my way. If I like it half as much as you do, you'll probably find it in a future column. Which reminds me: Thanks to Amber and Daniel for sharing their food and their recipe with me.


* If you don't want to buy a jar of seasoning that you might not use again, this mixture will get you about the right amount you need for this recipe. You can keep any leftovers for another dish, but only if you didn't get pork juices in the mix.

1 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
large pinch of mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
large pinch of ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
large pinch of cayenne pepper

Measure everything into a shaker jar and shake to combine.

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Sarah / January 4, 2006 1:09 PM

I am mildly obsessed with Iceland. Last spring my hairdresser told me about the Iceland Airwaves festival; how cheap it was to travel to Iceland during the festival and how much fun it was to soak in the hot springs on a cold day.

For the past 12 weeks I've been reading about Iceland and have begun to develop a performance piece/installation about all of it's weird geographical features and about an island in the volcanic archipelegro off of the southwestern coast called Heimaey.

Everything I've read thus far about Icelandic food has not, well, sounded very appealing. Fermented shark? Boiled sheep's head?

The recipes that you've come up with actually sound really yummy and I'm looking forward to trying them out!

dayzella / January 5, 2006 11:52 AM

4 (or more) tablespoons of Caribbean Barbecue seasoning*

This recipe is seriously cracking me up. Icelandic Caribbean Barbecue seasoning. Hee.


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