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LiveBest: How to make smørrebrød

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It’s likely you’re familiar with one of Denmark’s popular exports, the Danish.

Though they are an import from Austria. An 1800’s baker’s strike brought Vienna bakers to Denmark bakeries. The sweet pastries were so popular that after the strike ended, the Danes continued baking them.

On a recent trip to Copenhagen, I enjoyed all forms of Danish pastries. But that’s not the recipe I brought home. Nope. That belongs to my favorite meal in Denmark, the smørrebrød.

Smørrebrød developed as either a version of the buffet we know as smorgasbord, casual pub food, or as a solution to the working class needing lunch at the factory. Many cite it as an economical way to repurpose food, by piling leftovers on a piece of buttered bread. This open-faced sandwich is a typical Danish lunch. Smørre means butter and brød is bread. So butter smeared on sourdough rye bread is the basic version, but I never saw that. I saw the sandwiches you dream about. Well, I dream about.

From salmon to sausage and herring to reindeer, smørrebrød are served in Michelen-star restaurants and food trucks. Not just a scoop of tuna salad, smørrebrød are pretty, open-faced sandwiches creatively topped with things like:

  • picked herring, onions, capers
  • hard-cooked egg, shrimp, mayonnaise, lemon zest, watercress
  • fish filet, remoulade, dill, capers, lemon
  • roast pork, stewed red cabbage, pickled cucumber
  • Danish meatball, potato salad, tomato, red onion, chives
  • hard-cooked egg, anchovies, capers
  • roast beef, sliced tomato and cucumber

In true Scandinavian style, the assembly and presentation is as important as they way you eat them. Layers of ingredient on buttered dark, seeded rye bread, eaten with a knife and fork. The butter helps anchor the ingredients and prevents soggy bread. This is not your everyday PB&J, but it is a great way to repurpose tidbits you may have on hand. It can be as simple as blue cheese and pear slices, sardines with parsley, or roast beef, horseradish and pickle strips, or luxurious lobster salad, asparagus tips and curry mayonnaise. However you go, layer the heaviest ingredients on the bottom to help keep the structure. See if you can find a combination that you like.

  • rye bread or crisps, pumpernickel
  • mustard, horseradish, mayonnaise
  • canned anchovies, oysters, herring, sardines
  • roast beef, chicken, shrimp, smoked salmon, ham
  • pate, cheese
  • asparagus, tomato, onion, cucumber, radish
  • pickles, capers, pickled beets
  • hard-cooked eggs
  • chives, dill, parsley

Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.” Visit her website for every day food solutions.


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