27 June 2002

LIP-SMACKING

AND LAPPISH AT THE BARBIE

Forget reindeer burgers.

Finnish food is packed with

flavour and fresh from one

of Europes wildest natural

larders. Mike Stones

explains how to breathe a

little Lappish magic into

your next barbecue with

these recipes from north

of the Arctic circle

ITS finger food from Lapland. Forget cheesy puffs, finicky canapés or sad sarnies. Think hearty food, caught, prepared and cooked with your own fingers using ancient techniques perfected in Lapland over hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

Not everyone can fly fish a salmon river under the midnight sun or keep their own reindeer for meat. But theres nothing to stop us borrowing the Lapps cooking methods and enjoying the great taste of good food, prepared, cooked and enjoyed outdoors.

You dont need fancy, gas-fired, flame-grill barbecues. Put away the charcoal briquettes and special tongs. All you need is space and a fire.

Roasted birch salmon is a campfire favourite in Finnish Lapland. All you need is a whole side fillet of salmon, a slab of birch wood and a fire to roast it against.

The Lapps choose birch for two reasons. First, unlike pine or spruce, the wood contains no resins which could taint the fish. Second, the hardness of the wood makes it tough enough to withstand the roasting process.

&#42 Glow roast

The fish needs no basting; natural fatty oils help to glow roast the flesh when placed against an open fire.

I enjoyed my first taste of this delicious dish by the banks of the Muonio-Tornio River, near Kittila, well within the Artic circle in Finnish Lapland.

My appetite had been sharpened by spending the morning rafting down this fast flowing river. A novice to the sport, I was greatly relieved the river had been depleted by dry weather. Even sapped of its strength, it gave enough of a white-knuckle ride to develop a healthy appetite.

Perhaps, it was the mornings furious paddling against the current but salmon never tasted so good. Rich and moist, the slightly smoky-tasting flesh was packed with flavour and roasted and enjoyed yards from the river in which it was caught.

A simple soup made with salmon and the Lapps own potato variety, the Lapin Puikula, bred to excel under the midnight sun, made a delicious light lunch before my first sauna at the Taivaanvalkeat holiday centre, near Kittila run by Lappish entrepreneur and top cook Paivikki Palosaari.

For the holiday centre, picture a large rambling 19th century building, with cosy pine interiors, and three log cabins including a sauna on the banks of the river Ounas.

In Finland, sauna is not so much a method of cleaning as a life style philosophy loosely based on aspects of sado-masochism. After steaming oneself lobster pink in a claustrophobic sauna room, the idea is to plunge into the nearest ice-cold lake or river. Zealots then beat themselves lightly with birch twigs before restarting the process for as many times as their tortured bodies can endure.

As I panted for breath on the floor of the sauna room, feeling much like a gigantic freshly landed trout, I was grateful lunch was nothing more substantial than this salmon soup. The meal provided just enough energy to cope with the sauna followed by a long swim across the river Ounas.

It was not difficult to resist the birch twigs, loosely bound together for the purpose of self-flagellation, temptingly placed outside the sauna.

So, after surviving the sauna and the swim, whats for dinner? In Lapland, fast food means fish and animals that move quickly before you catch them. And at Taivaan-valkeat we enjoyed the slowest fast food of all – a Robbers Feast. This is a variation on that most ancient of cooking techniques – roasting meat or fish in centre of a hot fire.

&#42 Succulent pork

Dont try this if you are in a hurry. Although preparing the meat and fish takes minutes, roasting it over an open fire can take at least six hours. Its worth the effort. The succulent roast pork that emerged from the ashes together with the delicious smoked salmon, grayling and perch cooked on top of the fire, made a meal that will be difficult to forget. It takes patience to prepare a Robbers Feast. But once cooked, expect a banquet.

So if youre planning a harvest break summer barbecue, why not build a fire and try the ultimate in finger food recipes? They are long-loved from one of Europes last natural wildernesses.

If, as often in Lapland, the nearest kitchen is miles down a dirt track road, why not try this dish in a cooking pot suspended over an open fire?

400g (13oz) salmon cubes

600g(1lb 4oz) potatoes

(old) cubed

2 onions, chopped

all-spice and white pepper

fish stock

50g (2oz) butter

0.5 litres (1pt) water

1 litre (2pt) of milk

cream to taste

dill

Simmer the potatoes and onions in the seasoned stock. When medium tender add the salmon cubes and milk. Simmer slowly until tender before adding milk, butter and cream. Serve garnished with chopped dill.

Per parcel:

4kg (81/2lbs) meat –

either reindeer or pork

2 big onions, roughly sliced

1 swede, cut into chunks

(4in x 1in)

4-5 carrots, chopped

juniper sprigs

white pepper

all spice

300-400g(12-16oz) of pork fat

On a large square of greaseproof paper, centre the meat and surround with the vegetables and season with spices and juniper sprigs. Add 300-400g (12-16oz) of pork fat plus salt and pepper. Wrap the meat in its greaseproof paper parcel then wrap with several layers of wet newspaper. Criss cross wire around the parcel finishing with a wire loop handle. Take the parcels to the fire and rake away the ashes in its centre. Place the parcels in the centre of the fire and replace the ashes with new wood on top. Allow to cook for 4-6 hours.

A variation to the recipe above is to add pearl barley to the parcel to soak up the liquids from the meat and vegetables.

Salmon fillet

(whole side)

Salt

Birch platter

Birch bark pegs

Coat the birch platter with salt and place the salmon fillet in the centre of the wood. With a sharp knife pierce the fish and the wood and insert six birch pegs (2-3in long) at the head, middle and tail of the fillet to pin it to the wood. Next, prop the wood slab vertically about 2ft (depending on heat) away from an open wood fire. While the fish is glow roasting, which usually takes about one hour, wrap potatoes in foil and place around the edges of the fire.

For special occasions, the Lapps vary this ancient recipe by basting the fish in a mixture of cream and brandy before roasting.

On top of the fire cooking our Robbers Feast, Paivikki cooked smoked fish.

2 salmon

perch and grayling (to appetite)

juniper sprigs

sugar

(2pt)

Stuff the salmon with the juniper sprigs and coat the fish with sugar so that it caramelises on the skin. Place juniper sprigs on the bottom of the smoke box with some saw-dust and the fish on a griddle an inch or two above the smoke box

floor. Leave the box on the fire for about two hours depending on heat.

Smoked fish

Glow roasted birch salmon

Robbers Feast

Stove top

salmon soup

More information:

&#8226 Lappish Cooking from Fire and Fell, Paivikki Palosaari.

Tel +358 (0)16 311 611,

web-site: www.matkalehti.fi.

&#8226 Lapland Marketing.

Tel +358 (0)16 332 3455

www.laplandfinland.com