An elegant taste of Scandinavian summer
One might assume that with a name like Toast Skagen, this classic Scandinavian dish originated in Denmark. In fact, this elegant appetizer of buttery toast topped with creamy shellfish salad and a dollop of golden caviar hails from Sweden. Originally created in the 1950s by Swedish chef Tore Wretman, Toast Skagen has a colorful backstory, which explains why this iconic Swedish dish is named after a fishing port in northern Denmark.
As the story goes, Wretman was not only a celebrated Swedish chef but also an accomplished sailor. In the late 1950s, he and his crew raced his sailboat, the Salta Marina, in an amateur regatta just off the coast of Skagen in northern Denmark. Wretman had chosen a different route than the other competitors, and his boat had a commanding lead that seemed unbeatable. Spirits were high aboard the sailboat, and victory seemed all but certain. But suddenly, the wind died down and Wretman and his crew saw their lead begin to slip away. The mood aboard the ship went from celebratory to dismal, as their defeat became imminent. Wretman decided to cheer his crew by doing what he did best: preparing a fabulous meal.
Using what was on hand in the sailboat’s galley, Tore whipped up the now classic combination of buttery toast topped with a creamy shellfish salad and a dollop of golden whitefish roe. He proclaimed the dish Toast Skagen, and within a couple of weeks, it found its way onto the menu of his restaurant in Stockholm, Restaurant Riche. Toast Skagen has endured the test of time and remains a popular dish today, not only in Sweden but throughout the Nordic region.
The creamy seafood salad that is the main component of Toast Skagen is known as skagenröra. It can contain a variety of shellfish but is usually made with small shrimp. Some recipes are entirely mayonnaise-based, and some contain a combination of mayonnaise and crème fraîche or sour cream. The former produces a much creamier salad, whereas the latter creates something a little lighter. Skagenröra usually contains chopped fresh dill and sometimes includes lemon juice, grated horseradish, Tabasco sauce, or brandy for added flavor.
Toast Skagen is meant to be elegant and refined. While many of the open sandwiches in Scandinavian cuisine are served on dense rye bread, this one calls for a soft white bread, something that will create a thin, crisp crust and a soft interior when buttered and griddled in a hot pan.
While it looks and sounds impressive, Toast Skagen couldn’t be simpler to make at home. My recipe calls for frozen precooked small shrimp and a quick, creamy dressing that comes together in a snap. And supermarket white bread makes a very fine base for these easy toasts. Instead of caviar, I’ve added a briny caper relish for the top, which cuts the richness of the salad and provides that salty flavor that might otherwise come from a dollop of fish roe. If you want something more traditional and happen to have some lovely golden caviar on hand, feel free to skip the caper relish and top the seafood mixture with a dollop of the fish roe. Either way, Toast Skagen is a truly memorable and impressive way to begin an evening.
Hjemmelaget skagenrøre med kapers (Toast Skagen with caper relish)
By Kristi Bissell
Makes 10 small toasts
For the toasts:
2 tbsps. mayonnaise
2 tbsps. crème fraîche (or sour cream)
1 small shallot, minced
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill, plus more dill sprigs for garnish
½ pound small frozen precooked shrimp, thawed, rinsed and patted dry
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
5 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, and each slice cut into 2 triangles
Butter for spreading
Caper relish, recipe follows
Lemon wedges for serving
For caper relish:
2 tbsps. capers, rinsed and drained
½ tsp. lemon zest
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. olive oil
Please note: If you can’t find small frozen shrimp, you can cut larger shrimp in to ½-inch size pieces.
Make the caper relish: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Make the toasts: Whisk mayonnaise, crème fraîche, shallot, Dijon mustard, and dill together in a small bowl. Gently fold in shrimp. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill mixture for 30 minutes.
Butter both sides of each triangle of bread. Heat skillet over medium heat. Add bread and fry on both sides until golden brown and crispy.
Transfer bread triangles to a clean work surface. Top each toast with shrimp mixture and a small dollop of caper relish. Garnish with dill sprigs. Serve with lemon wedges.
This article originally appeared in the July 31, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.