As with any celebration, Danish Christmas is full of traditions. Traditions mean that things have to be a certain way. They have to be the way they’ve always been. But, even if you think things are the same way they’ve always been, over time they will have changed. Mind-blowing, huh? These are my recipes for a traditional Danish Christmas dinner.
This article and the recipes fall a bit outside what I normally do because I usually either do baking-related stuff, or I will do other cultures’ amazing recipes. Sometimes though, I remember that we also have some amazing recipes in Denmark, so today I will share what Christmas is like in Denmark and what we eat.
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So what’s Danish Christmas like?
In the year 300, the Christian church reached a consensus that Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December.
In Denmark we celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, so why are we not wrong?
Well, before the mechanical clock was invented, it was normal in the Nordic countries that the new day would start, once the sun would set. Since we’re far north, the sun sets very early in December. In my city, the sun is set to go down at 15:42/3.42pm on Christmas Eve this year.
So by the time we ate dinner, it was technically the 25th of December.
Danish Christmas traditions
Every family has its version of Christmas. That’s probably true everywhere where people celebrate Christmas.
There are a bunch of different things that we do:
- The four Sundays before Christmas we will light a wreath with 4 candles on it. It’s called an adventskrans.
- We have a candle with 24 marks on it, and you light it every day to burn off one day.
- Kids and adults alike have Christmas calendars, some made out of cardboard with a picture underneath the number of the day, some with gifts for each day.
- We bake traditional Christmas cookies, like brunkager, vaniljekranse, and klejner.
- People attend Christmas lunches, both with their social circles and with their place of work. This is called julefrokost.
- Once a day people watch a serial TV show with 24 episodes that tell a Christmas story, which is family-oriented. The two major networks here will each have their own, and there’s usually also some made for adults.
On the 23rd of December, Little Christmas Eve / Lillejuleaften
Some of the things people may do:
- Prepare and eat risengrød. Enough is made to make risalamande the day after.
- Decorate the tree.
- Watch Christmas movies on TV.
On the 24th of December, Christmas Eve / Juleaften
Here’s what a Danish family might do:
- Watch the last episode of the TV Christmas Calendar.
- Watch the Disney Christmas Show on TV.
- Go to church.
- Eat æbleskiver and drink Gløgg.
- Eat Christmas dinner.
- “Dance around” the Christmas tree. We form a circle around the tree, holding hands, and then sing psalms and carols while we walk around the tree.
- Exchange presents.
- Eat a snack and drink coffee.
- Play pakkeleg. There’s a big pile of wrapped (cheap) presents on the table. You roll a die, if you roll a 6 you can pick a present. When there are no presents left you can steal one from somebody else, until a timer rings. Total mayhem and lots of fun.
So what are the main components of a Danish Christmas dinner?
The two most common types of meat to serve at Christmas are pork roast (flæskesteg) and roast duck (andesteg). Earlier it was common to eat Goose, but it’s fallen out of favor a bit.
Some people will eat medister as well, which is a spiced pork sausage. It’s something along the lines of a Cumberland sausage.
Most people have a thick wonderfully tasty gravy, made with juices from the roast or duck and often spiked with a good amount of whipping cream.
Another very common side is the caramelized potatoes (brunede kartofler), which are small potatoes covered in a sort of toffee.
Regular boiled white potatoes are also very common and a good reason to eat lots of gravy.
As a condiment for the meat, many families eat pickled red cabbage which is sweet and sour. Often a red currant jelly is served alongside the meat.
Other pickled things like cucumbers, beetroot, and other vegetables.
The most common dessert is risalamande with a cherry sauce, served either hot or cold (or both).
The conclusion for these Danish Christmas Dinner recipes
Wonderful juicy meat prepared to perfection. The perfect combination of gamey and fatty. The crust is so crispy, that it’s almost glass-like. It shatters easily when you cut through it with your knife. The crunch, when you bite into it, is just out of this world.
The sweet and sour red cabbage. Lightly prickly on the tongue. Big berry notes and a satisfying chew. It pairs perfectly with the meat, accentuating the umami and helps cut through the fat.
The big bold gravy, with a lot of umami and salt, makes all the little nuances shine.
Everything just comes together in something bigger than the sum of the parts.
Oh my, I made myself hungry.
Please share these recipes for Danish Christmas Dinner on social media
These are my recipes for Danish Christmas Dinner. If you like the recipe please consider sharing it with like-minded food lovers on social media.
If you make it and post it on Instagram, please tag me as @foodgeek.dk so I can see it. That would make me very happy.
Danish Christmas Dinner
Pickled Red Cabbage
- 30 g butter
- 1 head red cabbage
- 1 apple
- 1 dl white vinegar
- 1 dl concentrated red fruit juice
- white vinegar
- 500 g small boiled potatoes
- 80 gram sugar
- 80 gram butter
- pork roast with skin
- laurel leaves
- boiled potatoes
- Peel and boil the potatoes for the caramelized potatoes. I usually do this the day before.30 g butter
- Cool them completely.
Pickled Red Cabbage
- You can make the pickled red cabbage days or weeks ahead of time.
- Slice a whole head of red cabbage thinly. You can easily do this on a mandoline.1 head red cabbage
- Make sure you take out the larger pieces, or you can go over them with a knife afterward.
- Melt the butter in a pot and add one cubed apple and all the sliced red cabbage.1 apple
- Put on a lid and let the cabbage wilt.
- Then add the white vinegar and the red juice.1 dl white vinegar, 1 dl concentrated red fruit juice
- Let it simmer for at least half an hour, then taste the red cabbage and season it with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if needed.
- Put the red cabbage and the juice into a scalded jar and let it cool a bit before putting it in the fridge until you need it.
Make pork roast
- Heat your oven to 200°C/400°F with a wire rack in the middle.
- Dry the roast thoroughly with paper towels.
- If your roast comes pre-scored, go over every score and make sure it's down to, but not into the meat. If you penetrate the meat juices will run out while it's cooking and penetrate the skin, and you will have a hard time getting a crispy crackling.
- If your roast doesn't come pre-scored, score the skin down to the meat. The scores should be approximately ½ cm/⅕ inches apart.
- Massage a good amount of salt into the scores, go over each score and make sure there's salt in there. I know it’s a bit fussy, but this will set you up for crispy success.
- Then season with some pepper and put some dried laurel leaves into some of the scores.
- If you can get fresh laurels, but I’ve never seen them at Christmas time in Denmark.
- Then put in a pan of water at the bottom; to catch the precious juices you should use for your gravy.
- Then add the roast to the rack and level it.
- Put small balls of aluminum foil underneath. You do this to ensure that all rinds on top are evenly crispy.
- Then roast for 1-hour per kilogram of roast. Around half an hour per pound of meat.
Make caramelized potatoes
- Dry the potatoes completely using paper towels or a clean dishtowel.
- Pour the sugar onto a cold pan, turn the heat up to about medium and let the sugar melt.
- Once you've melted a good part of the sugar, stir gently to get the rest to melt.
- It takes about 5 minutes for it to melt completely.
- Add the butter, and stir to combine with the caramel.
- Add the potatoes, and flip them over once in a while to get the sugar to coat the potatoes. Keep going until the potatoes are nice and brown, about 5 minutes.
Finish the roast
- You should check the crackling when about half an hour is left on the roast. It’s probably crispy in many places but not everywhere.
- Grab the pan from the oven and reserve the juices for the gravy.
- Crank the oven to 225°Celsius/450°Ft and put a wooden utensil in the door to keep it open, just a smidge-.
- When the roast is done it should have an internal temperature of 62°C/144°F.
- Use your oven's broiler if the temperature has been reached but the crackling still isn’t crispy. Be careful; it can burn quickly.
- Grab the roast out of the oven and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes uncovered. That will finish the cooking of the roast.
Finish everything else
- While the roast is finishing, it’s time to put the finishing touches on everything.
- Boil some potatoes. Heat the red cabbage.
- Season the gravy. A dash of red currant gel is commonly used in Danish Christmas gravy.
- Serve your pork roast with crispy crackling with white potatoes, caramelized potatoes, pickled red cabbage, and gravy on the side.
- For dessert serve risalamande with almonds and a sweet cherry sauce.