A Complete Guide to the Danish Christmas Dinner Table
In Denmark, Christmas is celebrated in the evening on 24th December with an abundant dinner followed by dancing around the Christmas tree and exchanging presents.
When it comes to the traditional Christmas dinner, one could say that Danes are divided and will never agree: Those who have duck, and those who prefer roast pork with crackling. Some families serve both duck and pork just to keep everyone happy.
The side dishes, however, are usually the same regardless of the meat. Here’s a complete guide to the Danish Christmas dinner table – and a few other foods and drinks that are essential for properly celebrating Christmas in Denmark.
1. Warm Rice Pudding (Risengrød)
In the old times, poor peasant families of the Danish countryside had little money to buy meat to feed the family and hungry farm workers. So they made sure to serve a big portion of rice pudding before dinner. They also believed in pixies, so they would also put a small portion in the loft or barn for the little creatures so they wouldn’t make trouble.
Some families still keep this old tradition alive – mainly because this easy and cheap meal is indeed very tasty. Often the rice pudding is served on the 23rd and then the leftovers are used for the popular “risalamande” dessert on Christmas Eve (we’ll get back to that).
The rice pudding recipe is very simple: Rice boiled with a lot of whole fat milk, served hot with sugar and cinnamon and a lump of butter slowly melting on top.
2. Roasted Duck (Andesteg)
There’s nothing more mouthwatering than the smell of duck slowly roasting the whole afternoon before Christmas Eve!
A good Danish Christmas duck is usually stuffed with diced apple, prunes and thyme, keeping the duck nice and juicy. The stuffing is served as a very delicious side dish – sweet and salty.
The best result is achieved by slow cooking the duck on a relatively low temperature (around 120 °C for around six hours). Don’t forget to flip it half way through, and make sure there’s always enough water underneath so it doesn’t dry out. To ensure a crispy skin, turn on the grill function at the very end.
3. Roast Pork with Crackling (Flæskesteg)
When Danes prepare pork, they always leave the rind on the meat. They actually consider it the most essential part, because when cooked properly it turns into crunchy, salty crackling – irresistibly tasty!
Ensuring the perfect crunchiness of the crackling is a very honorable task in Danish cuisine and is always taken very seriously. All families have their own secret for how to do it properly (hint: it’s about adding plenty of salt – more than you think!).
It usually takes 1.5 hours to reach a core temperature of 65 °C. Just like duck, pork also needs a good grill at the end.
Slices of roast pork are still delicious and are often eaten for lunch over the next few days on a piece of rye bread with red cabbage.
4. Red Cabbage (Rødkål)
There are not many greens on the Danish Christmas table. This is the closest we get. Boiled red cabbage is a very tasty side dish, adding a bit of tartness to the otherwise quite sweet and heavy plate of meat, potatoes, and gravy.
It’s easy to make: After shredding the cabbage, leave it to simmer in a sauce pan with vinegar, redcurrant juice, salt, and sugar. How long you leave it is a matter of taste – some like it crisp and fresh, some prefer it softer.
5. Sugar Browned Potatoes
Roasted duck and pork go very well with boiled potatoes, but at Christmas an extra layer of luxury is needed: a sugar coating. So-called browned potatoes are made by first boiling the potatoes, peeling them, and finally roasting them in a pan with caramelized sugar and lots of butter.
All sorts of potatoes can be used, but fingerling potatoes are ideal for this dish because they have a good, solid texture and don’t crumble when you fry them.
6. Brown Gravy
A good, tasty brown gravy is essential because it connects all the different components of the meal and creates harmony between them. The gravy is made from the pork or duck dripping in the roasting pan.
After skimming the fat, you add some of the water from the boiled potatoes with some extra broth if needed. Finally, you add some thickener and/or heavy cream, and if you want to achieve the perfect brown color, sometimes an artificial browning is also needed. For a perfect, round taste, add a pinch of sugar – or alternatively, try sweetening it with redcurrant juice. Yummy!
7. Pickled Cucumber (Asier)
The sweet and greasy Christmas meal needs a sour accompaniment. This would typically be asier, which is a special type of pickled cucumber. Don’t confuse them with the typical pickled cucumbers cut in thin slices. Asier are big chunks of cucumber without the skin but with quite a strong taste.
8. Redcurrant Jelly
Any kind of jelly can serve as a sweet accompaniment. But apple or redcurrant jelly – ideally homemade with apples or berries from the garden – are the best.
9. Rice Pudding with Cherry Sauce (Risalamande)
You could almost believe that eating risalamande for dessert on Christmas Eve was written into the Danish constitution – everyone does it, and usually only at Christmas.
The delicious pudding is made from cold rice porridge (sometimes the leftovers from the day before). The porridge is mixed with vanilla, plenty of whipped cream, and crushed almonds and is served with a flavorful warm cherry sauce.
An important part of the tradition is to hide one whole almond in the dessert. The one who gets the almond receives a small present. This means that everyone keeps eating until the almond is found, so everyone will feel extremely full at the end of the meal.
10. Marzipan Confection
After a heavy meal and an overdose of risalamande dessert, there’s not much space for more food. So before moving on to the Christmas confections it’s time to dance a few rounds around the Christmas tree, singing Christmas songs and exchanging presents. Finally, at the end of the evening, the sweet tooth is slowly re-awakened.
Danish Christmas confection is usually made of marzipan and soft Viennese nougat. Marzipan is made of almonds, and Viennese nougat is a buttery and sinfully delicious paste made of hazelnut and cocoa. The two go very well together – often covered in chocolate.
11. Danish Pancake Puffs (Æbleskiver)
No list of Danish Christmas food would be complete without delicious Danish pancake puffs. They are not usually eaten on Christmas Eve, but are probably the most popular snack for the whole month of December.
Æbleskiver literally means sliced apples, but it has nothing to do with apples. It’s actually a pancake dough cooked into small, soft pancake-balls in a special frying pan designed only for that purpose. The freshly baked balls are served with jam and icing sugar ad libitum and a glass of hot glögg (see below).
12. Danish Christmas Punch (Gløgg)
Æbleskiver simply demands this warm and tasty drink. Gløgg is a mulled wine punch made with red wine and a mix of typical Christmas spices.
The spices can vary, but they are usually whole pieces of cinnamon, cloves, pepper, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg, allspice, and orange peel. First, all the spices are cooked with sugar and orange juice into an extract, which is then added to the heated red wine together with plenty of raisins and peeled crushed almonds.
A cup of gløgg is always served with a spoon for eating the soaked raisins and almonds.
Sometimes port wine, schnapps and/or rum is added to the punch for an extra boost. But beware, it goes straight to the brain!
Tip: A delicious children’s gløgg can be made by replacing the red wine with blackcurrant juice.
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