The open-faced sandwich: a savory slice of Danish culture

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Somewhere between the canape and the sandwich lies smorrebrod, an icon of Danish cuisine. Literally ”bread and butter,” the smorrebrod is crowned with all manner of fish, meats, cheese, vegetables, spreads, and edible garnishes.

Open-faced sandwiches are popular all over Scandinavia, but the Danes have taken them to high art.
Where the canape is eaten in one bite and a regular sandwich is hearty enough to be a meal, the smorrebrod is always eaten with a fork and knife, and is somewhere in between. Each has just a single slice of bread, and several constitute lunch.

Danes choose from three to five different kinds of smorrebrod along with a beer. A Danish friend says if you don’t have to go back to work, it is customary to also have a glass of ”snaps.” This Scandinavian akvavit, a potent spirit (40 to 45 proof), is made from fermented potato or grain mash.
Kirsten Larsen, known as the ”Dame of Sandwich,” immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1959, eventually settling in Minnesota. ”Only One Slice, Danish Sandwiches, Smorrebrod,” her cookbook, is now in its eighth printing.

Larsen explains that some Danish food, such as herring and smoked eel, can be heavy and oily; the snaps helps absorb that oil. ”It is also an opportunity to look your friends in the eye and say `skal,”’ she adds.
Some time after she came here, Larsen attended a Danish Day Celebration where smorrebrod were being served. ”They don’t look Danish anymore,” she thought. ”Like foods from other cultures that assimilate into American society, this one had changed, and from that moment I decided to make an effort to teach how to make the traditional smorrebrod,” she said.

Today, Larsen teaches Danish sandwich making and gives demonstrations at Scandinavian festivals all over the Midwest. She says that smorrebrod are served in a particular order: First come the fish, then the meats, and finally sandwiches made with cheese. The smorrebrod come both hot and cold.

To construct a sandwich, Larsen says, start with a thin slice of good, dense rye or dark bread (use German-style breads). You can also use sourdough or French baguettes.

Butter the bread – this seals the slices and prevents them from getting soggy later. Then place lettuces (Boston or leaf lettuce work well) directly on the buttered surface. The next layer is the featured element – shrimp, egg, or liver, for instance. Finally, add a garnish such as olives or anchovies and a sauce (the creamy, mayonnaise-based remoulade is popular) to enhance flavors.

A favorite sandwich among Danish children is the ”Hans Christian Andersen,” made with liver paste (yes, kids in Denmark love liver), bacon, tomato, jellied aspic, and horseradish. That sandwich would be a tough sell here. Larsen’s personal favorite is gravlax (sugar and salt-cured salmon) on rye with a dill mustard sauce.

A smorrebrod buffet is a good way to entertain on a hot summer night. Position yourself in front of a fan and begin layering. Make three per person (plus extras of smoked salmon or sliced pork or lamb) and arrange them on trays. Just add small glasses of akvavit or lots of cold beer.

”Only One Slice, Danish Sandwiches, Smorrebrod,” by Kirsten Larsen, and ”Aebleskiver and More: A Sampling of Danish Recipes,” by Lisa Steen Riggs, which has a good sandwich section, are available from the Danish Windmill (call 800-451-7960 or go to

This story ran on page E3 of the Boston Globe on 7/9/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Basics of a Smorrebrod Buffet

Pumpernickel bread
Sourdough or French baguette
Rye and multigrain bread
Danish havarti and Danish blue cheese
Thin slices of rare roast beef
Thin slices of roast pork or lamb
Hard-cooked and scrambled eggs
Cooked baby shrimp
Herring(creamed,smoked, marinated or in a salad)
Smoked salmon
Smoked trout
Liver pate
Cucumber slices
Radish slices(keep in ice water until ready to use)
Baby whloe pickles such as French cornichons
Lemon triangles(thinly sliced from a whole lemon)
Finely chopped red onion
Sliced cherry tomatoes
Red grapes
Black olives
Sprigs of parsley
Boston or leaf lettuce
Chopped chives
Lumpfish red or black caviar
Remoulade sauce(see recipe)
Unsalted butter
Dijon mustard
Bottled horseradish sauce


Smoked Salmon with sour cream and caviar
Roast beef with remoulade sauce, cornichon pickle and olive
Pickled herring with lemon
Red potatoes and egg with anchovies
Havarti cheese with butter, sliced cucumbers, and chopped chives
Roast pork or lamb with tomatoes and remoulade sauce
SLiced hard-cooked eggs with anchovies
Baby shrimp on Boston lettuce with lemon triangles
Liver pate with lettuce and horseradish sauce
Red potatoes and chopped red onion with remoulade sauce and chopped chives
Smoked trout with scrambled egg and chopped chives
Danish blue cheese with grapes


Cucumber salad
Compiled By Globe Staff, 7/9/2003

3 cucumbers, peeled, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Black pepper, to taste

1. In a bowl, layer the cucumbers, onion, and salt. Set them aside for 15 minutes.
2. In another bowl, combine the sour cream, sugar, lemon juice, and pepper.
3. Rinse the cucumbers and onion and shake them to remove the excess liquid, pressing the mixture with your hand.
4. In a serving bowl, combine onions, cucumbers, and sour cream mixture. Stir, cover, and chill for 1 hour before serving.
Adapted from ”Aebleskiver and More”
This story ran on page E3 of the Boston Globe on 7/9/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Remoulade sauce
Compiled By Globe Staff, 7/9/2003

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped capers
2 tablespoon chopped parsley or chives

1. In a bowl stir the mayonnaise until it is smooth.
2. Add relish, mustard, capers, and parsley or chives. Stir well, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours so the flavors mellow.
3. Use as a spread in place of butter or use a dollop to garnish sandwiches.
Adapted from ”Just One Slice”

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