Copenhagen – Herring, Hygge and Pickled Cucumbers

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Even with pre-travel research, I always find myself vaguely disoriented when I arrive in a new city.   Which way is the center of town?  Where are the things I want to see and do?  How do I get there from here?  I’m sure you know the feeling.

I like to get oriented with one of the free walking tours offered in many large cities.  Yes, a free tour.  It isn’t just that I’m thrifty; I find that if you have to “sing for your supper”, you will be good at it — or you will be hungry.   So the free walking tours, where guides are paid gratuity only, tend to attract guides that deliver.  The Sandemans Tour we found during our recent Copenhagen trip fit our criteria perfectly and lived up to expectations.

Besides providing a good lay of the land, our guide, Thomas, was overflowing with  information about Danish history and culture. Where else would we have heard of “hygge”??  “Hygge” (pronounced as if you have something stuck in your throat) is the Danish art of finding perfect karma from the right blend of friends, family and food.   While I take issue with Thomas that this is a Danish phenomena, I admit that I cannot find a similar word in English. So, clearly the Danes find this important enough to warrant a place in their vocabulary and culture.

So, would we find hygge in Copenhagen??  The answer is a resounding yes — thanks to our experience at Bastionen-loven,

Bastionen-loven, Copenhagen

a charming old restaurant hidden away in a remote corner of the Christianshavn neighborhood.

Christianshavn, Copenhagen

The traditional Danish menu attracted us to Bastionen-loven. Everything else – the delightful setting, the charming server, Luca, and the food quality – was a bonus.

Our Danish meal began with a beautiful presentation of home-made pickled herring, chopped onions, capers, mayonnaise and a dusting of curry.  Luca served the herring  with a glass of Aquavit and informed us that we simply must have Aquavit in order to fully enjoy the herring.  Hygge in Copenhagen!!

Pickled Herring at Bastionen-loven

Inspired, I returned home determined to recreate pickled-herring hygge by making my own herring.  Home-made Danish-style pickled herring starts with salted, not fresh, herring. The salted herring is then rinsed and pickled.  So, I went on a hunt for salted herring.  After running into repeated looks of confusion when I asked my fish mongers for salted herring, I tried another approach.  I would find fresh herring and go through both steps:  brine and then pickle.  Fresh herring, I was told by my fish mongers, would require an advance order.  Sigh.  I was fighting a losing battle.

Impatient to recreate my Copenhagen herring hygge, I switched gears again.  I found a good quality pickled herring and decided to pickle my own accoutrements instead.

Pickled cucumbers are a perfect and easy accompaniment to pickled herring, and I hadn’t made my Mother’s Norwegian pickled cucumbers in a while. So, I pickled some cucumbers, served them with the purchased herring, a garnish of dill, a dollop of mayonnaise mixed with a hint of curry, and a scattering of red onions.  Finally, pickled-herring hygge at home!

Pickled Herring with Pickled Cucumber

Pickled cucumbers are found in all Scandinavian countries.  They are easy to make, go well with cold fish (especially smoked salmon) and add a splash of color to almost any appetizer buffet.  Perhaps best of all, it is an excellent way to extend the life of leftover cucumbers (a benefit of all pickling).

My Mother’s Pickled Cucumbers Served in Pickling Liquid with a Dill Garnish

Pickled Cucumbers (Pressgurka)

Recipe By: my mother, Mildred

2 cucumbers
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vinegar, white, may substitute cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt


1. Peel cucumbers.  Score the sides of the cucumber with the tines of a fork. Use firm pressure to get clear markings.

Scoring Cucumber

Slice the cucumbers in thin slices – but do not make slices so thin that they are “floppy”.

2. Mix water (warm water will dissolve sugar/salt more quickly), vinegar, sugar, and salt.   

Cider vinegar adds a nice flavor, but white vinegar looks prettier if you are serving cucumbers in a bowl with the pickle liquid.  Either is suitable.

3. Pour pickle liquid over sliced cucumbers and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 

DO-AHEAD INSTRUCTIONS:  These are best made one day ahead.  They will easily keep, refrigerated, for a week, but they lose a bit of their nice crunch if kept for too long.

Serve one of two ways.  Drain cucumbers if using as a garnish or side on a cold platter (e.g., pickled herring or smoked salmon plate).  Alternatively, serve in a bowl with some pickling liquid and a pretty garnish (see photo).  They make a great addition to an appetizer buffet.

Note:  English cucumbers may be used, but these are not traditional.

Copenhagen Street

24 thoughts on “Copenhagen – Herring, Hygge and Pickled Cucumbers

  1. What a great spot to take a walking tour and your pictures of Copenhagen are wonderful. The canal reminds me of Amsterdam and the buildings are definitely from that part of Northern Europe. I reget never having gotten to Scandinavia. One day …
    I, also, enjoy pickled herring but wouldn’t have any idea where to find salted herring. I just found a source for Branzino. I think I’ll wait before I start looking for salted herring. I wouldn’t want The Fates to think me greedy. 🙂

    • ChgoJohn – Isn’t it frustrating how hard it is to get a variety of good fish these days? If you’re happy with tilapia and salmon, life is good. Otherwise, you must hunt relentlessly. When I was in the food biz, I had access to a wholesale merchant. I didn’t know how good life was 🙂 Now I plan ahead at one of our good markets that is willing to order (when I am patient enough to wait). I’ll have to try some Branzino if they can get it. Are you planning a good recipe soon on your blog??

  2. Love this story, Jeannee. Pickled cukes are a favorite of mine as well. My mom (from Eastern Europe) had her version which I adored. That sweet and pungent flavor just kills. The Asian version uses rice wine vinegar, a little soy sauce, and some toasted sesame seeds. They all satisfy. 🙂

  3. My mother does cucumbers like that and that is in Australia, love them in salads. So thanks for the reminder. Love the photos, we went there over ten years ago must be time for a revisit

  4. Danish people are so hyggelige: very, very nice and friendly. I should go there more often. A very nice post, Globalgarnish, and that herring looks real good. Nice photos.

    • It is always exciting when a photographer likes my “iPhone” photos (I really must get a better camera). Thanks so much!

      Yes, the Danes were so friendly (love the word hyggelige), but the people in Sweden and Norway were just as nice – and the scenery as beautiful. More posts to come….

  5. Wow I felt like your pictures were taking me back to Amsterdam. I really like your simple cucumber recipe and your decoration with the fork really makes it look stunning. Take Care, BAM

  6. Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit…like a small New York City but approachable. Your Thanksgiving sounds perfect.

  7. Pingback: 2012 Smorgasbord Menu — Assembled by Friends of A Global Garnish | A GLOBAL GARNISH

  8. Pingback: Do-Ahead Party for a Crowd – Easy Appetizer Menu (Part 1 of 3) | A GLOBAL GARNISH

Please enter your questions and comments here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s