Danish Cuisine — Karrysalat: Curried Macaroni Salad

The Danish Christmas luncheon is a treasured tradition in Denmark.  Families and friends come together for a midday gathering full of food and, perhaps most importantly, lots of beer and schnapps.  The Danish open-faced sandwiches smørrebrød dominate the table, where diners top their slices of Danish rye with whatever meats, fish, vegetables, or cheeses strike their fancy.  There are a handful of toppings that are simply expected to be served (like pumpkin pie would be at an American Thanksgiving celebration).  Karrysalat (recipe follows) is one of those, considered “a ‘must’ at any self-respecting Danish Christmas luncheon table” according to Danish food blogger Gitte of My Danish Kitchen.

More Danish dishes on The World Cup of Food:

Karrysalat is a tough sell based on ingredients alone.  Macaroni, mayonnaise, pickled herring, and curry powder require a bit of a leap of faith for a person not immersed in Danish food culture.  It is nowhere near Christmas, but since it is our stated mission to immerse ourselves as much as possible in the cuisines we present in this space, we ultimately knew that we had no choice but to prepare a karrysalat and share the results with our readership.


adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia (Time-Life Foods of the World Series) by Dale Brown

  • 1/2 cup dried elbow macaroni, cooked according to package instructions
  • about 1/3 of a large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 1 to 1 1/2″ pieces of pickled herring, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 large brown mushrooms, diced
  • 2 Tbs white vinegar
  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbs curry powder

To begin, our macaroni was boiled and drained:


…and rinsed with cold water to stop the cooking process:


Next, we addressed our cucumber:


First it was split in half lengthwise:


…then seeded with a teaspoon:


…and finally cut into a dice:


Dale Brown’s recipe emphasized removing as much moisture as possible from the salad ingredients before mixing.  He does not give a reason, but it is presumably to avoid thinning the dressing and ending up with a runny salad.  We happily complied, salting the cucumber and setting it in a strainer over a bowl to leech as much liquid as possible from the cucumber:


About twenty minutes later the bowl had accumulated about two tablespoons of really salty cucumber juice that thankfully did not end up in our karrysalat:


Next we tackled the pickled herring:


The four pieces we used for this recipe were about the right dimensions to simply cut into quarters:


The macaroni, cucumbers, pickled herring, mushrooms, vinegar, oil, and a little salt and pepper were then combined in a mixing bowl and refrigerated to marinate:


Dale Brown recommends one to two hours of refrigeration, but we marinated our salad ingredients overnight.  When we were almost ready to serve we made the dressing by mixing the sour cream, mayonnaise, and curry powder, then mixed the dressing into our other salad ingredients and scooped our karrysalat into a serving bowl:


We used store-bought pickled herring for our karrysalat, a mistake we would not repeat.  A piece or two of the stuff as a standalone snack tastes fine, but there is so much sugar in their recipe that our entire salad was cloyingly sweet, and the fishy flavor, mayonnaise, and sweetness made the dressing taste like Miracle Whip.  The curry was barely apparent, and there was WAY too much dressing for our tastes.  This is a dish that we will likely not prepare again, but if we did it would be with home-pickled herring with much less sugar in the recipe.

Aside from the pickled herring issues, we can see how this dish could be good.  Pickled herring tastes a little like mackerel, with a prominent fishy, oily flavor that is not too overpowering (unless, of course, it is coated in a syrupy brine) and done right this dish could be a hit.


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