Finnish Christmas fare for Hongkongers – at Finds, the winter flavours are to savour
Noma in Copenhagen made Scandinavian cuisine famous, but for the past 13 years Finds in Tsim Sha Tsui has been cooking traditional dishes from Finland. Chef Jaakko Sorsa tells us why Hongkongers should be making the most of it
It seems Nordic fever has blasted Hong Kong with a wintry feeling this year, with many places getting on the bandwagon – or shall we say sleigh – with polar-themed events to get Hongkongers into the Christmas spirit.
There’s Harbour City inviting a Finnish artist, Klaus Haapaniemi, to decorate the mall in the theme of a giant forest; Caleb and Joshua Ng of Twins Kitchen have just opened Interval, their Nordic-style coffee bar on Wellington Street; and Test Kitchen has invited Danish chef Filip Sondergaard to prepare a traditional pre-Christmas feast in Sai Ying Pun.
However, Jaakko Sorsa, who hails from Helsinki, Finland, is the granddaddy of Nordic cuisine in Hong Kong. The executive chef at Finds restaurant, he started there in 2004 and for the past 13 years has promoted Nordic dishes along with aquavit – a distilled liquor – to Hong Kong diners and those who miss a taste of home.
He is glad to see everyone has finally caught up to what he has been cooking all along.
“Nordic cuisine has become popular in the last few years maybe because it was one of the last European cuisines to be explored, and I think the gourmands around the world are looking for something special,” Sorsa says. “But then again there were many good chefs starting the movement.
“First the famous Noma in Copenhagen, and when they started to push for Nordic cuisine, suddenly there was more Nordic produce available. So there was very positive changes with more high end artisan products available. With that we suddenly felt very proud of our cuisine, and started to use those ingredients at home – it was like a revolution.”
December is a particularly busy time for Sorsa because of Christmas, though it’s his favourite time of the year too.
“Groups in Hong Kong from Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland approach me to prepare their traditional dishes. Over the years I’ve improved on preparing them and they are happy when I am able to replicate the traditional taste. It’s funny that I come to Hong Kong to learn more about the food of Nordic countries,” he says with a laugh.
He was extra busy this month, as Finland celebrated its 100th anniversary of independence and Sorsa was in charge of the menu for a gala dinner held by the Finnish Chamber of Commerce and the Consulate General of Finland at the American Club in Tai Tam.
The menu featured cured reindeer rump, forest mushroom salad, trout roe with sour cream and chives on blinis, sugar-salted salmon seared with fennel seeds, and a stew of beef short ribs with pork collar, potatoes, turnips and carrots.
At Finds in The Luxe Manor in Tsim Sha Tsui, Sorsa explains traditional Finnish cuisine involves a lot of root vegetables in the winter, while in spring and summer foods like asparagus, a few hundred kinds of mushrooms – including morels and chanterelles – and berries, such as lingonberries, mulberries and sea buckthorn berries are pickled to keep throughout the year.
And then there’s the seafood and meats. Sorsa says Finland’s 200,000 lakes – yes 200,000 – have freshwater fish, while rivers in Lapland have salmon. In terms of game there’s elk, and venison, and farmed animals such as cows, lambs and pigs.
“It’s almost like a balanced diet,” he says with a laugh. “The preserving methods are pretty much the cornerstone for Nordic cooking, and my cooking at Finds. In Finds, the real focus is on smoking. We smoke everything – butter, crème fraîche, shrimps, salmon, venison, vegetables, almost anything. Our style is almost seasoning with smoke.”
Sorsa pickles vegetables, such as pumpkin, mushrooms, asparagus, beetroot, cucumbers, and also spruce shoots.
“In May I go to Finland and go to the forest and we pick spruce shoots, before they become actual Christmas trees in a few months,” he says. “If you pick them, you can store them in the freezer, or what we do in Finds is we pickle them and they taste like a Christmas tree. It has a refreshing flavour, a bit minty. The needles are oily, sort of like rosemary. If you bite them an aromatic oil comes out, so you can really eat your Christmas trees in Finds.”
Sorsa demonstrated three dishes for us on the Finds menu for Christmas. The first is the restaurant’s signature dish, salmon six ways that uses a cut from each part of the salmon – cold smoked, gravlax, pickled, seared, in mousse and smoked roe. It’s a dish that can be eaten daily, but also for Christmas too.
To make the smoked roe, he heats alder wood chips over the stove and they start smoking in minutes. He puts a plate of salmon roe on top and covers them with aluminium foil before quickly transferring them to a nearby ice bath to “cold smoke” the roe for several minutes so that it doesn’t get cooked, and gives them a delicate smoky finish that lingers.
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Ham is usually served for Christmas, but Sorsa takes things up a notch with omega-3 pork collar from Finland that he says is very juicy. He puts it in sous vide for 24 hours at 60 degrees Celsius and then brushes a mixture of Finnish mustard – for its strong flavour – with egg yolk, then adds parsley and breadcrumbs over it before putting it in the oven for about 10 minutes. The crust is crispy, while the meat is very tender.
The last dish is slow roasted venison tenderloin that is accompanied with a hearty barley risotto. The barley is simmered for an hour with a bay leaf before adding some salt, onion, garlic and rosemary. He also adds white wine and Parmesan cheese with celeriac purée for a more earthy flavour and texture.
Finds, 1/F, The Luxe Manor, 39 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Tel: 2522 9318