A classic Swedish Christmas buffet
Ett klassiskt julbord
Swedes don't go in for turkey and Christmas pudding at Christmas, instead they have a julbord (Christmas buffet). It is a big elaborate affair and is much loved by Swedes.
This page is divided into five sections:
A Swedish julbord is a lovely event, well worth trying if you are interested in Swedish culture.
Swedes eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. Traditionally it is a big family affair with 3 or 4 generations sharing the meal. Indeed it is such a big meal that it is best made for a large family group in order to have a large selection of dishes, but also so that the work involved can be shared out!
So what do Swedes eat on Christmas Day?
You need a big house for a good julbord in order to find the space for all the tables to accommodate the huge array of dishes, whilst still having somewhere to sit and eat all the food!
Most Swedes also go out to a julbord at a restaurant in December, so that can enjoy a larger selection of dishes than they can manage at home on Christmas Eve without having to bother with all the washing-up.
Are the decorations different?
Yes. Candles are ever-present and in seriously large numbers. Most households light about 50 candles on Christmas Eve!
There will also be lots of attractive julprydnader (Swedish Christmas decorations) around, often family heirlooms, such as a halmbock (a straw goat), which every family has in their collection.
The Christmas tree has to be real and as big as can be accommodated. Swedes traditionally collect their Christmas tree on the day before Christmas Eve. Selecting the tree is a serious matter: it has to be perfectly proportioned and checked from every possible angle. Once home the tree is decorated according to family traditions, but coloured lights seem to be taboo as nearly all Swedes seem to have tasteful soft white lights.
A julbord normally has lots of courses, each with a fresh plate (!). The number varies but five courses is typical:
• pickled herring,
• other fish,
• cold meats, pâtés and terrines,
• hot food,
Of course as the food is served buffet style you can usually mix up the courses a bit if you want.
What do Swedes drink during at a julbord?
Often there is a nice welcome drink of glögg (Swedish mulled wine) or a cocktail. With the meal there should be lashings of snaps and julöl (a dark sweetish beer brewed for Christmas) and julmust for children and drivers. Julmust is a non-alcoholic drink made from water, sugar, hops, malt and spices.
Once only considered food for the poor, pickled herring is now a prominent and respected part of a julbord. There should be a choice of at least three types of herring, two is just not considered enough.
Unfortunately herring stocks around the UK have dwindled to very low levels. The names of villages such as Langport Herring and Chaldon Herring in Dorset are reminders that once upon a time we too had what appeared to be inexhaustible herring stocks. Alas no longer. As a result I don't pickle my own herring because I simply can't buy good quality fresh herring.
If like me you have to buy pickled herring make sure you find a really good supplier as the quality varies hugely. The cheap stuff is absolutely ghastly, using vinegar which is so harsh as to mask the rich oily character of good herring. The best is top-notch and a real treat.
At a julbord Swedes normally serve senapsill (herring in a creamy mustard sauce), glasmästarsill (glazier's herring, the name is due to the clear brine which enables all of the ingredients to be seen through the glass jar) and at least one other.
The fish course is dominated by salmon: hot- and cold-smoked salmon, boiled salmon, salmon paté and gravlax. A selection of other cold fish is usually included such as crayfish and prawns (but not lobster which is a New Year's Eve treat).
1. Gravad lax med hovmästarsås (Gravadlax with mustard and dill sauce)
Gravadlax has become so popular worldwide that it is now stocked by virtually all supermarkets in the UK. Although you can easily buy some it really is worth making your own as it is easy, tastes better and is a lot cheaper!
2. Gingravad lax (Gin cured salmon)
For a slight change from gravadlax try our recipe for gin cured salmon. It is made in much the same way, but the use of gin gives it a slightly more sophisticated taste.
3. Lutfisk (Preserved cod)
Years ago lutfisk was common fare during the Christmas fast when meat was replaced by fish, at a time when fresh fish was hard to come by. Lutfisk is dried cod that is re-hydrated using lye. The fish ends up a bit flaky, slightly translucent, firm in places, but also a bit jelly-like. It is served with a Béchamel or mustard sauce, a light sprinkling of finely ground allspice, white pepper, black pepper and occasionally fried bacon. Lutfisk is not normally on a julbord as it is usually cooked to order. It is a dish that is much loved by some, but detested by most! Everyone should try it at least once! You might join the minority of adore it! More…
4. Kräftsallad (Crayfish salad)
Crayfish tails are easy to buy and can be made into a simple salad for a julbord.
5. Ägghalvor (Halved eggs)
A really easy dish to prepare: simply halve some hard boiled eggs and top with brown shrimps, skagenröra, roe etc.
6. Rökt ål (Smoked eel)
Smoked eel is popular in Skåne in southern Sweden. Here it is served with a celeriac remoulade.
Cold meats, pâtés and terrines
1. Julskinka (Christmas ham)
Christmas ham always takes centre stage at modern julbord, despite the fact it didn't become common until the end of the 1800s. In the old days pigs were very important in Sweden because they could be fed on a cheap diet of food scraps. Originally they were slaughtered in the autumn and were then salted and became the year-round meat ration. What was cured in the autumn had to last until the following autumn. However, one pig was always saved until as close as possible to Christmas. Their slaughter traditionally took place in the dark, often on December 13th or Lucia Day. The Christmas feast was therefore particularly special because it was the time of year when Swedes ate fresh meat. They enjoyed fresh meat so much they didn't want to waste any, so every part was eaten. Dishes such as revben (ribs), boiled pork sausage, liver pâté, brawn, and pig's feet in aspic were created to use up every part of the pig. Indeed many Swedish chefs enjoy the annual challenge of creating new and interesting dishes that keep this tradition alive, whilst appealing to modern tastes. More…
2. Tjälknöl (A "tuber" of reindeer cooked from frozen)
Tjälknöl is a lovely dish created by cooking a joint of meat very slowly from frozen, usually overnight. I like to use reindeer, but it can be made using beef or venison instead if you prefer. More…
3. Kycklingleverpaté med portvin (Chicken liver pâté with port)
A julbord always includes at least one pâté and this is a nice easy example. More…
4. Lantterrin med anka och vildsvin (Country terrine with duck and wild boar)
This is a fantastic terrine that is easy to make and keeps well. It is made with duck, wild boar and prunes, but chicken and pork could be used instead if you prefer. More…
5. Klassisk rödbetssallad (Classic beetroot salad)
In the old days beetroots were pickled in the summer and stored to use during the rest of the year. As a result it became one of Sweden's most popular ingredients and is used to make a beetroot salad which appears on every julbord. More…
6. Äpple-, selleri- och valnötssallad (Apple, celery and walnut salad)
Many of the dishes on a julbord are accompanied by creamy sauces so I like to provide a salad with a simple dressing by way of contrast. This fits the bill perfectly going well with most cold meats. More…
1. Köttbullar (Meatballs)
Meatballs only became a common feature on a julbord in the 1970s, but they are now a firmly established favourite. Often the normal recipe is tweaked a little for Christmas by, for instance, using elk (moose) instead of beef. They are always served with rårörda lingon (lingonberry sauce). More…
2. Prinskorv (Smoked sausages)
Sausages are always included on a julbord, with prinskorv being the most popular type. Prinskorv can be bought in specialist stores, IKEA or online.
3. Glacerade revbensspjäll (Glazed ribs)
A julbord always includes glazed ribs. The ribs are spiced, cooked slowly and then finished with a honey glaze.
4. Janssons frestelse (Jansson's temptation)
This recipe wasn't published until 1940 but the casserole made-up of julienned potatoes, sliced onions, sprats and cream is a favourite with most Swedes at Christmas. If you are making it for Swedes ask them how they like it because it is one of those dishes that varies a lot. I like mine with thin potatoes, a nice crisp top, creamy underneath, but without being too fishy. More…
5. Kokt rödkål (Red cabbage)
The importance of cabbage in the Swedish diet pre-dates the potato which didn't become popular until the end of the 18th century. Red cabbage is a typical accompaniment to pork, is easy to make and keeps well. Brits tend to think of it as pickled red cabbage, but to Swedes it is simply boiled red cabbage. More…
6. Brunkål (Brown cabbage)
Red cabbage is more common in central and northern Sweden and brown cabbage is more common in Skåne in southern Sweden. It is simply white cabbage cooked slowly with syrup and, ideally, some broth from cooking the ham. More…
Other hots dishes
Three other hot dishes deserve a mention. Dopp i grytan (literally, dip in the pot) is a broth made from liquid in which the ham was cooked. In the olden days you were not allowed to eat the meat until the end of the fasting period but dipping bread into the cooking broth was allowed and it helped to soften hard bread. Some Swedes still enjoy the tradition, but most give it a miss!
Julkorv is a special sausage cooked in the broth from cooking the ham. Some Swedes enjoy julkorv, but in my experience most don't! If you would like to try it, you can buy julkorv at specialist stores and online.
Långkål (creamed kale) is a popular Christmas dish. An enormous quantity of kale is cooked in the broth from the ham, squeezed to remove all the liquid and then it is fried in butter and cream, leaving just a small dish of tasty långkål. It is certainly worth trying! More…
1. Risgrynsgröt (Rice pudding)
At least one type of rice pudding (sometimes called rice porridge) is always included on a traditional julbord. There has been a very long tradition of serving rice pudding/porridge in Sweden with the first recorded serving taking place in 1328. It is normally dusted with cinnamon with an almond is hidden in the pudding. Whoever gets the almond gets a task, like composing thanks in rhyme for the meal! More…
2. Ris à la Malta (Rice à la Malta)
Ris à la Malta is probably the most popular of all the rice pudding desserts on a julbord. (Incidentally, the name has nothing to do with Malta the country. Our version uses a thicker fruitier sauce than is usual, but we also include a recipe for a traditional sauce. More…
3. Saffranspuddingar med hallonsylt (Saffron pudding with raspberry jam)
Another rice based pudding, but my favourite. Serve with some really good raspberry jam for a delicious dessert. More…
4. Chokladfondant med glaserade tranbär (Chocolate fondant with glazed cranberries)
A julbord needs to include at least one non-rice based dessert and this is sure to be a popular choice with chocolate lovers. The glazed cranberries give it a lovely festive look, but unfortunately it needs to be cooked to order although everything can be prepared in advance. More…
5. Pärontårta med stjärnanis (Pear tart with star anise)
Every julbord should include at least one dessert and this my favourite! More…
6. Nötpaj med cognacsfikon (Nut and fig tart with brandy)
A fabulous festive tart. More…
If that isn't enough there will always be some fruit (figs and oranges are particularly popular in Sweden at Christmas), godis (sweets/candy), truffles and cheese and biscuits to round off the meal.
1. Chokladtryfflar (Chocolate truffles)
These truffles have just the right degree of sweetness and creaminess. There are two sorts: one with a ginger filling and the other with a milk chocolate coating which offsets the natural bitterness of the dark chocolate filling. Fabulous. More…
2. Saffrans- och vitchokladtryffel (Saffron and white chocolate truffles)
For something a little bit different, try these lovely truffles. More…
3. Tunt knäckebröd (Thin rye crispbreads)
If you are serving cheese, try these fabulous crispbreads. More…
Below is a suggested menu consisting of 4 courses for a group of up to 12 people, most of whom would be trying a julbord for the first time. (The next section contains a suggested menu for a smaller group.)
• Three types of pickled herring
• Crayfish salad
• Decorated eggs
• Swedish ham
• Reindeer or venison
• Terrine with duck and wild boar
• Beetroot salad
• Apple celery and walnut salad
• Meatballs with lingonberry sauce
• Glazed ribs
• Janssons frestelse
• Red cabbage
• Creamed kale
• Saffron pudding with raspberry jam
• Pear tart with star anise
• Chocolate truffles
• Saffron truffles
A suggested menu for a small group
Below is a suggested menu consisting of 4 courses for a small group of up to 6 people. The key thing is to choose fewer dishes that you can do well and that you can enjoy again later if there are any leftovers.
• Pickled herring and decorated eggs or gravadlax and knäckebröd
• Swedish ham
• Beetroot salad
• Apple celery and walnut salad
• Meatballs with sweetened lingonberries
• Janssons frestelse
• Red cabbage or creamed kale
• Saffron pudding with raspberry jam or rice à la Malta
With so many dishes in a julbord it can be stressful for the cook! Here is a short planning guide to help the cook enjoy it as well!
Some weeks in advance
• Cure some salmon and freeze it
• Make some meatballs and freeze them
• Make the glögg
Three days in advance
• Boil the ham
Two days in advance
• Cook the rice for the puddings
• Cook the kale for creamed kale
• Cook the cabbage
• Make the terrine
The day before
• Make the saffron puddings
• Make the creamed kale
• Make the beetroot salad
• Make the Janssons frestelse
• Take frozen dishes out of the freezer
• Organise the serving plates
On the day
• Slice the salmon
• Glaze the ham
• Decorate the table
• Fry the sausages
• Reheat the hot food
• Help yourself to a welcome drink
Above all, find time to enjoy yourself as well!
There are not many opportunities to enjoy a professional julbord in the UK, but these are all very good. Early booking is essential for all three. Expect to pay between £40-£60, excluding drinks. (A julbord in Sweden normally costs between 500 and 1,000 SEK.)
• Claire Andersson, Oxfordshire (Claire is married to a Swede and organises a julbord every year in an attractive old building in the grounds of Dorechester Abbey. Some of the photographs above were taken at a julbord organised by Claire.)
If you come across any others please let me know.
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