Culinary Canvas

The Iconic Dish You’re Meant to Destroy

Acclaimed chef Stefan Ekengren's surprising creation is less smash and grab and more smash and grub!

Words by Sophie Miskiw. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.

If you’re even remotely aware of trendy Stockholm eatery Hantverket, you’ve more than likely heard about the restaurant’s so-called ‘open sandwich’. The dish has become somewhat legendary among the city’s foodies, thanks in part to the uniquely playful manner in which it’s served and consumed.

“When I thought of the idea for this dish I was in a mood when nothing surprised me. So I wondered what I could do that is surprising but not ridiculous,” recalls Stefan Ekengren, the dish’s creator and Hantverket’s head chef.

After almost a year and a half of mulling it over, the now-iconic dish answered Stefan’s question. What he says began as a “spacey” idea to stretch cling film across a plate and balance food on top evolved into a thin circle of crispy rye bread, perched atop a stone mortar and topped with pickled chanterelle mushrooms, roe, sour cream, and dill. A pestle is provided for the guest to bust open the bread, revealing a spiced cheese cream with butter-fried chanterelles, shallots, chives and some more dill for good Swedish measure. The intention is for guests to then scoop out the contents using the shards of crispy bread.

“It’s a beautiful dish and it’s a little bit surprising. I think we have this urge inside us to destroy something that is beautiful, like when you’re a child and you build a sandcastle only to kick it over.”

Today the ‘sandwich’ (as it is whimsically named - a decision intended to add to the dish’s element of surprise) is so well known that it makes perfect sense. But when Stefan first began discussing the idea with his colleagues, he was met with apprehension. And that’s to put it gently.

“They said, ‘You’re absolutely crazy! What are you talking about?’. I had to explain I had this idea that you should hide something underneath. I like to search beneath the surface. I wanted something to surprise the guests...and to surprise me!”

The dish works, he continues, because it doesn’t sacrifice taste for presentation. It wouldn’t have achieved such an iconic status if guests didn’t enjoy eating it as much as demolishing it. The final version wasn’t created overnight -- the rye bread alone went through around 30 iterations before the team was satisfied it had the desired cripsiness and didn’t absorb too much moisture from the toppings.

“It took a good couple of months to get it right. We bake the bread first then freeze it and slice it thinly. It has to stay crispy even when the toppings are added. It never gets soggy or crumbles, it always breaks into three or four big croutons which you can dip into the cream.”

The sandwich is so popular that there have been several variations of it over the years. The toppings always include typically Swedish ingredients like shrimp, pike, and gravad lax, alongside the core ingredients - the rye bread and a Västerbotten or spiced cream. It’s such a popular concept that the team has even considered turning it into a dessert -- something committed fans of the dish can tentatively look forward to in the future.

“We’re not quite there yet, but it’s so popular we’ve been thinking about it. It’s become a signature dish for us so it’s hard to take it off the menu.”

Words by Sophie Miskiw. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.