Chef Gunnar Gíslason Shows Us How Iceland Does Late Night Snacks
He's a big fan of the open-faced sandwich.
In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.
Gunnar Karl Gíslason used to eat fish a lot more regularly than he does now. The Iceland native and renowned chef of the Nordic cuisine persuasion moved to New York in 2015 to open Agern, a Nordic-inspired tasting menu spot inside Grand Central. (Yeah, did you know there was a Michelin-starred restaurant in Grand Central? Keep that in mind next time you have an hour or so to kill before catching a train.)
“My kids, before moving here, would eat fish like five times a week,” he says. “So very often there’d be a piece of fish left over in the fridge when I got home from work.”
Today, he’s here to show us how to make his ideal Icelandic post-late night shift snack. And, true to his Nordic chef form, it’s an open-faced sandwich, piled high with a brandade-like mixture of fish and skyr, potatoes, radishes and pickled veggies.
Before he landed in New York, Gíslason lived in Reykjavik, where he still owns several very popular new Nordic cuisine restaurants. This sandwich builds flavor the way only a hungry post-shift chef can, born out of his habit of tossing whatever leftovers he had in the fridge with sour cream and piling it high on toast.
It starts with the bread—today, he’s using a good, dense rye from his friend and fellow Nordic chef Claus Meyers’ bakery. He slices it up thin, and slathers it in high-quality Icelandic butter, then slides it into the toaster until golden brown.
We don't actually have any leftover fish in the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen fridge, so he oil-poaches a few fillets of cod, and pretends it's day-old.
“I like to take whatever vegetables, herbs, whatever I have in the cooler, chop it up with some sour cream, and mix the whole thing together and just put it on a toast,” he says.
While the cod simmers, he throws together a quick brine for some Serrano chilies, cucumbers, and pearl onions. He boils some waxy baby Yukon gold potatoes, then smothers them in melted butter when they’re tender.
When the cod is ready, he mixes in some good skyr, an Icelandic-style strained yogurt, until the fillets break down into flaky bits. He seasons the mixture with salt and pepper.
The cod salad gets spread evenly on a single slice of toast, then topped with chunks of buttery potatoes, thinly sliced radishes, his spicy pickled veggies, dill, and peppery watercress.
MAKE THIS: Cod and Potato Toast
“I really like it to have a kick to it,” he says. He’s not joking, either, as he generously grates fresh horseradish over the top like a server grates parmesan cheese on your pasta at Olive Garden. And of course, the only way to eat this late-night, fridge-scavenged snack is leaning against the kitchen counter, unabashedly shoving the whole thing in your face.
We give him 10/10 for form.