Smørrebrød (originally smør og brød; Danish for "butter and bread") usually consists of a piece of buttered rye bread (rugbrød), a dense, dark brown bread. Pålæg (meaning on-lay), the topping, then among others can refer to commercial or homemade cold cuts, pieces of meat or fish, cheese or spreads. This daily practice is the base on which the art of the famous Danish open sandwich, smørrebrød is created: A slice or two of pålæg is placed on the buttered bread, and then pyntet (decorated) with the right accompaniments, to create a tasty and visually appealing food item.
Some traditional examples include:
- Dyrlægens natmad (Danish: Veterinarian's midnight snack) -- On a piece of dark rye bread, a layer of liver paté (leverpostej), topped with a slice of corned beef (salt kød) and a slice of meat aspic (sky). This is all decorated with raw onion rings and garden cress.
- Eel -- Smoked eel on dark rye bread, topped with scrambled eggs and sliced radishes.
- Leverpostej -- Warm rough-chopped liverpaste served on dark rye bread, topped with bacon, and sauteed mushrooms.
- Roast beef, thin sliced and served on dark rye bread, topped with a portion of remoulade, and decorated with a sprinkling of shredded horseradish and toasted (ristet) onion.
- Roast pork (Ribbensteg), thin sliced and served on dark rye bread, topped with red sweet and sour cabbage, and decorated with a slice of orange.
- Spiced meat roll (Rullepølse).
- Tartarmad, raw beef mince with salt and pepper, served on dark rye bread, topped with raw onion rings, grated horseradish and a raw egg yolk.
- Smoked salmon (laks)-- Slices of cold smoked or cured salmon (gravad laks) on white bread, topped with shrimp and decorated with a slice of lemon and fresh dill.
- Stjerneskud (translated, Shooting Star) -- On a base of buttered white bread, two pieces of fish: a piece of steamed white fish on one half, a piece of fried, battered plaice or rødspætte on the other half. On top is piled a mound of shrimp, which is then decorated with a dollop of mayonnaise, red caviar, and a lemon slice.
Bread is a very important part of the Scandinavian table. Based primarily on rugbrød, which is sour-dough rye bread. It is a dark, heavy bread which is sometimes bought pre-sliced, in varieties from light-coloured rye, to very dark, and refined to whole grain. It forms the basis of smørrebrød, which is closely related to the Swedish smörgås, literally 'spread bread' (smør is butter).
Traditional toppings include sild, which are pickled herrings (marinerede - plain, krydder - spiced, or karry - curried), slightly sweeter than Dutch or German herrings; thinly-sliced cheese in many varieties; sliced cucumber, tomato and boiled eggs; leverpostej, which is pork liver-paste; dozens of types of cured or processed meat in thin slices, or smoked fish such as salmon; mackerel in tomato sauce; pickled cucumber; boiled egg, and rings of red onion. Mayonnaise mixed with peas, sliced boiled asparagus and diced carrot, called italiensk salat (lit. Italian salad), remoulade or other thick sauces often top the layered open sandwich, which is usually eaten with utensils. It is custom to pass the dish of sliced breads around the table, and then to pass around each dish of toppings, and people help themselves. Hundreds of combinations and varieties of smørrebord are available.
A famous and very old restaurant in Copenhagen's historic Nyhavn harbour, Ida Davidsen, serves up many imaginative combinations, and the fridge in a typical Danish home will often be stocked with toppings for rugbrødsmad, or "rye bread meal", which is a way of saying "a plain normal lunch". Denmark has strong traditions of special types of food eaten at particular times of the year, such as smoked eel with slices of a sort of scrambled-egg loaf eaten on rye bread at New Year, accompanied by beer.