Risengrød is a Danish rice porridge that is eaten around Christmas time. It became associated with the holidays because rice was an imported ingredient, so it was more special than everyday rye, barley, and oat porridges. It is topped with sugar and cinnamon – also special occasion ingredients.
It’s common to make a big batch of risengrød that is eaten for dinner on December 23rd (little Christmas Eve). Leftovers are saved and chilled, and then served reincarnated as a Christmas Eve rice pudding dessert called risalamande.
Risalamande has been a Danish Christmas Eve tradition since the 1800s. At this point in time, although rice was still a status symbol ingredient, it was more widely available to the working class. Thus Copenhagen elite took risengrød and added even fancier ingredients (imported chopped almonds and vanilla bean, topped with whipped cream and sometimes a red berry sauce) to make the porridge both more pudding-y and exclusive; to denote the fanciness, they gave it a French name (the French were the European high culture foodies), ris à l’amande. (Interestingly, when Russian elite would have dinner parties at this time, everything they served except their porridge had a French name – kasha was so wholeheartedly and proudly Russian that it would have been deeply unpatriotic to exclude it). Whoever makes the risalamande hides one whole sweet almond in the batch; whoever finds the almond in their bowl wins a treat, or good luck, or is likely to get married in the coming year, depending on family tradition.
This holiday rice porridge is a Scandinavian tradition but differs a bit from country to country. The Swedes eat risgrynsgröt with fruit, and some recipes add egg to make it a more custardy pudding. The Norweigans call it risengrøt, and the Christmas Eve specific dessert riskrem. All of the Scandinavian countries have a legend of a Christmas elf/gnome character (Nisse in Denmark and Norway, Tomte in Sweden, Tonttu in Finland) who really likes porridge, and will cause mischief in your house or barn if you don’t leave a bowl with lots of butter on your doorstep for him. If you do leave a bowl, the folklore says that the nisse will grant a good harvest.
The recipe for this porridge is quite simple. Mix 1 part short grained white rice, 2 parts water, a cinnamon stick and a pinch of salt together in a saucepan (optional vanilla beans here – if you want to add vanilla extract do that when you add milk). Boil and cook under lid on low heat about 5 minutes. Thereafter you add 4 parts whole milk (lowfat milk burns more easily, and will not make as creamy a porridge), stir and reduce to low heat. Allow the porridge to swell for 30-40 minutes.
Stir frequently so that neither the rice nor milk burns! Top generously with cinnamon or cinnamon sugar (a blend of the two mixed to your own sweetness preference), and lots of butter. Make enough to chill the leftovers and add almonds and cream the next day.
Kantine’s stand at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market in San Francisco sells a really good version of risengrød, topped with chopped up citrus fruit and pecans in addition to the classic cinnamon sugar butter. We tried ours with strawberry jam. Get cozy and creative with your own versions of this holiday porridge! Don’t forget to leave a bowl for the porridge elf!