January 1, 2018
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Hygge. The End.

All aspirational lifestyle trends go to heaven.

A few years ago I visited Denmark to celebrate my mother’s 25th wedding anniversary. My husband, our four-year-old daughter, and I, along with 20 or so of my parents’ closest friends, were instructed to arrive at my aunt’s house—more specifically to stand and wait in her driveway—at 7 o’clock in the morning. It was January, so it was cold and dark. Black dark. It was raining, and most people (including us) did not have umbrellas, as is typical of Danes. And so my husband, daughter, and I stood huddled like penguins, waiting to be invited into the warm house. As I shivered, leaning further into my husband, I heard an elderly Danish woman behind me say enthusiastically, “Er det ikke hyggelig!” Oh, yes, another agreed in Danish. It is.

Perhaps you have heard this word, “hyggelig,” before, or its root, “hygge,” the Danish concept most often translated as “cozy.” According to breathless media coverage (including multiple books!) devoted to hygge, all you need to do is buy the most comfortable cashmere pajamas, download and binge a season of the Danish television series Borgen, brew the perfect cup of coffee, find a fireplace to snuggle up in front of, and hygge will be yours. Branded in the U.S. as an aspirational lifestyle trend, companies have been quick to capitalize on the trend, pushing the many wares they claim will be stepping stones to the holy grail of full hygge, and consumers seem happy to oblige.

As the child of two Danish parents, I have spent many a vacation in Denmark with relatives. As a child in summer I played outside in my clogs with neighborhood kids until 10 p.m., when the sun finally went down. I baked boller, simple, traditional Danish rolls, with one aunt and picked raspberries from another’s garden, to be served with fresh cream. I have bicycled, as Danes do, without fear in both larger cities and small towns, wandered onto empty beaches to steal a nap, and walked for miles through forests in both rain and shine. I have raised more glasses of aquavit and gammeldansk while reciting skål than I can count, and I am here to tell you that contrary to what you’ve read, hygge cannot be curated or bought. Hygge, as you know it, is bullshit.

Hygge is not achieved through art-directing one’s life. And incidentally, the word is pronounced more like “huh-geh,” with the first syllable like a quick breath out, and not the more often seen “hoo-gah,” which sounds to me like a sickly owl. “Hygge” is a noun—a feeling of deep contentment and solace that comes from taking pleasure in the simple things, but it can also be a reflexive verb, as in “Vi hygge os,” or “We are experiencing hygge together.” And then there is the adjective, “hyggelig,” most often applied to the experience that brings hygge: taking a walk in the perfect weather in a beautiful spot, enjoying a book while cozy on a couch (yes, you can hygge alone), spending time with friends.

It’s easy to be intimidated by the ease with which Danes seem to find time for hygge, but it has nothing to do with the country’s abundance of well-designed housewares, cozy knitwear, and omnipresent candles.  At the root of all hygge is people, not things, and more importantly, having the time to spend with them. What the Danes really have over us is a national dedication to work-life balance: Danes work an average of 38 hours per week, many with flexible schedules, and receive five weeks of vacation each year. On top of that, the government provides generous social programs that include free education and health care, retirement benefits, and a full year of paid parental leave.  It’s a lot easier to take time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life when you actually have the time, and your brain is not totally preoccupied with losing your health care or saving enough for retirement or for your child’s education. It’s no wonder Danes make hygge look so easy.

So back to that cold and rainy morning in January—what was so hyggelig about that? It was—and this is what most of those listicles miss—about the occasion. The celebration of two milestone anniversaries (my mother and her twin had been married on the same day 25 years apart) that was news enough to be given a two-page spread in the local newspaper. What was hyggelig was that we’d come together, no matter the shitty weather and lack of light, to celebrate the marriages of the friends and family inside. It was hyggelig to honor tradition—by arranging for a garland to be placed over the doorway, by singing songs that some of us had written personally for the couples inside, by asking to be invited in for coffee and pastries and aquavit. I was told multiple times that it was so hyggelig that we’d flown all the way from New York to be there.

A fictional publishing executive presenting a now-extinct aspirational lifestyle trend in a fictional publishing boardroom.

So how can you find hygge? Stop reading lists. Try, if even just for a short while, to not think of the train wreck that is our current president, turn off your phone, and meet a friend for a coffee instead. Better yet, invite friends over for dinner and actually cook something. If you want to take a stab at emulating the Danes, light some candles and make this flæskesteg sandwich, which brings all the essentials of a classic Danish meal between the two halves of a soft potato roll. Catch up with friends while taking deep pleasure in biting first through the soft bun smeared heavily with rémoulade, then through the sweet-and-sour red cabbage until finally discovering the crunch of the pork skin still attached to the meat—a crispy, crunchy, salty, and fatty layer not unlike chicharrón.

This is the flæskesteg, roast pork with the skin still on and cooked until crisp. This is the food of my childhood visits to Denmark, the roast that for some ungodly reason seems not to exist in American households, or even Brooklyn Smorgasburgs. Maybe you’ll feel hygge, or maybe you won’t, but you will have a damn good sandwich.

Flæskesteg Sandwich

Flæskesteg Sandwich

8-10 sandwiches


  • 1 boneless pork loin roast with the skin, approximately 3 pounds
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Black pepper
  • Braised red cabbage
  • Danish remoulade
  • Pickles, 2-3 thin slices per sandwich
  • Sandwich-size potato rolls, lightly toasted
  • Braised red cabbage
  • 1 medium head of cabbage, 2 to 2-1/2 pounds
  • 4 tablespoons butter or pork fat from the roast
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • ½ cup water
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • Danish Remoulade
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped pickles, plus 1 teaspoon of pickle brine
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Black pepper

The key to this classic Danish sandwich is roast pork with the skin still on and cooked until crisp. It’s crunchy, salty, and fatty not unlike chicharrón.

    Braised Red Cabbage

  1. Heat oven to 325°F. Remove the tough, outer leaves from the cabbage and trim the stem. Cut the cabbage into quarters and remove the core. Thinly slice the cabbage.
  2. Combine the butter or pork fat, the 2 teaspoons of salt, water, vinegar and sugar in a 4 to 5 quart casserole or saucepot. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the cabbage. Stir the cabbage to mix with the other ingredients, cover and place the pot in the oven for approximately 2 hours, or until the cabbage is completely tender. Check the cabbage periodically during the cooking. If it looks as if the cabbage is getting dry, add a small amount of water to the pot to prevent it from burning.
  3. When the cabbage is tender, taste and add more salt if needed.

Danish Remoulade

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until blended.

Pork Loin

  1. Heat oven to 325°F. Using a sharp knife, cut straight lines ¼” apart, through the skin and fat. Make several cross cuts as well, so the skin has a grid-like pattern. This helps the fat escape during cooking and will make it easier to slice the pork later. Make several perpendicular cuts through the skin as well.
  2. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Make sure salt gets between the cuts.
  3. Place the roast on a rack in a roasting pan skin-side up. If you don’t have a rack, you can take a large piece of aluminum foil and roll it up into an “S” shape and place the roast on top. Add ½” of water to the pan.
  4. Roast the pork until it reaches 140°F, about 60-70 minutes. The skin should be amber brown and crispy. Be sure to check the roast periodically to be sure it does not overcook, or it will be dry. If the pork is within 10 degrees of 140°F, but the skin is not crispy, increase the heat in your oven to 450°F, to help the skin crisp more.
  5. When the pork is done, remove from the oven and allow the roast to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. There should be a good bit of pork fat and drippings collected in the pan after roasting. This pork fat is delicious and should be saved and enjoyed in other ways. It can be used instead of butter to flavor the braised red cabbage, or traditionally in Denmark, it would be saved and spread on bread. Don’t strain out the drippings—they make it extra delicious!

To Assemble

  1. Slice the pork following the lines that run through the skin. If the roast is cold, reheat the pork slices in a sauté pan, over low heat on top of the stove. This will re-crisp the skin and any remaining fat underneath. Place a slice of pork on each roll. Top with some of the warmed cabbage, pickle slices and remoulade. Eat warm.

Dalia Jurgensen

Formerly pastry chef for the three-star restaurant Veritas, Dalia Jurgensen has worked in the kitchens of acclaimed restaurant such as Nobu, La Côte Basque, and Dressler. Her work has been widely reviewed and featured in publications including The New York Times, New York, the New York Daily News, and USA Today. Her memoir, Spiced, about life in the kitchen, was published by Putnam in 2009. Dalia currently teaches at the Institute of Culinary Education.

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