Thanks to IKEA, everybody have heard about Swedish meatballs. Now it is time you hear about Norwegian meatballs, cause they are totally different, and totally delicious! Here’s how my grandmother made them!
My grandmother was a tremendous traditional cook, and made THE BEST kjøttkaker i brun saus ever. I have sadly lost her recipe, but after years of experimentation, these meatballs & gravy are exactly as I remember it; utterly irresistable!
Det er sausen som gjør susen!
That’s what she always said, and it means “it’s the gravy that does it!”. And I agree – you need to make a killer gravy to pull this one off as well as my grandmother did. And the best gravy starts with ox tails.
Here’s an excerpt from my Rich beef stock recipe:
The reason oxtails make such a terrific stock is that it has plenty of collagen that gets broken down into gelatine during the simmering, and produces the silkiest texture and deepest, beefiest flavor of them all. And you get a free meal out of them afterwards. And at least in Norway it’s as “relatively cheap” as things get in this country.
In other words, this is real “gravy food”, so you need good potatoes, and lots of them! And because the meatballs are also served with the oh-so-protein-rich green peas, you really don’t need too much meat either, or you’ll simply burst!
The recipe below is for four very healthy servings 🙂
- 700 g 14-18% fat ground beef*
- 50 g flour
- 1-200 ml whole milk
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground dried ginger (not fresh!!)
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp mace (or nutmeg)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne (her secret ingredient)
- 2 tsp fine sea salt, plus more to taste
*The quality of the meat has a huge impact on the end product, and especially so because these are mild flavors. If you can get it, buy grass fed, organic ground beef. You need fat in there or it’ll turn very dry, so go for something that has 14-18% fat, just like you would with a killer burger.
- 5-600 ml rich beef stock (recipe)
- 45 g real butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- Dark soy sauce, to taste
- Fine sea salt to taste
Mashed green peas
- 500 g dried whole green peas*
- 50 g real butter
- Fine sea salt to taste
*You can get away with using split green peas, but it’s not quite the same.
- 300 g lingonberries, fresh or frozen*
- 100 g sugar
*If you can’t find fresh or frozen lingonberries, IKEA at least used to have lingonberry jam. A decent alternative is cranberries.
- 1-1.3 kg boiled potatoes to serve. (How much of a big eater are you?)
While this is a very easy dish to make, it does take a bit of time to make it well. Thankfully there’s nothing time sensitive in this dish, so I like to split the work over a couple of days so there’s no stress:
- At least 1 day ahead: Make the stock & lingonberries
- 1 day ahead: soak the peas overnight
- On day of serving:
- Put the peas on
- Peel and ready the potatoes
- Make ready the mix for the meatballs
- Put the potatoes on
- Start shaping and frying the meatballs
- Finish off by making the gravy.
Key for Norwegian cooking is to use enough sea salt. Everything has a mild flavor, and if you don’t use enough salt, it’ll taste bland. Which is a totally undeserved reputation of Norwegian cooking.
Add salt to each component little by little while tasting in between, until each component sings! The correct salt level is a pinch or two before it’s starting to taste salty, which it absolutely is not supposed to.
For the lingonberries, simply stir the berries and the sugar and let sit in the fridge until ready to use.
Both the beef stock and lingonberries freeze really well, so you can easily make this weeks ahead if that suits your schedule best. Otherwise, the lingonberries keeps for well over a month in the fridge, and the stock keeps for 4-5 days.
We use whole dried green peas in Norway, not split peas. You may use split peas if you can’t find the real deal. In a pinch, you may even use fresh, frozen peas.
If using whole dried green peas it is imperative that you soak them in water overnight, then toss out that water, and boil them in new water.
Failing to execute this crucial step will result in the most violent flatulence you have experienced in your whole life; shortly after consumption you will start feeling the pressure building, and you will quickly start passing gas incessantly the rest of the evening.
It will then build into a roiling inferno during the night, and you may, if you’re lucky, have recovered by lunch the following day. Physically at least. The mental scars will be with you for life.
On the day of serving, simmer your peas in lots of unsalted water along a tsp baking powder for 60-90 minutes. The baking powder with alter the PH of the water and make the peas super tender. Drain in a colander, and let drip off for at least 5 minutes. Stir in the butter, and season with fine sea salt to taste. Keep warm under lid.
Meanwhile, peel and boil your potatoes in sea water or well salted water. When the potatoes are done, strain and keep warm under lid.
Mix everything for the meatballs. It is supposed to be a soft, but not wet “dough”. Adjust consistency with milk and/or flour. Heat up your cast iron pan to just over medium, then fry off a test the size of a grape or something. Taste it and see if it needs more salt. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
When happy with the flavor, wet your hands and start shaping the meatballs to the size of a large golf ball, or a small clementine – first to a completely round ball, then gently flatten it.
Fry the meatballs in a moderate amount of oil until they are gray 2/3rds the way up towards the center of the ball. Flip, then when the very center starts turning gray instead of pink, transfer immediately to a plate. They will cook to a perfect medium-well on the plate because of their residual heat.
Bring the heat down to medium, then add the butter for the gravy to your frying pan, and let it brown gently. When the butter has browned a bit, add the flour and brown these together until it’s a lovely golden brown colour.
Stir in the stock little by little while stirring to make a lump free gravy. Using low enough heat on the pan and preheating the stock helps preventing lumps. The gravy is not supposed to be very thick, but rather on the thin side, without being decidedly runny or watery. If it can cover the back of a spoon without just running off, you’re there.
It is very important to simmer the gravy for 5 minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor. The gravy will thicken during the simmering, so adjust with more stock or water as necessary. Season with fine sea salt and a splash dark soy sauce to taste.
After 5 minutes, turn off the heat, then add back the meatballs to warm them through. Turn them after 2 minutes, then everything is ready to serve after 2 more minutes.
My grandmother would serve everything in bowls with a spoon so people could help themselves to what they wanted. She would use a herb mill and sprinkle curly parsley over the potatoes. Very important, that.
We usually drink blackcurrant juice with this, but if you want to try with wine, look to Northern Italy, for example Ca la Bionda Valpolicella Classico, Vajra Langhe Rosso, Casamatta Rosso – or maybe the Portuguese Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande?