Out of all the wonderful traditional Norwegian dishes, Pinnekjøtt is my absolute favorite. Nothing comes even close. Here’s how you make it the 100 % traditional way – plus my own little twist on this Norwegian west coast classic!
First, a very quick background and introduction to the dish for those unfamiliar with it. Pinnekjøtt is both the meat, and the dish, and directly translated to English, it means “stick meat”. The ribs looks like sticks, but they are also steamed on birch sticks.
In short, it is (sometimes smoked) dry cured and steamed mutton served with boiled potatoes, rutabaga and sauce.
Along with Ribbe (crispy pork belly), it is the most popular Christmas dinner in Norway. It is what my family has always enjoyed for Christmas and Easter, and it is fucking amazing.
The origin of the dish
Norway was a piss poor fisher & farmer society up until around 1900. Food was scarce, and what little we had was salted, cured and stored, sorta like a bank.
The more food you had stored in your Stabbur, the wealthier you were. The older, the better, and out in the rural areas, one hardly ate fresh fish nor meat. It was all salted, smoked and cured in one way or the other.
Goats and in particular sheep were held on many farms for their wool and milk. Especially here on the west coast we have many traditional dishes with mutton, like Fårikål, or mutton in cabbage (the National dish of Norway).
Pinnekjøtt, as the dish is served today, is the entire rib cage of a mutton that’s been dry salted for three days, then hung to cure for 6-8 weeks in a dark, cool and well ventilated place.
The entire process is very similar to my recipe for home made Fenalår if you feel like making the entire ting from scratch. Just make sure to carefully remove the spinal cord when trimming the meat before the salting begins.
On the humid, rainy south-west coast where I grew up (imagine Seattle on steroids), it was also quite often cold smoked for 4-5 hours on beech, alder and/or juniper wood before the curing to prevent mold.
After the drying process is done, the meat will then be shelf stable for at least 6 months. It could keep for years, but unless it’s very well made and stored, the fat tends to oxidize over time. It’ll still be edible though, just not as tasty.
When ready, the ribs are cut into pieces. Use a saw to cut through the spine, and a sharp knife in between each rib.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on some magnificent smoked Pinnekjøtt made from goat from Fjord & Fjell delikatesser in Sauda. These goats has been roaming the same areas where we have been hiking for decades, so they have had a wonderful life.
Cooking Pinnekjøtt the 100 % traditional way
Because the meat is so salty, it is soaked in water for at least 24 hours, and the water is changed a few times. This also rehydrates the meat, making it plump up.
It is then steamed over birch branches, and served with boiled potatoes, rutabaga (some times mashed), and the steaming liquid with a knob of butter as a sauce. Some also sear off the meat before serving. Smoked pinnekjøtt prepared like this what I grew up with, and my dad still swears by it.
My little twist
But I have found a way that I think delivers superior flavor, and a far juicier results. And while I am deviating a bit from the ultra traditional way of doing things, I am still retaining the traditional feeling of the dish.
The meat is soaked in water as usual, but instead of steaming the meat, I simmer it in a simple, aromatic vegetable stock (at least) the day before serving, and let it cool completely in the stock. This makes it plump up even further, makes it super juicy, and you can just fish them out and sear them off right before serving.
The other untraditional thing I do is to serve it with a chive butter sauce instead of the steaming liquid.
Because I simmer the meat in a vegetable stock, I am left with an incredibly tasty, smoky stock that I always save for Gul ertesuppe – Norwegian yellow pea soup [recipe here]
Enough babbling – let’s get cooking!
Ingredients (4 servings)
- 12-1500 g smoked pinnekjøtt (3-350 g per person)
The vegetable stock
- 4 liters water
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, bashed
- 4 bay leaves
- sprig of thyme
- 6 whole black pepper corns
- 6 whole juniper berries (optional)
The mashed rutabaga
- 1 large rutabaga (approx. 1.5 kg)
- 1/3-1/2 nutmeg, finely grated
- 50-100 g real butter (depending on the rutabaga weight)
- 20-20 g fine sea salt to taste
The chive butter sauce
- 1 bunch chives, finely chopped
- 300 g real butter, in cubes
- 1 tbsp liquid (water, white wine, or lemon juice)
- 800-1000 g boiled potatoes
- Lingonberry jam
Start by soaking the meat in water overnight, or as per your butcher’s instructions. The saltiness varies depending on the process. Change water at least 3 times.
Next make the vegetable stock. Simply toss everything in a large pot and simmer for an hour. Strain, and discard the vegetables. This can be made days in advance and kept in the fridge, frozen then thawed, whatever suits your schedule.
The day before serving, simmer the meat in the stock for 2 hours. Turn off the heat and let the meat completely cool in the pot.
Nothing is time sensitive, except the sauce, so make sure everything else is ready by the time you start the sauce.
On the day of serving, start by making the rutabaga mash:
Peel and cube the rutabaga, and boil in water for 60 minutes, or until completely tender. Do not salt the water, you’ll add salt later.
Drain into a colander, and let steam off – this will get rid of a lot of moisture. Mash well, add butter, season to taste with grated nutmeg and fine sea salt. First taste your way to the right amount of nutmeg, then find the right balance of salt; the salt will cancel the bitterness of the root, and bring out the sweetness.
If the mash is too wet, you could either cook out the steam in your pot, or add a little bit wheat flour, but make sure to gently simmer for 5 minutes to cook our the raw flour flavor. Keep warm under lid until ready to serve.
Next, put the potatoes on, and when they’re nearing finish, get ready to sear off the meat. Start by fishing out the meat, and let them drip off on a wire rack into your sink, then pat completely dry with a towel – this is crucial for a good sear.
Do not season in any way as it’s already salty and have been infused in the aromatic stock overnight.
Sear of the meat in a hot cast iron pan, as you would a steak. Sear off in 2-3 batches, and put the finished meat onto a wire rack on top of a oven plate to let the fat drip off.
When everything else is lined up and ready, make the chive butter sauce. Start by chopping the chives, and tip into your sauce bowl.
This sauce is what’s called an emulsion. You simply heat up your liquid to right under boiling, turn down the heat to minimum, and then whisk in the butter.
It is extremely important that the sauce does not boil, or it’ll split and be ruined.
When all the butter is whisked in, pour into your sauce bowl.
And that’s it! Serve with a strong, caramelly ale and barrel aged Norwegian aquavit.
We serve with our home brewed Vossaøl with kveik and Gilde Juleaquavit, but failing to brew your own beer, a English style low hop barleywine would most certainly do the trick!