One of the most popular dishes served at Christmas my my region (and has spread to the rest Norway now) is pinnekjøtt, or as we call it where I’m from, fåreribbe. Pinnekjøtt is made from mutton, as this was plentiful in western Norway in the old days and an important part of people’s diet. Over 30% of Norwegians (or 1.5 million people) are estimated to eat pinnekjøtt on Christmas Eve, making it the second most beloved dish after the pork belly (I will cover this dish in a different blog post).The preparation method of fåreribbe dates back to the old times, and makes this dish very unique. Whole sides of lamb or mutton get placed in a salt solution for a couple of weeks, then hung up and dried for another 6-8 weeks, and sometimes smoked.
The meat was traditionally smoked in areas where the humidity was high, to prevent it from turning moldy. This is no longer a problem today, but the smoking process is still being practiced to preserve old cooking methods. The drying of the meat is what gives it its unique flavor profile. Whenever I smell that aroma, it always takes me back to my mom’s kitchen on Christmas Eve. Good memories! My dad would make his own ribs from scratch, whereas today most people will buy them already prepared in packages to go; the sides are cut into ribs and most are already pre-soaked so you don’t have to soak them in water before cooking. The drying and curing of the meat makes it very salty, so make sure to note on the package whether or not it has been pre-soaked!
My dad would hang the ribs to dry in our “stabbur” – an ancient type of storage house placed on stakes, common in the old days in Norway, where people would store food items such as flour, and use it to dry and cure different types of meat. The stakes were created to elevate the house from the ground to prevent humidity penetrating from the ground, as well as block mice and rats from entering the house. This is an example of what a “stabbur” would look like (not ours!) – often times there will be a layer of grass on the roof:
I should mention not many people own “stabbur” anymore, unless they live on a farm…
Back to the pinnekjøtt preparation: After the ribs have been soaking in water, it is steamed, usually over branches of birch, for 3-4 hours until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. In my household, the pinnekjøtt is served with pork belly, boiled potatoes, sausages, meat patties, lingonberry jam, mashed rutabaga and sauerkraut. You can only imagine how we feel after ingesting all that food in one sitting… which is why growing up, my mom stopped serving dessert, and rather served up some coffee (Irish for the adults) with our seven varieties of cookies a couple of hours later after we had done the dishes and were getting ready to open presents. Here’s an example of what a Christmas meal dish may look like:
It is estimated that in order to burn off all the calories of a plate of our traditional Christmas dinner, a person has to cross-country ski for 9 hours straight… To this day I have yet to meet someone who tried that! The high calorie count doesn’t seem to stop Norwegians from indulging in this very decadent meal, and many even repeat and enjoy the same platter on New Year’s Eve as well.. No wonder we need New Year’s resolutions! All worth it though, it is one of the most delicious meals I know!