Nothing is as Norwegian as kjøttkaker. Loosely translated as ‘meat cakes’, they are very similar in taste, texture and composition to Swedish meatballs, the latter probably better recognized among Americans (Ikea, anyone?). Shaped more like patties versus balls, kjøttkaker also, in my humble opinion, provide additional flavor when compared to their Swedish cousins, because more spices are added into the meat mixture. Norwegian meat cakes may look like this:
Below is a photo of typical Swedish meatballs, shaped as the name implies, into “balls” and are slightly smaller in size:
Some argue that kjøttkaker aren’t Norwegian at all. Popping up during the 18th century, a grinder was required to make the meatballs, and since this was a very expensive equipment, only rich people owned one. And rich people were few and far in between in Norway at that time (how things have changed!). The exotic spices in the meat were also ingredients not commonly seen in this part of the world. It didn’t take long however, until kjøttkaker were part of everybody’s diet, and they have since been named Norway’s National Dish. On everybody’s dinner table at one point or another during the week or month, it is natural that several versions have been created, and choices of sides may vary as well. Some people choose to add oats in the ground meat, paying tribute to the old days when oats were used to make the meat last, creating more food for less money. In the Hjorthol household (Hjorthol is my maiden name), only added potato starch and sometimes flour is added, and we will serve mashed peas (instead of mashed potatoes, like the Swedes do) with the dish, as well as the traditional boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam. Pickled cucumbers might also be on the plate. Others select ‘kålstuing’ – a creamed cabbage dish – which I also enjoy. I have included this recipe for you all to try out as well.
The key to the complex, rich flavor of the sauce, is adding a couple of slices of the Norwegian “gjetost”. With its caramelized, tangy flavor it does miracles for any gravy, but is especially mouthwatering with this dish. I’ve experimented with kjøttkaker for a while, and as a result, have chosen to add in a select mix of spices I think work wonderfully well. Note the traditional kjøttkaker should always include nutmeg and ginger. Otherwise it’s not Norwegian! 🙂
Below is a lovely recipe for kjøttkaker, easy to put together but complex in flavor. Enjoy!
1 lb mix of ground pork, beef and veal
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup panko or ¼ baguette without crust, cubed
3/4 cup cold milk
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp clove
1/8 tsp allspice
½ of a small Vidalia onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup cold milk
1/2 onion, diced finely
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups meat stock, either from frying the meatballs or beef stock, heated
2 tbsp red currant jelly
3 slices of “brunost” (Norwegian goat cheese)
1 tbsp fresh herbs (I like a mix of thyme and rosemary)
½ cup heavy cream
To make sauce: Saute the onion in butter in sauté pan. Add in the flour and the warm stock gradually while constantly whisking. Season with salt and pepper. Add ‘brunost , herbs and red currant jelly and whisk in, then heavy cream at the very end. Let the sauce simmer for another 10 minutes, and season again w/salt and pepper if needed.
To make the meat cakes:
Mix the meats together in a big bowl, using your hands, and season with salt and pepper. Add the panko or bread cubes, egg, remaining spices, and finely chopped onion.
Knead well. Add the milk gradually and knead well each time. The milk should have the same temperature as the ground meat, preferably cold. The mixture should be smooth and even. Shape into patties using a large spoon and a moist hand. Add a tbsp of butter to a large sauté pan and fry the patties on medium heat, flatten them a bit with your hand, turn after 5 minutes and cook until golden brown on both sides. Transfer them over to the already made sauce and let them steep for a few more minutes before serving.
ERTESTUING (Mashed Peas)
This popular, ultra Norwegian side dish is versatile and can be used as a companion to many meals. Most commonly known as the side kick to the famous (dreaded?) “lutefisk”, I certainly prefer it with my kjøttkaker. Simple, but satisfying – just remember to season well – nobody wants bland peas!!
2 cups green peas (frozen is ok)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp sugar
about 2 tbsp of milk
If using fresh peas, soak them overnight. Cook them according to the package in lots of salted water, about 1 – 1 ½ hour. Drain. (otherwise if using frozen peas, all you need to do is thaw them ). Melt the butter in a sauce pan, whisk in the flour. Add in a splash of milk and whisk until smooth. Fold in the peas and let them simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.
KÅLSTUING (Creamed Cabbage)
Kålstuing is a very simple dish, but this rich, creamy side is another classic staple in Norwegian cuisine, much like creamed spinach is here in the United States. Wonderful with all types of sausage dinners, charcuterie and our popular fish cakes (to be covered later), I felt it necessary to incorporate kålstuing here!
1 1/2 lb head of cabbage, shredded
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
2 cups cabbage stock (leftover from cooking the cabbage)
1 cup milk
Bring the shredded cabbage to a boil in a large pot of salted water. Drain, saving the water and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large sauce pot with a heavy bottom, and whisk in the flour until smooth and no lumps are left. Add the cabbage stock and milk until desired thickness. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the cabbage and let it cook for about 5 minutes or so. Season again if needed.
The wonderful thing about the meat patties we make in Norway, is that we constantly experiment with these little suckers, and one version that has become extremely popular over the last couple of decades are kjøttkaker made from venison (or reindeer in Norway, but I know that is somewhat difficult to get a hold of here!!). Not only does the venison give the meat patties a wonderful gamy flavor, but it is also a healthier version providing lower fat. Although relatively easy to get, reindeer is still considered a special treat in Norway, so people will offer these on special occasions mostly. Because I am generous (sometimes), I have added a bonus recipe using venison as well. Here I use fewer spices to make the venison shine. This sauce has mushrooms added into it, which is a terrific partner to any game dish.
REINSDYRKJØTTKAKER (Reindeer Meat Cakes)
1 ½ lbs reindeer meat (or venison), ground
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp butter or oil for frying
Make the sauce (recipe to follow). Place the ground venison meat in a large bowl, and add in spices, salt, pepper and potato starch, and mix into meat. Add the eggs and heavy cream and combine well. Shape into round patties, and fry them in a sauté pan about 5 minutes on each side. Add them into the sauce and let them steep under low heat for about 15 minutes.
Serve with boiled or oven fried potatoes and lingonberries, and if you like, brussels sprouts or other greens.
VILTSAUS (Game Sauce)
200 grams mushrooms (whatever kind you like), sliced
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups beef or venison stock
5 juniper berries, crushed
2 cups heavy cream or sour cream
4 oz “brunost” (Norwegian brown cheese)
3 tbsp currant jelly
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sauce pan, add the onion and sauté on medium heat until clear, about 5-10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté further, another 10 minutes. Add the stock and let it simmer and reduce by half. Add the juniper berries, heavy cream and brown cheese and simmer another 10-15 minutes. Finally, add the currant jelly and season with salt and pepper.