Kjøttkaker – a rival to Swedish meatballs

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

1 egg

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

salt, pepper

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

salt, pepper

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

salt, pepper


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

2 eggs

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.


14 thoughts on “Kjøttkaker – a rival to Swedish meatballs

  1. Debbie Sumstad Petras says:

    I am now so hungry after reading this post. It’s been way too many years since I made creamed cabbage. As children, we often had Norwegian meatballs, boiled potatoes with gravy and creamed cabbage. I can’t wait to start cooking!

  2. Birger (Ben) Karel says:

    My wife and I (well mainly my wife) just made the Kjottkaker according to your recipe and they turned out perfect. We cooked them in our outdoor barbeque kitchen for all of our Norske familie here in Perth, Western Australia to have tomorrow night Christmas Eve. Cheers and merry xmas.

    • Sunny says:

      Hi Birger! Thanks so much for your comment and I’m happy to hear my recipe turned out well for you! Although I no longer eat meat myself, I leave the traditional recipes up still, as the initial purpose of this blog was to reconnect people with their Norwegian heritage… Your message means a lot so thanks again and wishing you and your family a happy New Year! Hope you’ll keep checking back in 2015! Sunny 🙂

  3. Mark says:

    This recipe is okay, but I found two that were better, one of them being the best. But your kalstuing and ertestuing are good!

    • Sunny says:

      Hi and thanks for your comment – glad you tried out the mashed peas! This is how I grew up eating them in Norway but there are of course several versions of them (saltier too) – The beautiful thing is we can alaays adjust recipes to suit our palate and just use them for inspiration 🙂 Appreciate you stopping by! Sunny

  4. Ana says:

    The kjøttkaker sauce calls for milk and cream, but the instructions only list the cream added at the end. Do you add both milk and cream at the same time?

    • Sunny says:

      Hi Ana, sorry for my late reply but I was out traveling for business. Apologies for the vagueness of the explanation/directions in the recipe. The milk should be added in the beginning with the flour and stock to make a roux, then once the sauce is almost done, you add in the cream at the very end. Hope that clarifies it!

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