Potetball is a dish I naturally grew up with, being from the region of Sunnmøre. This dish was perfected by my mother, who made the lightest, most delicate potetball. My mother hails from a village called Hjørungavåg (close to Hareid), an area where this dish is a staple in everybody’s home and maybe even more popular than in the town I grew up in. Potetball has many names, it can go by raspeball, komler, klubb or komper, depending where in the country you are. Essentially this 300 year old dish is a potato dumpling made from shredded raw (and adding a couple of cooked) potatoes mixed with rye flour, stuffed with a bite of dried sausage, salted lamb or bacon. The cooked potatoes are added to help make the dumplings lighter, and not so dense. In my house, we used “Strandamør” inside the potetball, which is a cured sausage from Stranda, a neighboring town. It’s now famous all over Norway and is the most delicious cured sausage I know (pictured below):
The strandamør is dark red, almost black in color, mostly made from mutton or sheep, but sometimes pork and beef as well. The word “Mør” or “morr” comes from the norse name “morr” which means chopped innards (like hearts, lungs and kidneys), and sausages made from these ingredients.
Strandamør as it’s sold in stores in Norway:
Potetball is cooked in a broth of salted mutton which gives it an amazingly unique, rich flavor. Traditionally served with sausages, boiled rutabagas and melted butter or bacon fat, some people even add boiled potatoes. In my house potatoes were never added, as my mother thought that was identical to putting “butter on bacon” 🙂 The condiments vary greatly regionally, as with most dishes in Norway. Some people insist dipping the dumplings in sugar or syrup, while others must have them with sour cream or lingonberry jam. Admittedly not a very pretty dish to look at, luckily beauty is only skin deep, as the dumplings taste delicious and definitely cover any carb cravings you might have!
This is really a dish that fits into the “you don’t understand it unless you’ve grown up with it” category. Most Norwegians even in eastern Norway/around the Oslo area, finds the dish strange or not very appealing, but as the people of Sunnmøre (my region) say: More for us! 🙂 I remember making the dish for my husband, who by the way is an omnivore and appreciates pretty much any food that’s put in front of him. It was probably the first time he only took two bites and seemed disinterested in finishing. When I asked him, he said he just didn’t get it – it didn’t seem like a complete dish, and it was quite heavy. I took the comments well, thinking inside “oh well, he just doesn’t know any better.” A popular comment about the potetball is “You either like it, or you don’t.” Simple as that. I guess I will be making potetball when I find myself at home on my own, and otherwise I am definitely going to enjoy it in my mom’s or sister’s house this spring when I go visit!
Traditionally, potetball was served every Thursday. Why Thursday was chosen as the holy “potetball day” remains a bit of a mystery, and when asking why, many people just shrug their shoulders and reply “That’s just the way it was”. One theory is that people ate mostly fish all week- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. On Thursday, potetball was served to give everyone a “break” from fish, and also marked a bit of a ‘celebration’ as the week was nearing the end and the weekend was almost here. Potatoes that were going a bit soggy were used to make the potetball, and meat leftovers were added into the pot to flavor the broth and dumplings. Sundays were reserved for a nicer meal if the budget would allow. Potetball was named the “poor man’s food” because it was so cheap to make, and typically a big pot was made on Thursday so you could eat leftovers all the way until Sunday. My mom would slice the dumplings and fry them the following day and serve the sides with it, I would put ketchup (gasp!) on the potetball and it was just as delicious as, if not better than, the meal the day before. In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of potatoes in the Norwegian household, and how the priests across the country helped spread their knowledge about cultivating and cooking the potato to the people. Potetball seems to have originated during this time.
Another unique tradition is the drink that goes with the potetball. We have something called ‘surmelk’, which is the same as kefir, although perhaps a bit runnier/smoother than the kefir you get here in this country (somewhere in the middle of kefir and buttermilk). Surmelk is milk that has become acidified by lactic acid bacteria. It has a longer shelf life and is safer to drink than unpasteurized milk and therefore had an important place in the Norwegian diet in the old days. The reason why surmelk is such a perfect companion to this dish is that the lactic acid bacteria in the milk is said to aid in the digestion of potetball, known as a very heavy meal. It’s not uncommon to hear of people not being able to move for hours after they’ve had potetball for dinner…
Surmelk being made the old fashioned way:
The finished product as sold in stores (you can get this in whole milk or skim milk versions):
A quick side note: Potetball (or raspeball), should not be confused with blandaball – the latter being a dumpling that consists of a mixture of seafood, onions and potatoes and looks exactly like the potetball. I recall one time I was served this thinking it was potetball – and boy was I disappointed!! (no offense to the blandaball)
Upon researching this dish, I found that potetball is related to the Lithuanian cepelinai, as well as the Kloesse dumplings in Austria and Germany. All countries have their versions of dumplings, some more closely related than others. Sweden has their “kroppkaka” and of course we all know of Italy’s gnocchi.
While this is not a quick dish to make, the labor you put into it is worth it, as you can make a second dinner out of it the following day by slicing and frying the dumplings, as mentioned earlier in the post. And your house will smell really good, I promise!
RECIPE FOR POTETBALL
Serves about 4 (12 pieces)
2 lbs raw russet potatoes, peeled and grated
1-2 potatoes, peeled and boiled
2 tsp salt
250 g (1 cup) rye flour
100 g (1/2 cup) all purpose flour
Dried sausage or pieces of bacon
*Leg of salted mutton
*Realizing mutton can be tough to locate for most if not in Norway, you can substitute salted pork here
Peel the potatoes and grate them in a food processor or by hand. Mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl and shape into a medium sized ball, and push a piece of bacon or thin slice of dried sausage into the center.
Start with cooking the meat first in water for about an hour, then place all the dumplings one by one into a big pot together with the salted mutton meat and water to cover. Bring to just below simmer (the pot should not boil!) and cook for another hour. The meat should be falling off the bone at this point.
You can add whatever vegetables you’d like to serve with the dish into the pot the last half hour, such as potatoes, rutabaga and carrots, as well as sausages. Melted butter and bacon is delicious with it too!