Lapskaus – a Norwegian recipe for comfort food

Lapskaus is a hearty Norwegian beef stew known to everyone in the country as a reliable every day dinner choice that never disappoints. Easy to throw together using leftover vegetables, meat and stock and the stew can either be light or dark. Regarded as one of the most popular classics in Norway among both young and old, each household will claim they have the ‘true’ recipe for lapskaus.  Light means the broth is clear (chicken or vegetable broth or water is used), and the stew consists of both smoked and fresh meat, onion, bacon and potatoes. The “dark” or German version is made from leftover meat, onions, potatoes, vegetables and a gravy is included.  My mom would make the dark, German kind – and I don’t really feel I have eaten lapskaus unless the gravy is present.  It separates it from any other “stew” out there, makes it rich with layers of flavor and more importantly, brings back many fond memories of times spent with my family around the dinner table.   I should mention there are several theories as to what light and dark lapskaus is and consists of – but this is my experience having come across the two versions. Regardless,  there’s nothing more fulfilling and comforting than a bowl of lapskaus, preferably paired with a full bodied red wine of your choice (Norwegians love their Amarone).

Every country has their version of “beef stew”, each one interpreting and showcasing the history and culture of the people making and eating it.  This is what I love about food – it not only nourishes you, but it tells a story. About your family, your town, your region and country.  Countless times I have turned to recipes and research around food to help me make myself feel closer to my family and friends in Norway, whom I see too seldom. Lapskaus definitely is one of those dinners that warms my heart, and will also warm the body on a cold winter night.

According to gastronomy historian Henry  Notaker,  lapskaus is originally a German dish, served on ships for the sailors and fishermen.  The stew, sometimes also referred to as “storm stew”,  dates back further than the potato, and back then, it was supposed to consist of meat and what we called “ship biscuits”. These relatively neutral tasting biscuits (also sometimes referred to as “school biscuits”) are simply made from spelt flour, baking soda, syrup, egg and sugar.  They were often softened in water and salty meats or bacon were added to them. Not exactly haute cuisine, but this was a typical ship-board staple in the 19th century. Here’s a photo of the boxes used to carry these famous biscuits on board the ships:

skipskjekskasse

The background for the name lapskaus is uncertain, however it is thought to have origins in the Dutch labskaus and the English lobscouse, which might again have come from the term lob’s course, meaning “a dish for strong men”.  Lapskaus is a similar word as saus (sauce), suppe (soup) and grøt (porridge), which all translate to  “a messy mixture of something”, or – a hodgepodge.  Further south, German labskaus (also lapskaus) originated from the northern parts of Germany like Bremen and Hamburg, and consisted of ox meat, potatoes, herring, onion, rutabaga and spices.

Funnily enough, there was a street in the Norwegian-American working class neighborhood of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn in the 1920s, called the Lapskaus Boulevard. This street, located around 8th avenue, got its name because of its many shops and restaurants selling lapskaus, lefse, lutefisk, komle and other Norwegian traditional foods.  At the time, over 100,000 Norwegians lived in the area. Today, ironically the street has been re-named “Little Hong Kong”, and Norwegians are a minority among mostly Chinese, Arabs and Americans.

lapskausblvd

Today, lapskaus competitions are still being held in this area and across other Norwegian-American communities in the U.S., where we can see the many varieties and interpretations of this dish.

It’s  worth mentioning that both here and in Norway, lapskaus can also refer to a wonderful fruit salad, mixed with whipped cream, nuts, and/or vanilla custard. This makes for a lovely, light dessert, and a perfect ending to a heavier main course.

Below is the classic recipe for lapskaus from my family. You can also try adding in sausages and bacon (a favorite among kids), or  add in other herbs and garlic for a different flavor profile.  Sometimes lamb and fish will be substituted for beef,  and sour cream might also be added into the stew for a tangy touch. Regardless, you can’t go wrong with this base recipe, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do!

MY MOM’S INCREDIBLE LAPSKAUS

1 1/2 lbs beef stew meat, cubed

1/2 Vidalia onion, sliced

2 tbsp butter

2 carrots

2 parsnips

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced into 2 inch  cubes

2 cups sauerkraut (make your own or you can buy it already in stores)

1 small bag frozen peas

For gravy:

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

3 cups beef stock, heated

Handful Fresh herbs chopped (rosemary, thyme, oregano)

Here’s my homemade sauerkraut ready to get cooking  — 1 head of cabbage, 1-2 tbsp caraway seeds, 1 cup water, 1 apple peeled, cored and diced and season with salt and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  Let simmer/cook down about 30 minutes until cabbage is wilted.

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Season beef cubes with salt and pepper.

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In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, add butter (or oil) and place cubed meat in one single layer, be careful not to overcrowded.

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You may have to sear the meat off in two rounds. Saute until golden brown, about 1 min each side.  Remove meat and set aside.  Add 2 tbs of butter,  add in onions, saute for 3-4 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Whisk in flour until combined, and gradually add in beef stock. Whisk until it starts to thicken:

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Add in the vegetables, sauerkraut and herbs, season with salt and pepper.

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Cover the pot and let simmer for about 2 hours until vegetables are cooked through and tender.

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Check on it from time to time, but resist from stirring too much, so as to not break up the vegetables. If the stew seems to thick, you can add some water or additional stock.   Note: add in the peas just near the end, about 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with flatbread or your favorite, crusty loaf!

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10 thoughts on “Lapskaus – a Norwegian recipe for comfort food

  1. Mike says:

    Interesting article.
    I’m trying to discover the origins of the term ‘Scouse’ which is a popular dish in Liverpool but there seems to be some confusion; the standard version is that ‘We’ got it from Scandinavian sailors and it became popular especially amongst the poor (‘Blind Scouse’ was for those who could not afford meat). However, I also know that the term ‘lobscourse’ was in use in England in the late 1600s / early 1700s and had a slightly more offensive meaning than the one you have i.e. it was a ‘dish fit for a slob or lout’ rather than a ‘strong man’. This has led some to suggest that ‘You’ got it from us and took it home to the fjords. This makes Henry Notaker’s version very important as the suggestion is that lapskaus is a German dish which predates the potato in Europe (16thC).
    What do you think?

    • Sunny says:

      Hi Mike, thanks for reading my blog post! I find it incredibly fascinating reading about everybody’s versions of food stories, about where dishes originate, etc. I particularly found it funny what you mentioned about the term lobscourse and its offensive meaning, ha! I guess it has inspired me to do even more research – thanks for your input!!

      • Mike says:

        Hi Sunny, I think Herr Notaker’s assertion may be criticised because potatoes according to Tony Crowley at Leeds University would not have been included on European ships well after their discovery for two reasons;
        1. They were hard to store and probably subject to rot (hence biscuits would have been preferred long after the introduction of the potato into Europe).
        2. Potatoes were an expensive luxury import and not to be wasted on mere ‘sailors’.
        So potatoes had been discovered but not used on board ship for German lapscous or any other meal.
        Anyway I’d like to include your Mum’s (note correct English spelling) recipe for Lapscous in something I’m writing as it is significantly different to ‘our’ version in Liverpool.
        BTW Tuesday the 28th was Global Scouse Day and we celebrated by touring pubs in Liverpool serving it up that day.
        All the best
        Mike

      • Mike says:

        Hi Sunny,
        I’ve included your Mum’s Lapskaus recipe in my book on Liverpool
        Will let you know when it gets published
        Mike
        P.S. Have you ever tried the herring version?

      • Sunny says:

        Hi Mike – Would be great to have known prior to you including the recipe and hope I will get credit and that you can link to my blog? No I have not tried the herring version – even before I went vegan!

  2. GJ says:

    Thank you for you so much for sharing your recipe! I have been looking for a recipe similar to my mom’s and yours is spot on. Brings back sweet memories for me. Starting new/old memories now for my three grandson’s.
    -g

    • Sunny says:

      Hi GJ! I’m so happy you came across my blog and found my recipe for lapskaus brought back memories for you… that is why I started this blog! Thanks very much for your kind comment, and hope you will continue to check back in here! Sunny 🙂

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