Finnbiff is one of the classic Norwegian dishes with a long tradition. Six thousand years to be exact! Simple to make but still luxurious, this flavor-packed creamy game stew from the indigenous Sami people of Norway, is one of those every day meals you can make without stress and still impress. The standard meat used for this dish is reindeer, as this is the animal most closely connected with the nomadic Sami people. They move with the reindeer throughout the year and adjust to their rhythm, as these animals are their most important source of livelihood. Reindeer have in fact lived in Norway longer than people themselves, and were the first animals who began utilizing the land after the ice melted 10,000 years ago. Despite the dish being thousands of years old, it has now grown in popularity and has been one of the top 10 most requested dishes in searches on food sites on the internet.
In most other non-Scandinavian countries, reindeer will naturally be difficult to get a hold of, so using any type of lean meat will do if you would like to try this dish out. I actually used some really nice skirt steak in my recipe, and it ended up tasting incredible:
In its true form, the reindeer stew or finnbiff, consists of thinly sliced reindeer meat, in fact you have to freeze the meat in order to slice it thin enough. This was the way the Sami people did it, because they would preserve the meat by freezing it to last through the winter. Another theory is that the meat was sliced so thin so it would easily and quickly be grilled over the outside fire, or even eaten raw. Since the meat is sliced so thin, it takes no time to cook, can in fact be dropped straight into the pot from the freezer, and hence sometimes is labeled “fast food” (my kind of fast food for sure!). Reindeer is perhaps the most exotic type of meat we have in Norway, produced in extreme weather conditions in rough nature. Considering the meat is so lean, the amount of flavor it produces is amazing, and is also a very popular choice because it’s healthy and its taste appeals to both the young and old.
I should mention that finnbiff is actually not the name of a dish, it refers to the meat being used in the dish and how it is prepared. So in essence you can serve finnbiff any way you want, with pasta, rice or mashed peas, etc… the alternatives are endless! Another important thing I should add is that probably the more appropriate and politically correct name for this meat would be “reinskav”, as “finnbiff” literally means “steak from the ‘Finns'”, where “Finns” is a name used to describe the Sami people. There are ongoing debates in Norway today about whether or not to re-name this popular dish.
If you would like to try and re-create the flavor of the food coming from the colorful and intriguing Sami people, I have included a great recipe below. The stew does not require any stock or thickening agent but rather is a quick pot of meat, bacon and mushrooms and the liquid used is water. I have added some heavy cream and onions to my stew because I just like to be a bit decadent and also like the taste of the onions with the mushrooms and bacon.
1 lb lean meat such as venison, bison, buffalo, cut into 2 inch cubes
20o grams/7 oz bacon, chopped
250 grams/9 oz wild mushrooms or chanterelles, sliced
1 small Vidalia onion, halved and sliced thin
3 tbsp butter for sauteing
1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half or a mix of water and heavy cream
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cup good sour cream
1/2 cup milk
3 slices ‘geitost’ / Norwegian goat cheese
2 tbsp black currant jelly
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
about 6 or 7 juniper berries, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
Broccoli or brussels sprouts as a side
Season the meat with salt and pepper. In a large heavy duty sauce pan, add the bacon over medium-high heat, saute the bacon bits until golden and crisp, reserve. Then add meat in same pan and brown about 1 min on each side, reserve. In same pan, add onions and mushrooms and saute until nice and golden, then add in the butter and flour and make sure vegetables are properly coated.
Add in the cream or half and half with a little splash of water, as well as the milk and stir. Finally add in sour cream, geitost, black currant jelly, juniper berries and thyme and whisk constantly over medium heat until starting to thicken. Finally, add in the meat and bacon and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Let simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors blend.
Serve the finnbiff with mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli or brussels sprouts and lingonberry jam or ‘tyttebær’.