17Mai 2013 parade

17Mai 2013 4

Tell me you didn’t miss it?  You didn’t did you?  I’m sure at least some of you celebrated – right?

We sure did!

It was Syttende Mai, Norwegian Independence (er, ok, Constitution) Day last Friday!!!  Best day of the year, you know.

Last week was busily full of baking – especially things with cardamom, mmmm – and meatball making and cheese acquiring and gravlax marinating.

This year, since we are back in Minnesota, we got to go to the big party with my family.  And a couple of our best Boston friends flew here to join us.  We still have visitors, so I won’t take too much time describing the day and the party.  Also, I’ve told you a bit of what Syttende Mai is like before, like here, and here, and I don’t want to belabor a point.

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What I do want to do though is finally, finally, share with you one of our most treasured family recipes, my mom’s Norwegian meatballs.  Meatballs – or even more often meatcakes, but meatballs sounds just slightly better and is more culturally understandable, I think, and they’re basically the same thing – are basically a country-wide staple in Norway.  You can buy them pre-made in grocery stores, you can order them in wayside cafes, or at restaurants at traditional lodges.  They’re a simple, unfussy weeknight meal, homey, totally unpretentious farm food.  But they may also be served at Christmas.  They’re just a really important food.

And my mother, we strongly believe, makes some of the best Norwegian meatballs.  Ever.  They’re tender and flavorful, but not overly flavored.  They don’t make you think.  And they shouldn’t. They should just make you feel warm and happy from the inside, no analysis required.  Plus they swim in a rich, brown gravy that’s “so good you could just drink it,” as my great grandmother Frances would say (with elongated o’s and a j that came out as a y).

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I meant to document the whole process this year, snapping photos of all the mixing and rolling and frying and gravy making.  But, then I was called on to do airport pickups and bake kringle, and by the time that was done my mother had already handily churned out a batch of 80 meatballs, and I’d missed it.

But, because I would feel bad waiting and depriving you even longer, I’ll still share the recipe, as much as there is one.  Like any good old family recipe, these meatballs are cooked mostly by feel with a bit of this and just enough of that.  So, sense, taste, think, adjust, and taste again as you go, especially with the gravy.  Adjust any flavorings to suit your taste and don’t stop until you’ve got it.

A belated gratulerer med dagen to you all!

17Mai 2013 meatballs

4.6 from 5 reviews
Mom's Norwegian Meatballs with Gravy (Kjøttkaker med brunsaus)
Serves: 4-6
  • ½ pound lean ground beef
  • ⅓ pound ground pork
  • ⅓ pound ground veal (if veal is unavailable you can replace it with more beef and pork)
  • 1 egg
  • ⅔ cups Panko bread crumbs
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ an onion, grated on a box grater
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp. allspice
  • 6 Tbs. butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ½ onion, skin removed but left in tact
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbs. red wine
  • A couple dashes gravy browning agent (eg. Kitchen Bouquet) - optional, but it never tastes quite right to me without it!
  • 3-4 thin slices of gjetost, Norwegian brown goat cheese - also optional, since this is an acquired taste
  • Additional salt and pepper to taste
  1. In an electric mixer (Kitchen Aid), mix together the ground meats and the egg until combined. Form a well in the middle and add the breadcrumbs then pour the milk onto the breadcrumbs and allow to sit for a minute or two to soften them. Next add the spices and grated onion and whip the meats, crumbs, milk, and flavorings together for several minutes until very well combined and lightened in texture.
  2. Form the meat into balls about the size of golf balls. Handle the meat gently, so you don't smash it and make it tough, but also make sure that you form the meatballs well enough that they're not all cracked around the outsides.
  3. Heat a couple of Tbs. or so of butter in a large Dutch oven and fry the meatballs, carefully turning until they are well browned on all sides. Make sure they each get a really nice brown crust. Do not crowd the meatballs in the pan, you will probably have to fry them in a couple batches to make sure they don’t steam each other.
  4. Once all of the meatballs have been well browned, return them all to the Dutch oven, add the half onion (the half that's been left intact), and pour broth over them, using enough broth to cover them halfway. Simmer until they are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and remove the onion.
  5. To make the gravy, in a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the remaining 4 Tbs. of butter. Stir in the flour to make a roux and allow to cook for a minute or two to take away any raw flour flavor. Then (this is the slightly tricky part), bit by bit, whisk the broth that the meatballs were cooking in into the roux, whisking vigorously to prevent clumping.
  6. If you didn’t use all of the broth to cook the meatballs, add any remaining broth to the gravy and bring to a boil, stirring all the while. Immediately turn to a low simmer and cook until thickened. Whisk in the sour cream, wine, gravy browner, and gjetost if desired. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Allow to cook on very low heat for another couple of minutes, tasting and adjusting any of the flavorings (salt, pepper, wine, cream, gjetost...) to taste.
  8. Pour the gravy over the meatballs to cover them, then serve accompanied by potatoes and sweet and sour red cabbage.



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20 Responses to Mom’s Norwegian Meatballs with Gravy (Kjøttkaker med brunsaus)

  1. Canal Cook says:

    They look great. Meatballs are an institution over here in Denmark too, but they aren’t usually with a gravy.

    • Emily says:

      Totally! I love those subtle differences across Scandinavia in things like meatballs and sausages. They’re so similar, but also unique.

  2. gisela says:

    Congratulations to 17:e Maj.
    The food looks great. Yum yum….
    I must say I have always admired all you Norwegians for wearing your traditional costumes. Good for you. I wish I had a Swedish one…. perhaps one day..

    • Emily says:

      It is awfully fun to have a traditional costume. And amazingly mine still fit me over my baby bump! Good thing mine is from a region where the dresses have high waists!

  3. Sarah says:

    I have to tell you that this post brought such a big grin to my face and a warmth to my heart! We lived in Norway (Stavanger) for 4 years and we celebrated each Syttende Mai with all the parades and hot dogs, etc. Such a wonderful day! I still think of it. These meatballs bring back great memories, too. Thank you for the trip down memory lane to a time and place that is dear to me!

    • Emily says:

      My family is on the East Coast (Oslo, Sandefjord) and up in Nor Norge. But, I love Stavanger! Such a fun town. Glad I could bring back some happy memories! 🙂

  4. Sarah says:

    Yeah, I pretty much missed it, unless you count a Facebook post. We were traveling to a wedding on Friday night, so no cooking of any sort was done by me. Although I still haven’t broken in my vintage cast iron heart waffle iron….

    Also, living on the East Coast, I really, really, REALLY miss lefse. A lot. Really a lot. And the fiance doesn’t like it (despite having at least some Danish blood), and I don’t have an electric griddle, so I don’t make it at home. 🙁

    Thank you for the meatball recipe. I can make American ones, but not Norwegian ones, so I’ll have to try these sometime.

    • Emily says:

      He doesn’t like lefse???!!! Wow. That’s pretty close to a fatal flaw ;). You definitely should give your old waffle iron a try sometime! Though the old ones are a lot trickier. Have you had your fiance try lefse wrapped around a hotdog instead of using a bun? That’s the way my family usually will eat it (as lompe, as it’s called), rather than with butter and sugar the way most Americans do. We converted a number of people that way. Good luck!

  5. Hannah says:

    Happy Syttende Mai to you! We celebrated with lamb and cabbage stew this year – so good. What a beautiful celebration you had! It’s wonderful you could share it with both your family and Boston friends.

  6. Emily, this has to be one of the prettiest food blogs I’ve encountered, really amazing.

  7. Sannebear says:

    My mum’s recipe is slightly different and has been adjusted according to her tastes. I very much doubt that my mormor and bestefar ever considered using garlic or soy sauce in their meatballs. I’ve never heard of the step of brewing them in stock – interesting. But I do save all the buttery goodness between each batch and use that for the roux, again, lots of red wine and soy sauce help make the best gravy 🙂 I married a Brit and lived there for many years. Regardless of where we spent Christmas, I always had to make my mum’s Norwegian meatballs because NO holiday was complete without them. They are a firm birthday and holiday staple in my family and can’t wait to pass it on to my children.

    • Emily says:

      That’s awesome! I totally agree, it’s not really a holiday without meatballs! I’ll have to try a little soy sauce in mine, sometime.

  8. Janet says:

    I am of mixed blood, meaning I am Norwegian and Swedish. The Swedish grandmother had the stronger personality and so we mostly had Swedish tradtional foods on holidays in our Minneapolis home.
    Since traveling to both countries and meeting our Scandinavian relatives, I realize how much I have been missing. I am now going to venture out to make Vaffler with my new appliance, bought at Engebritsens on Lake St. on a recent trip “home”. No butter and syrup, but whipped or sour cream and strawberry preserves. Cloudberries would be bette,r if we could buy them in the US.
    I have to admit however, I take the easy way out with meatballs. I can “turn” any meatball Swedish by adding enough cardamom and allspice to the creme gravy. And, by the way, the Swedish grandma admitted, when I asked for the recipe, she used Cream of Mushroom soup! So much for authentic! I buy meatballs frozen at Sam’s. But done in the crock pot, they are good and completely disappear at any party where I serve them.

  9. Trisha C says:

    Great recipe!

  10. Rob says:

    The only time we ever ate meatballs was at the mens’ supper at church…LOL…so no family recipe here…since I got married we’re attending a (shudder) swedish lutheran church in St. Paul, so I decided I had to bring norwegian meatballs to the potluck for our pastor’s wedding. Just an FYI to anyone cooking for a crowd, I quintupled the recipe and baked them in batches instead of frying (I got 150 meatballs,,,I cannot imagine frying them all, and I almost always bake meatballs)…anyway, it turned out great! I make normal meatballs then just flatten them with my wet palm so as to distinguish them from their swedish cousins…and I refuse to buy gjetost because it’s gross so I used a little jarlsberg in the sauce…delicious! I will reheat in a crock pot and take to church…I’m sure that he and his new husband will approve 🙂

  11. Calli says:

    When my lovely Norwegian husband and I started living together here in the states, I asked what some of the things he missed from home were. Kjøttkaker was high on the list. He got his mother’s recipe, and while mine aren’t exactly the same as hers, they make him pretty happy. Our Christmas tradition has become having kjøttkaker for Christmas Eve dinner, because my family celebrates on Christmas day.

    His mother was a little baffled by it, because it’s not “special”, but he wanted kjøttkaker for our wedding reception. We gave our caterer my mother-in-law’s recipe, and he did a really good job. My family loved them, and I often make them now for pot lucks and holiday parties. The kjøttkaker is now as much a comfort food that feels like home for me almost as much as my husband.

    Also, I keep seeing gjetost described as “an acquired taste”, but I loved it from the first time I had it, and we recently introduced my extended family to it at a party, and it was a huge hit, with several people asking me where I got it and what the package looks like. And it definitely adds a little something special to the brunsaus.

    I just stumbled onto your blog, but I’m enjoying it.

  12. Tess says:

    This recipe was so delicious, the meatballs were moist and I already can’t wait to make it again. Thank you for sharing it with all of us, and since my ancestors were Norwegian it means a lot that I can make something like this and have fun with it.

  13. Kiara says:

    The gjetost is barely distinguishable by taste but gives the sauce the most amazing texture. For the skeptics out there, I’ve made this recipe (which is almost identical to my grandfather’s (maybe because our family is from not far from you – Kapp in Østre Toten) twice, once with the brown cheese and once without. The cheese should not be optional. It really makes the sauce sublime!

    Finely processing the meat until it’s light and fluffy makes these meatballs the best in the world. A trip down memory lane… I’m Canadian but lived in Norway as a kid and go back when I can.

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