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.
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).
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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pour the gravy over the meatballs to cover them, then serve accompanied by potatoes and sweet and sour red cabbage.