Thursday, May 17, 2012
Norwegian Meatballs and Syttende Mai
Today is syttende mai (May 17th), the Norwegian constitution day. On this day in 1814 Norway declared its independence, which it did not fully gain until 1905, when it finally broke apart from its union with Sweden. May 17th is a big and well-celebrated Norwegian holiday.
As I mentioned earlier, we lived in Oslo. In 2010, a few days before May 17th we were told by someone we knew "to go outside and look at the people." So we took a long walk to Oslo downtown, to Karl Johans gate. We saw people trickling in from around the streets, gravitating in the same direction, dressed in formal wear. Men were wearing suits, women formal dress. Some women were wearing beautiful long dresses, with embroidery on the front, white shirts, and long flowing skirts, the colors blue or red or black. As we walked down towards the palace, people were blasting music and drinking and having fun on rooftops. When we reached the palace, we could not walk any longer. There were people everywhere, a crowd bigger than I've ever seen before, not anywhere, not even during the Yankees parade in New York. Karl Johans gate was completely filled with people, as far as the eye could see. And everywhere there were bursts of color, balloons and Norwegian flags, blond heads and traditional hats. It was easy to spot the tourists, because they, like us, were not dressed for it, and there were in a pitiful minority. Everywhere there were traditional dresses, the beautifully handmade bunad. Little children, almost angelic with their blond and gold and golden brown heads, were also wearing the traditional (but tiny, almost fit for a doll) dresses, each clutching a small flag in their hands. There were there for the children's parade, which is one of the traditions on that day.
Soon after, the crowd began to disperse, as people went home for dinner or to the outdoors for grilling and enjoying the evening outside. And I was awed and humbled by the national sentiment so strong which we were privileged to see.
So it is perhaps fitting to make Norwegian (as opposed to Swedish) meatballs today. They are similar but there are differences.
My experience with Swedish meatballs is rather limited (I've had them at IKEA and I've made them at a cooking class), so for fear of stirring some strong emotions that inevitably arise when it comes to the right way of making particular meatballs, I will not even attempt to claim to know them. It appears that Swedish meatballs are made using breadcrumbs which are soaked in milk for a bit. This is what gives them their light, springy texture. Norwegian meatballs appear to have a more meaty substance; breadcrumbs aren't always used, and if they are, they are used in lesser quantity. There are also differences in spices. In our cooking class, the Swedish meatballs called for caraway seeds. Norwegian meatballs and meat cakes call for nutmeg or ginger or both.
Norwegian meatballs are traditionally served with sauce or gravy and served with boiled potatoes. You can also serve them as an appetizer with a dipping sauce. To make a simple dipping sauce, mix some plain yogurt or crème fraîche with some garlic, dill, salt and pepper and serve it on the side. Anyway you like them, I'm sure you'll enjoy them.
Gratulerer med dagen, Norge!
(Makes about 55)
You will need:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup potato flour
1 cup milk
Butter, for frying
1. In a large bowl, mix together beef, pork, onion, salt, pepper, nutmeg and ginger. Mix in potato flour until blended. Add the milk and egg and mix until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is uniform.
2. Line a baking sheet or a cutting board with wax paper. Using a round tablespoon, scoop some of the mixture into your hand. Roll between your palms into a small ball and place on the wax paper. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.
3. Heat about 2 tbsp butter in a large pan on medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, place the meatballs into the pan and brown the meatballs, shaking the pan occasionally to flip the meatballs so that they brown on all sides. Once the meatballs are browned, lower the heat and cook the meatballs until fully cooked through, about 15 minutes total. Serve as an appetizer, or as a meal with boiled potatoes and your choice of sauce.
Sauce for Meatballs
(Makes about 1 cup)
You will need:
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp finely chopped onion
3/4 oz all purpose flour
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1 tsp mustard, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook until transluscent. Add the flour and mix until uniform (mixture will become very thick). Add the stock and the mustard, and whisk until combined (for a thicker sauce, double the flour). Bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Recipes adapted from: Tom Victor Gausdal og Ole Martin Alfsen, Familiekokeboka.