March 22, 2021 | Updated June 06, 2022
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While pretty much everyone has heard of Swedish meatballs, I am here to cast a vote for their neighbor, Norwegian meatballs, Kjøttkaker.
Norwegian meatballs are a bit larger and flatter than their Swedish cousins, but both use spices from the Silk Road, a relic of the ages when Vikings brought exotic spices back with them from their voyages.
My rendition of this recipe uses ground venison, but you can use really whatever ground meat you have handy. Beef is traditional.
There is a lot going on in this plate of brown. The aforementioned spices, and a brown gravy that is so good you’ll want to lick it off the plate; Holly did. Let me walk you through it.
When I lived in Minnesota, I ate Norwegian meatballs whenever I got the chance, and I developed this recipe after consulting with a ton of Scandinavian cookbooks — although I leaned most heavily on Magnus Nilsson’s The Nordic Cookbook.
First, the meat. No matter what you use, it needs to have some fat, and needs to be ground fine. I went with venison ground through a 4.5 mm die mixed with about 15 percent pork fat. Use that as a rough guide and you’ll be in business.
Second, these are gluten-free meatballs — or at least my version is. I mix the meat with potato starch, which was a tip I picked up from Nilsson. Another tip, this one from me: Use cream, not milk, in the meatballs. Rich? You bet. But so, so good. You can use milk if you want, I won’t hate you. But it is really, really good with cream.
Third, you want to mix Norwegian meatballs well, like a sausage mixture. Some meatballs, like Italian meatballs, are not kneaded a lot. But these are. You want a homogenous, almost bouncy texture.
Now for the gravy. I rely on two special ingredients that put this over the top, Maggi seasoning, and homemade porcini powder. Maggi is a secret ingredient in many brown gravy recipes, and is available in pretty much any supermarket. Porcini powder is just dried porcini mushrooms ground to a powder. You can use other mushrooms, like morels, or you can skip it.
The gravy, by the way, is not gluten free, but you can make it so by subbing more potato starch for the flour; use about a tablespoon at the end.
Serve your Norwegian meatballs with potatoes, of course. Mashed or boiled would be normal. German spätzle would be good, too, as would crusty rye bread.
Oh, and if you still aren’t convinced, I have a fantastic recipe for Swedish meatballs, too, one that’s been in my family for a generation.
- 1 1/4 pound finely ground venison
- 3 tablespoons potato starch
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 2/3 cup cream (or milk)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 pint beef stock (or venison)
- 2 teaspoons porcini powder
- 2 teaspoons Maggi, or to taste
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Put the meat and all the other meatball ingredients except the cream into a bowl and mix well. Now pour in the cream and mix again for a minute or three, until the meat comes together as one mass. Make into 12 fat patties, like a cross between a meatball and a burger.
- Heat the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat and brown the meatballs well on both sides, roughly 3 minutes per side. Move them to a plate or paper towels to drain while you make the gravy.
- Add the flour to the butter and mix well. Cook the flour over medium-low heat, stirring often, until it turns the color of milk chocolate, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the porcini powder and mix. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring all the way.
- Bring this to a simmer and add all the meatballs. Add Maggi, salt and pepper to taste and let the meatballs cook about 10 minutes at a gentle simmer, turning them once or twice to coat. Serve with potatoes.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
No venison, so tried with ground beef/ pork blend. Very good,Husband says same ! Thx !
Wow! I was blown away by the fantastic, seemingly “exotic” taste and fine texture of these meatballs, made from last year’s elk. Unfortunately finding the potato starch in my local (Kroger) stores wasn’t easy, and I had to try a substitute for the Maggi sauce which I never did find.
Still, it was a very successful experiment and I’m likely to make them again someday soon.
I can’t find potato starch in grocery stores around here. How about corn starch or any ingredient would you recommend?
Casey: Corn starch is fine.
I made these out of moose for a December snow-machine trip in the Arctic. I vacuumed sealed and froze them. They reheated well and were extremely tasty. The recipe was perfect.
I made these with the last of my 2020 ground elk. They were fantastic. I’ll definitely be making more from my 2021 elk.
My favorite “Swedish” meatball, puts the ones at that build your own furniture place to shame!
Excellent recipe, & great photography;
Can’t wait to share this with my Norwegian Mother to get her opinion.
And to share this with my Wife & tell her that she probably couldn’t make this,
Ha !! ( Chef’s Challenge – insult her cooking skills & I’ll be eating these soon)
Don’t tell her my secret strategy please, it’s been working for years.
Another fantastic recipe
As a big time Hank Shaw fan I can say that these didn’t hit home for me. Maybe I’m less Norwegian than I wish I was ;-). I followed the recipe but it just didn’t do it for “my taste.” I’ll take the Swedish brethren of meatball from Hank. https://honest-food.net/swedish-meatballs-yeah-baby-yeah/
Absolutely delicious. The spice mixture was interesting, but when cooked was fairly mellow. My kids even loved it, which is impressive as they are skeptical of dishes that are “too brown.” I thought the leftovers were even better than fresh. Definitely going into the rotation.
I made these from a mule deer I killed last November. My father in-law took one bite and said, “This is the best meatball I’ve ever tasted.” ‘Nuff said.
Made this today. So frickin good!
Hank, for the white pepper, allspice, and cloves, does the half teaspoon refer to the measurement of the whole spice or the ground spice? Thanks!
Mary Jane: These are all ground spices.
Just finished reading “We Die Alone” and got this recipe. Made it tonight as a tribute to the Norwegian way of life. Wow it did not disappoint! Family absolutely loved it. I used ground elk that i mix with about 15% pork. Will be a family favorite!
For the Maggi, powdered or liquid? Or does it matter?
David: Liquid. Never used the powdered stuff!
Hey there Hank – My son gave me some ground moose that I want to try your recipe on. Any need to modify ingredients or adjust them to double the recipe?
Hey Jim! So long as the ground moose has had fat ground into it, you will be fine. If not, you will need to add fat somehow, either by grinding bacon ends or pork fat, or by going 50-50 with the fattiest ground pork or beef you can find.
Can’t wait to try this recipe. The photo just made my lock screen!
Can’t wait to make – but caution that Maggi sauce is NOT gluten free. Bears mentioning since you mention other GF subs in your recipe. As someone with an autoimmmune disease and can’t have gluten – I am grateful for the GF effort. Love your recipes !
Susanne: Oh! Thanks for letting me know, I did not know that.
Hank, Maggi Seasoning is basically an all wheat soy sauce. Most Japanese Soy Sauce is made from a mix of wheat and soy beans. But Tamari Soy Sauce is all soy and is gluten free. It would sub nicely.
David: Aha! Good to know. Maggi’s main flavoring is lovage, if I remember right. I’ll have to look into it more.
I will try you recipe soon.
The recipe is very similar, passed down from my Norwegan family.
A variations :
1/3 pork , 2/3 lean red meat. (no cream)
1 large potato for 3 lbs meat. (no potato starch)
1/2 medium onion for 3 lbs meat. (add)
grind the potato and onion with the meat.
You are the first I’ve seen refer to Norwegan Meatballs.
Interesting. We usually use egg(s) to bind the meat in our ‘fashirki’. I guess you mean a cooked potato?
Hank, will ground canada goose work? If yes any changes I would need to make?
Mike: It will work, but you will need to cut it with some fat, like ground bacon ends or fatty pork.