Norwegian Meatballs (Kjottkaker)

>> Friday, February 1, 2013

Norwegian Meatballs (Kjottkaker)

Joe's Norwegian roots are pretty interesting. The first couple of the family, Jonas and Martha Duea, came to the U.S. in the 1800s, and Jonas was a sergeant in the U.S. Civil War. Along with several other Norwegian families, they moved to Iowa and founded the town of Roland. They were some of the most prominent citizens of the town. When Martha passed away, Jonas brought over an 18-year-old Norwegian girl, Henriette, and raised another generation of children with her.

The Norwegian culture ran deep through these families, right up to Joe's father's generation. Once Joe's father started school, his father told him, "No more Norwegian, only English. We're Americans."

We have only a few Norwegian family recipes, like many children of immigrants who assimilate. This Christmas, our bible study group had its usual Christmas party and white elephant gift exchange. We got the best gift of all - a copy of the book Gudrun's Kitchen, the cookbook and reminiscences of a Norwegian woman who immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s and became a prominent cook. It's fascinating.

We found by comparing a number of recipes for kjottkaker (say KYET-kahker) that the distinctive things about Norwegian meatballs are that they are served in a brown gravy, and they use sweet spice ingredients of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Use as much or as little as you like.

Norwegian Meatballs (Kjottkaker)

Traditionally, these are served over noodles or mashed potatoes with cranberry or lingonberry sauce on the side.


For the meatballs

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork (if you like, you can lighten it up by using ground turkey instead)
2 cups crushed crackers or fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup onion, minced
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp marjoram

For the gravy

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tbsp beef bouillon base (Norwegians tend to use Oxo brand, but we like "Better Than Bouillon")
2 1/2 cups boiling water


In a large bowl, stir together all the meatball ingredients. Dig in with your hands and mix until well combined. Form the mixture into 2 inch balls, then flatten them slightly into patties.

In a large frying pan, brown the meatballs on all sides. You may have to cook these in several batches so they're not crowded in the pan. Allow to drain on paper towels.

Melt the butter and oil in the frying pan, then add the flour and sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until the flour browns. Dissolve the bouillon in the boiling water and then slowly pour the water into the flour, stirring constantly until smooth. Heat to a low boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened and reduced, about 20 minutes.

Add the meatballs to the pan and simmer for 20 more minutes.

Serves 6.


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