The sun is setting behind the mountain’s edge and as I look out the window, the trees sway in the gentle breeze. There’s an undeniable change happening as winter’s grasp seems to be giving way. Spring is officially here. And today, it’s Sunday.
In the pot – gently simmering away – is a dish so simple, so classic, so unbelievably comforting it’s a wonder we don’t eat it more often. It’s the ideal Sunday dish; when the whole family has more time to take things slow, which in turn is reflected in the meal. Pieces of fatty chuck steak slowly cook in a rich, beef sauce flanked with onion slices a bay leaf. After a few hours, it’s ready. This perfect and simple stew called sosekjøtt, also referred to as kjøtt i morke “meat in the dark”.
Sosekjøtt is an old-fashioned stew considered husmannskost (home cooked food). Its roots are deep in the western and eastern parts of Norway and yet, also found its way across the Atlantic on the table of one of America’s most famous men.
While researching this dish, I came across an interesting story in Bergenskokeboken from Hugo Ivan Hatland. In the book, the author describes the story of one lady’s journey to establish a new life for herself and in so, ended up serving this dish to Nelson Rockefeller.
Lydia Asphaug packed up her belongings and moved from Telavåg to America. In 1946, she opened her restaurant, Promenaden, in New York – not far from the Norwegian ghetto in Brooklyn referred to as Lapskaus Boulevard (the nickname for part of Eighth Avenue). Her menu included hearty classics from home, like sosekjøtt. She soon had to sell the restaurant since she was not as business minded as she was a great cook. Yet, her journey would continue and she ended up as the chef for Nelson Rockefeller, American business man and 41st vice president of the United States. She would certainly go on to prepare sosekjøtt for him.
There’s just something about home cooked dishes that transcends cultures. Something we can all associate with. Simplicity that speaks volumes and comforts us no matter where we are or what we are facing in that moment. That’s what makes sosekjøtt, like any type of stew or home cooked dish, more than just its ingredients. Its affect reaches far beyond the plate itself.
Sosekjøtt is typically served with boiled or mashed potatoes and a side of vegetables or mashed green peas (ertestuing) or creamed cabbage (kålstuing) and/or stirred lingonberriers (rørte tyttebær). Here, I’ve turned the mashed potatoes into a celebration of spring and added peas to it. Feel free to serve the sides you prefer best with this stew.
For the sosekjøtt:
- 2.2 pounds (1 kg) chuck steak or shoulder steak (høyrygg/bog)
- 3 tablespoons butter, for frying
- 1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 4 cups (1 liter) beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper
For the spring mashed potatoes:
- 1 ½ pounds (about 700 g) starchy potatoes, peeled and cut in half
- 3 tablespoons lightly salted butter
- 1 cup (240 ml) milk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup (150 g) green peas
- 1 bunch dill, chopped
- 2 spring onions, chopped
To make the stew, start by cutting the meat into large chunks, about 1 ½ inches (4 cm). Season well with salt and pepper.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat, until hot and bubbling. Brown the meat in 3 batches (to avoid overcrowding), turning with tongs, for about 3-5 minutes per batch; add one tablespoon more butter with each batch (adding more if necessary). Transfer the meat to a large plate and set aside.
In the same pot, add the 6 tablespoons of butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add in the flour, whisking to combine. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the mixture has turned dark brown, whisking often to ensure it doesn’t begin to burn. The darker the color, the darker the stew will be. Slowly pour in the beef stock, whisking until blended.
Add in the browned meat, onion wedges, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cover with a lid, cooking for 2 hours until the meat is tender. Remove the lid, return the stew to a gentle simmer, and cook for 30 minutes more until thickened slightly. Remove from the heat.
While the stew is cooking for the remaining 30 minutes, prepare the spring mashed potatoes. In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are barely render when pierces with a knife. Drain the potatoes and return to the pot. Add the 3 tablespoons butter, along with the milk, and mash until creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in the green peas, dill, and spring onions.
Serve the spring mashed potatoes immediately with the warm sosekjøtt.