Pinnekjøtt is one of the must-have traditional Norwegian Christmas dishes. It is made from ribs of lamb or mutton that has been salted and dried, and so it has a very strong flavour. Pinnekjøtt directly translates into “stick meat” in English, but the name doesn’t come from the shape of the meat (e.g. the ribs forming sticks) as some may think. The name comes from the birch sticks that are used as a steamer to cook the meat. The birch sticks also add a subtle sweet-minty flavour to the meat.
Pinnekjøtt is very easy to make, but it requires some time. Normally a portion of 400g, including bone, will be enough for each person as the meat is very rich. You can buy the meat ready cut or as a whole side in which you will need to sepapate it into individual ribs. The meat then needs to soak in water for at least 30 hours before cooking, in order to rehydrate and draw out the salt. You may also need to change the water one or two times, depending on how salty you want it.
Once the meat has been rehydrated, it’s time for the sticks. You can buy ready-cut sticks in most Norwegian supermarkets, but if you want to go all out you can cut and wittle your own birch sticks to be cool and have something to brag about to your guests (or, just to provide a fresher flavour). Just make sure you get rid of all the bark.
Build a grid in the bottom of a large pot by criss-crossing layers of sticks. Fill water to the top of (but not over) the grid.
Then, simply put the pieces of meat on top of the sticks. No salt or spices needed, just put the lid on and let the dish steam for about 3 hours on low heat. Check occasionally that the water doesn’t evaporate completely – add more if needed. When the meat falls off the bone, it’s done.
Swede is one of the traditional trimmings with pinnekjøtt. While the meat is cooking, you can start preparing the swede mash. Cut a large swede into pieces and boil until soft. Strain out most of the water and mash either by hand or in a blender. Add a tablespoon of butter and some cooking juice from the meat until you reach a nice consistency.
Pinnekjøtt is served on warm plates with mashed swede, boiled potatoes with skin and a good amount of mustard. The meat is very tender and juicy, so gravy is not needed. Some also like boiled carrots, but any form of salad is out of the question!
Like many traditional Norwegian dishes, pinnekjøtt has the unfortunate side-effect of cooking smell. If your dining area is in the same room as the kitchen, it is probably a good idea to air out the place before guests are seated.
Now all we can say is: ENJOY!