Danish Cuisine — Frikadeller: Fried Meat Patties

An old Scandinavian proverb says that Danes live to eat, Norwegians eat to live, and the Swedish live to drink.  Danish cuisine is hearty — creamy, fatty, and simply prepared, and people who truly live to eat would have it no other way.

Denmark quick facts:

  • Capital: Copenhagen
  • Population: 5,602,536 (January 2013 estimate)
  • Notable Danes: Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, Norbert “Zack” Van Houten

For most people, the most famous food from Denmark is the aptly named Danish, a flaky pastry often filled with cheese or fruit syrups.  Danish food is so much more though.  The Danish smørrebrød (literally “buttered bread”), slices of dark sourdough rye bread covered with toppings like cucumbers, salmon, meat slices, salads, or pâtés, has spread throughout Scandinavia where it is enjoyed as part of a cold breakfast or lunch.  Another food, very popular in Germany, the not-quite-hamburger-patty, not-quite-Swedish-meatball frikadeller (recipe follows), is in fact Danish in origin.  Frikadeller can be made of just about any ground meat (though most sources recommend at least half pork) and be served hot or cold and at any time of the day, though for someone not accustomed to such a heavy diet we recommend a time when you don’t have to go anywhere for a while.

Frikadeller

adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia (Time-Life Foods of the World Series) by Dale Brown and Danish Open Sandwiches (yes, an entire blog devoted to smørrebrød)

SERVES 4 TO 6 WITH 16 MEATBALLS

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 slice bread, ground into crumbs
  • 1 egg, thoroughly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 Tbs flour
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice

First we gathered our assembled ingredients into small display bowls just so we would have to wash more dishes:

frikadelleringredients
Everything got a display bowl except the meat. Meat needs no adornment.

…then immediately and haphazardly dumped their contents into a giant mixing bowl:

frikingredientsinbowl

Next we needed to combine everything.  Some cooks, if preparing a more Italian-style meatball, would want to avoid breaking down the meat’s texture too much by overmixing, so they would gently fold the mixture over itself with two hands until it was just combined.  We are making meatballs the Scandinavian way, though, so Chris gnashed the meat between his fingers as hard as he could, extruding the meat through his fingertips like a Play-Dough set in order to get as fine a texture as possible:

frikadellermixingbyhand

Once everything was good and pasty (but still not completely blended like a pâté would be; there was still plenty of texture left in the meat):

frikadellermixed

…the meat mixture went into the refrigerator for about an hour to firm up for easier shaping.

Frikadeller are shaped like either small patties or flattened meatballs, depending on your vantage point.  We kept calling them meatballs while we were preparing them, so that’s what we’ll stick to.

After an hour of refrigeration, the meat was shaped into sixteen flattened meatballs.  Sources we found showed either flattened oval-shaped meatballs or flattened spheres; we chose the flattened sphere shape for simplicity.  We aimed for about two inch round patties of about one inch thickness, and Angie hit the mark almost perfectly:

frikadellershaped

Into a hot pan on a medium burner we added about three tablespoons each vegetable oil and butter (not because we couldn’t settle on an unhealthy frying medium, but because that combination is recommended in most sources we read), then once all the butter had melted we put about half our meatballs into the hot fat:

frikadellerfrying

Five minutes later, they were ready to flip:

frikadellerflipped

After another five minutes the frikadeller were browned and crispy all over and just barely done in the center:

frikadeller

The crispy outsides of our frikadeller were intensely savory with a rich, meaty flavor which encased a moist, tender, delicate, springy inside.  The inside was a lot like a good Swedish meatball where the fine texture of the meat coalesces instead of remains separate, and the meat is spongy instead of crumbly when pulled apart.  Our frikadeller were delicious, but we’ll definitely be having salad for dinner the next night.

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