The crisp air and falling leaves usher in a new season and our plates reflect the seasonal delights of what nature has to offer. As hunters head into the mountainous areas, wild meats become a highlight of the meal; accentuated with gathered wild edibles and recently harvested vegetables. One of these dishes is the ever classic viltgryte or wild meat stew.
A typical wild stew in Norway comprises of wild mushrooms (usually chanterelles), wild meat (reindeer, deer or moose), vegetables of choice (such as carrots and potatoes) and juniper berries all bathed in a creamy sauce with a few slices of brown cheese melted into it. This is the type of meal that is pure comfort food. It’s easy to put together, can encompass a myriad of flavors, and can easily be cooked out in the nature over a glowing fire.
This season, we had a lot of minced/ground moose meat to use up from the previous year. Rather than using pieces of cut meat, I opted for meatballs instead. And, instead of the kitchen, I opted for the outdoors.
The setting of an open fire, surrounded by nature, is the perfect way to reconnect to the ingredients and acknowledge where they came from. The moose was sourced from our local forest, which is filled with juniper bushes, and we had gathered the chanterelles nearby a few weeks earlier. That day, we foraged for some lingonberries (tyttebær) in the surrounding woods and tossed them on top of our stew for a burst of brightness. Bilberries would be welcome as well.
This is my favorite version of a wild stew to date. It has the perfect balance of richness, earthiness, brightness and creaminess. Each wild meatball melts in your mouth, so you don’t need to worry about the leanness of the wild meat you are using. You can also double the recipe, which is what I did as we had guests joining in our feast.
Feel free to serve it with different vegetables in season. Here, I charred broccoli over the fire along with the Brussels sprouts. And, of course, it’s always better if you can cook it in nature over a controlled fire!
Wild Meatball Stew (Viltkjøttboller i viltsaus)
For the meatballs:
- 1 ¾ pounds (800 g) ground moose or venison meat
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup (240 ml) fine breadcrumbs
- 2 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 cup (240 ml) milk
For the stew:
- 2 tablespoons mild-flavored oil, plus more as needed
- 3 tablespoons lightly salted butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- ½ pound (225 g) chanterelles
- 1 teaspoon dried juniper berries, crushed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups (480 ml) game or beef stock
- ½ cup (120 ml) heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons full-fat sour cream
- 6 slices of brunost (Norwegian brown cheese)
- ½ pound (225 g) Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and outer leaves removed
- Fresh thyme leaves
- Lingonberries, optional
Combine all ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and form into 12 large meatballs.
In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches and adding more oil as needed, sear the meatballs, turning, for 2 minutes or until brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
In the same saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until just softened. Add the mushrooms, juniper berries, salt, and pepper and sauté for 5 to 10 or until the mushrooms are soft and most of their juices evaporate. Return the meatballs and any juices from the bowl to the saucepan. Add the stock and bring to a boil then lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, sour cream, and brunost slices and bring to a gentle boil. Continue cooking, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly thickened.
While the stew is simmering, in a large frying pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and a pinch of salt and shake the pan. Lower the heat to medium, cover, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the sprouts begin to crisp and look slightly charred.
Divide the wild meatball stew among bowls then top with Brussels sprouts and sprinkle with fresh lingonberries and sprigs of thyme. Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes.