Long ago, the first humans to set foot in the Nordic region found something that would be vital to their survival - large game animals.
From moose to reindeer, herds of these wild animals roamed the cold Nordic landscape. Humans quickly learned to hunt these beasts and found ways to use every piece of the animal, from their fur for warmth to their bones as tools. The meat though was the key during long dark winters when nothing grew and food was scarce.
Today, game meat continues to play an important role in Nordic culture, especially as you move north, though most hunting is now done for recreation rather than as a necessary means to feed one’s family.
One of the most iconic herds to roam the Nordic region is the reindeer.
Once a true wild animal, many reindeer herds now are owned and raised by humans.
Far in the northern stretches of Sweden, Norway, and Finland you find the Sami people, the original tamers of the reindeer. These people, once exclusively nomadic reindeer herders, continue to see the reindeer as an important part of their cultural identity.
The Sami have learned to use the reindeer to their full potential - using them to pull sleds, making cheese from their milk, and of course as a source of meat. There are many traditional Sami recipes for reindeer but one that has moved beyond their community and into the wider Nordic culinary landscape is shaved reindeer meat stew.
Shaving frozen meat is actually an ingenious way to easily store meat for a long, cold winter.
With little to no prep work involved, meat from a freshly butchered animal (butchered late in the autumn or early winter) is simply stored in a cold, dark place. Basically a natural freezer, meat in the far corners of the Nordic region could easily stay frozen all winter long.
The only problem came when it was time to make dinner.
The frozen meat could not be brought in and defrosted or the whole piece would need to be eaten at once. When only a small piece was needed the solution was to thinly slice or shave pieces of meat off the frozen slab.
While originally a Sami reindeer recipe, today shaved meat stews incorporate many decidedly not Sami ingredients.
The stews are made with other frozen meats as well such as moose or beef. This type of stew is also a great way to use up the less tender cuts of meat as the very thin slices of meat require much less cooking to become tender.
Nordic Shaved Meat Stew
Using shavings of frozen meat, traditionally reindeer, this Nordic stew is sure to warm you up
1 1⁄4 lb (570g) shaved meat (reindeer, elk, or beef)
1⁄4 lb (114g) bacon, diced
1 1⁄3 cups (100g) fresh mushrooms, cut
1 cup (240ml) water
1 1⁄4 cups (300ml) sour cream
1⁄2 cup (120ml) milk
2 oz (60g) Nordic brown goat cheese (sold as Gjetost or Brunost)
1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
5 crushed juniper berries (optional)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
The reindeer, elk, or beef shavings should be sliced as thin as possible from a piece of frozen meat. Add the meat straight to a pot on high heat with the bacon and mushrooms. Brown the ingredients with a bit of butter.
Add water to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add in the rest of the ingredients and continue to simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Serve immediately.