16 December 2010

Reindeer Stew (Reinsdyrgryte) with Thyme Dumplings – Recipe

Seasons greetings! Christmas is rapidly approaching, and what better way to usher in the yuletide festivities than by making a hearty reindeer stew.

Say what!

Yup, reindeer stew.

Oh, come on. Why are you looking at me like that? Now I know for some, the thought of eating Rudolph, Dasher, Prancer et al. may be horrifying, but hear me out; this is no time for anthropomorphic sentimentality – reindeer meat is a delicious treat that should not be missed! It has a wonderful taste, akin to a gamier version of venison, and is tender, very lean, and packed with vitamin E and omega-3. The meat is extraordinarily dark, so much so that if you didn't know better you'd think it had been smoked. Reindeers have been a part of Nordic cuisine for hundreds of years, and its meat is widely eaten here in Norway. Reindeer meat is free-range, sustainable, and healthy – perhaps just the sort of thing we should be eating more of?

Reindeers have been an integral part of the identity of the Sami people for centuries. The Sami are the Nordic's only indigenous population and they predominantly live in northern Norway (with some also living in Sweden, Finland and Russia). It is estimated that around 10% of the Sami population is involved with reindeer husbandry. Reindeers in Norway are semi-wild; they are allowed to roam freely in Finnmark, way up in the Arctic Circle. However, it is the Sami people who shepherd them on the long journey from their inland winter breeding grounds to the spring grazing pastures on the coast and back again. Traditionally the whole family would be involved, and along the way they would sleep in lavvu tents, gathering round campfires to sing evocative yoiks (a traditional form of Sami song). Nowadays, snowmobiles have replaced skis, but the core of this fascinating tradition remains intact and unchanged. (For some truly stunning photos of Sami culture, check out the work of Erika Larsen).
Photo © Richard Canadas
Now that the temperatures here in Norway have plummeted, huddling round the dinner table with a piping hot plate of stew is just so warming and comforting. With young kids in the house it's also great to be able to make something that doesn't need much attention, and stews fit the bill perfectly.

There is a traditional Norwegian reindeer stew called Finnbiff, made with frozen shavings of reindeer meat, cream, mushrooms, and bacon. Although tasty enough, I wanted to make something a bit different, so I devised a simple recipe that is not too dissimilar from a classic beef bourguignon. The base is a standard mirepoix, to which I add game stock and red wine. Reindeer goes so well with juniper berries, so I throw in a few lightly crushed berries to give that lovely distinctive juniper note to the dish. I also bulk it out with some delicious and easy thyme dumplings which are adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. Just try not to hum "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" while you make this, as I caught myself subconsciously doing!
 Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 600g reindeer meat (preferably shoulder), cut into cubes
  • 150g bacon, sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 400ml game stock (or use beef stock)
  • ½ bottle decent red wine
  • 200g button mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2tbsp plain flour
For the dumplings:
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 105g butter
  • 2tbsp thyme, chopped
  • a little water
Method
  1. Fry the bacon in a little olive oil in a suitable casserole pan
  2. Add the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic and continue to cook gently until softened
  3. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside
  4. Dust the reindeer meat with seasoned flour, add a bit more oil to the pan and turn up the heat
  5. Brown the reindeer meat; you may need to do this in two batches
  6. Add the cooked vegetables back into the pan, along with the wine, stock, mushrooms, bay leaf and juniper berries and bring to the simmer
  7. Meanwhile, to make the thyme dumplings, place the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until you get a fine breadcrumb-like consistency. Now add a touch of water gradually, until you get a firm, but not too wet dough.
  8. Form the dough into golf ball-sized balls and float them on the top of the stew
  9. Cover and cook on a very low heat for 1½ – 2 hours
  10. Serve with lots of buttered green beans