Viltgryte, literally ”wild stew” is one of the most classic Norwegian stews. It is mainly made with reindeer, moose or venison. Hence the name. I make it even wilder and serve it with one of the loveliest mushrooms, the chanterelle and top it with lingonberries.
At the time of writing winter has arrived in the North of Norway, but in Oslo the trees are still adorned by the colourful hand of autumn. The last days though, frost is beginning to get at firm grip on the landscape. Mornings are colder with rime on the ground, most of the apples on my neighbour’s tree have fallen down, and it is time to find my woolen clothes in the attic. The weather forecast says tomorrow will be the first day of snow. It is time for heartening stews that will warm your soul.
The chanterelle – forest gold
”Wild stew” is Nordic comfort food, particularly in the autumn when the coniferous woods are filled with one of our best mushrooms, the chanterelle. The chanterelle, also called ”forest gold”, is a taste I clearly associate with Nordic food, but to my astonishment it is also found in Mexico, Africa (and the Himalayas). Its taste is described as peppery, thus its German name is Pfifferling. Remember to just brush the chanterelles. Otherwise they will absorb water like a sponge. If you have to rinse them, do it right before preparing them.
Golden like autumn
Traditionally the stew is made with sour cream, juniper berries and brown cheese (consider the latter as the cheesy counterpart to palm sugar), but I make a more French version substituting the sour cream with heavy cream and the juniper berries with thyme. In Norway the stew is made with reindeer, moose or venison.
This is a stew with few ingredients, but the chanterelle makes all the difference. It yields a wonderful flavour and golden colour. Thus the stew embodies the Nordic autumn. If you cannot find chanterelle, choose porcini/cepes (steinsopp) or (brown) champignon. There is only one thing that can improve this stew, and that is the satisfaction of gathering the ingredients yourself.
Maybe you find the thought of eating ”Rudolf” disturbing, but eating reindeer is in my opinion a much better option than the sad faith of the livestock in the meat industry. Eating reindeer is a sustainable option where the animals have lived a free-range life.
Also note: If you use shaved meat of reindeer or moose (which is common in Norway for this type of meat), then the cooking time is only 30–40 minutes. If you use venison stewing meat, you need at least an hour. For a more northern touch, you can substitute the thyme with juniper berries.
Wild autumn stew with chanterelles (makes 3):
1 onion, finely chopped
300–400 g chanterelles (cepes or brown champignon)
400 g (reindeer, moose or venison)
a handful thyme (only the leaves) or 1/2 tsp crushed juniper berries
500 ml venison stock (or beef stock)
150 ml heavy or double cream
4 tbsp cooking oil (rapeseed or sunflower)
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
1. Sauté the onion for 5 minutes on low heat without browning it.
2. If the chanterelles are big, divide into two. Add the chanterelles (but put aside a handful for garnish) and continue frying for 5 minutes. Add more oil if necessary.
3. Place onion and chanterelles on a plate, turn the heat up and fry the meat in two batches. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Return the onion and chanterelles to the pan. Add the thyme and stock.
4a. If you are using venison stewing meat, cook on medium-slow heat under lid until tender, at least an 1 hour. Then take the lid off an reduce the stock a quarter.
4b. If you are using shaved meat of reindeer, cook on medium heat without the lid on until the stock is reduced by half.
5. Finally add the cream and continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened a bit. Adjust the seasoning.
6. Garnish with chanterelles fried in butter for 5 minutes, springs of thyme and lingonberries.
Serve with mashed potatoes, steamed or boiled brussels sprouts and lingonberry jam.