Klubb. Komle. Kumle. Kompe. Raspballer. Potetballer. Baller.
One hundred different names, one Norwegian potato dumplings and the ultimate comfort food for Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans alike.
It’s not the prettiest meal. Nor the fanciest. But what cassoulet may be to a boy who grew up in the French countryside or what beef brisket is to a Jewish boy in New York City, klubb was (and still is) to my dad.
But first, a story.
When my husband first met my dad, he was thrown an off-the-wall, yet still very serious question. It wasn’t the “what are your intentions with my daughter?” kind of an inquiry that many young suitors are faced with when first meeting their future father-in-law. No, my husband was asked the question that would change his future forever : could he make klubb?
For my dad, someone who was raised by a 2nd-generation Norwegian farm girl, fattened up with Sunday night klubb dinners for much of his life, then faced with a life without klubb once she passed away in the early 80s, the potential addition of a “real” Norwegian to the family, someone who could make this holiest of all holy dishes was incredibly exciting. The fact that my husband, did, indeed know how to make klubb (or at least had a decent family recipe), made him instantly golden in my dad’s book. He could have been a 5-time divorcee with a peg leg for all my dad was concerned, at least this guy could make him some klubb.
My parents are in Førde for a visit right now. Firstly to see Lasse, secondly to see the 17.mai parade, and thirdly to eat some klubb (I guess seeing the two of us might come in an honorable fourth). Since it is recognized across much of Norway that Thursdays are “klubb day”, we have now had klubb twice during their stay here. We use my father-in-law’s recipe, which is an easy-to-follow one and undoubtedly one that’s been replicated by many an Iversen up and down the west coast for years. Potatoes, barley flour, all purpose flour, salt and pepper. That’s all that is needed. The perfect peasant meal, but also the perfect meal for a king. Or at least the King of Norway- he’s more down-to-earth than the rest of the European royalty.
I’ve heard of people who toss other ingredients into their klubb- oatmeal, rye flour, even crushed saltines. But these are blatant corruptions to the sacred potato dumpling. They’re traditionally simmered in a pot of water that’s been heavily salted, or preferably flavored by salt pork (I like to use the glamorous pork hock, personally). On the side, we serve a good smoked sausage, some steamed rutabaga, and some well-cooked bacon bits with melted butter. Some regions serve it with smoked mutton instead of pork. Both are good. Diet food, this is not. But when is comfort food ever slimming?
Although you can’t get much more basic with ingredients like potatoes and flour, the success of your klubb relies on two key suggestions. 1) It is best to use a good starchy potato, like a Russet or Idaho (Beate works well if you’re in Norway). Cooking potatoes, like the small red, fingerling, or new potato are not good for klubb. 2) It’s possible to substitute whole wheat flour for the barley flour but do try to scout out barley flour because it’ll offer a lighter, sweeter flavor and more moisture.
Without further ado, I give you my klubb recipe. The one that gave my husband direct acceptance into my family and the one that has brought back many a fond memory for my dad.
Norwegian Potato Dumplings
Makes about 6 large or 8-9 small dumplings (in other words, enough to serve about 4)
A recipe from my father-in-law, Terje Iversen
2 medium starchy potatoes (about 6 oz/170g), peeled, cooked, cooled, then mashed
6 medium raw starchy potatoes (about 18 oz/500g), peeled and coarsely grated
2/3 cup (4 oz/ 2 dl) barley flour
1/4 cup (1.25 oz/1/2 dl) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
+ one pork hock, other salted meat, or bouillon for the pot of water
+sausages, bacon, rutabaga, and melted butter for serving
*If you are going to use the pork hock for flavoring your water (and to eat with the klubb), get your pot of water boiling an hour or so ahead of time. If using bouillon or just salted water, make sure the water is boiling before dropping the balls into the water.
- With your hands or using a piece of cheesecloth, squeeze the raw, grated potatoes and get rid of as much potato water as possible. Discard the water.
- Blend everything together well. Although it won’t look like it, you should be able to form a firm baseball-sized dumpling with your hands- the mixed ingredients should be a bit sticky, but workable, if the balls seem terribly wet and sticky, just add a small handfull of flour. If you like, place a small piece of pork of bacon in the center of each dumpling.
- Lower the dumplings into the boiling water (a slotted spoon works well) and reduce the heat to a constant simmer. You don’t want the water to boil while the klubb are cooking, they could fall apart. The dumplings will be done after 30-45 minutes, generally once they start floating to the surface. If you are unsure whether they are cooked through or not, take one out and cut it in half, there shouldn’t be any raw areas or powdery flour remaining.
- Serve immediately with the sausages, bacon, rutabaga, and melted butter. A good pilsner would be nice on the side, but the traditional drink of choice for klubb night is buttermilk (I’ve learned to love the tangy contrast it provides to the heavy, salty meal). Save leftovers for breakfast the following morning- sliced with any remaining meat and fried in butter- some think this is even better than the klubb dinner itself.