Updated: Jun 27
Lihkku Sámi Álbmotbeivviin! Happy Sami National Day!
6 February is Sami National Day and is an important day for the Sami people as it celebrates their unique culture.
The day always falls on 6 February because this was the day of the first Sami Congress was held in 1917 in Trondheim in Norway. The day is celebrated by Sami in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia when the Sami flag is flown and the Sami anthem is sung. In Norway, the municipal administrative buildings such as town halls have to fly the Norwegian flag and have the option of also flying the Sami flag. But the most noted is in Oslo where the Norwegian flag flies from the town hall, and the bells are rung out to the Sami anthem.
The Sami are an intriguing people and are Europe's only indigenous people. Although they live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, the largest population is here in Norway. They are probably best known for their reindeer herding, and about 10% of the Sami population keep reindeer. By "keep" I don't mean a few pets, we are talking hundreds and hundreds. The reindeer provide fur, meat and transportation, and the Sami follow the reindeer across their traditional migration routes twice a year. In Norway only Sami, or people with Sami descent, are legally allowed to herd reindeer.
Reindeer have been in Norway for more than 10,000 years when they migrated here during the last Ice Age. In fact, the reindeer in Norway have been found to be a DNA match from reindeer antlers used to make cave art in southwest France from even earlier than the Ice Age.
Norway has not always been kind to the Sami. In the 19th century they were put under terrible pressure to learn the Norwegian language and culture. But the worst was to come from 1900 to 1940 when the Norwegian government put in a lot of effort and money to try to wipe out the Sami culture. After WWII things eased up and in 1989 the first Sami parliament in Norway was elected and a law introduced to allow the Sami parliament and Finnmark regional council to control the local area and not the central government. As Europe's only indigenous people, the Sami are to be cherished and celebrated.
Finnbiff is a take on a traditional Sami stew made with reindeer. It is a dish I always associate with autumn and winter, probably because it's such a rich filling dish and is fragrant with juniper berries and mushrooms which are at their best in the cooler months.
If you like truly traditional recipes then this is for you, as the recipe is hundreds of years old, and is probably the dish most closely associated with the Sami people.
Although the name Finnbiff refers to the stew itself, it's also the method with which the reindeer meat is prepared. It is prepared in the traditional Sami style by freezing the reindeer meat and slicing it very thinly whilst still frozen. This was probably a good method of preservation before freezers when it was not possible to eat everything at once, and storage was of the utmost importance.
If you can't get hold of reindeer, you can use venison or moose, or at a push beef. It will need to be sliced really thinly for this dish as it is cooked quickly.
And if you are vegetarian, the dish lends itself perfectly to omitting the meat altogether. Simply add a few more mushrooms of your choice. I like to use a selectin of wild mushrooms I have frozen over the autumn and include some shop bought closed cup mushrooms, but you can use whichever mushrooms you prefer. Try to go for a firmer mushroom that will hold it's shape and not fall apart in the rich sauce. The flavour of the juniper berries goes best with reindeer and mushrooms together, and especially if you are going for authenticity.
Finnbiff (serves 4 with good appetites)
400g/ 14 oz reindyrskav (thinly sliced reindeer meat or other meat, see notes above)
a knob of butter
100g/ 3 1/2 oz bacon, diced
Sprig fresh thyme. Carefully remove the leaves to use in the finnbiff
10 crushed juniper berries
300ml/ 1 1/4 cups water
200ml/ 3/4 cup milk
300ml/ 1 1/4 cups sour cream
200g/ 7oz or a couple of good handfuls of mushrooms
A few slices of brunost/Norwegian brown cheese (optional, but it adds a delicious depth of flavour)
1 tsp cornflour
If you are using reindyrskav, allow it to defrost for a few minutes before using. Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and fry the reindeer, venison or whichever meat you have chosen for a few minutes until it is starting to brown. Add the diced bacon and fry until browned. Transfer to a heatproof casserole, or a large saucepan. Fry the mushrooms and add to the meat. Add the water, milk, juniper berries and the thyme leaves. Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the meat is tender. Stir in the sour cream and brunost (if you are using it) and bring back up to a simmer. Slake the cornflour with a little water and add to the finnbiff, boiling for a moment to cook it out. Serve and enjoy
Perfect served with boiled potatoes, or for a more varied take, try serving with polarbrød, not the most authentic side dish, but certainly a delicious one! My recipe for polarbrød is here.
If you aren't able to eat all your delicious finnbiff at once, it freezes very well.
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