Tastes like home
Bankebiff stew makes for a cozy Norwegian dinner
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
A friend of mine recommended that I join the Facebook group “Norwegian Recipe.” It’s a growing group of 24,000 people who are interested in learning more about traditional Norwegian food and sharing recipes. The members come from the Norwegian-American community and Norway; the posts are all in English.
I have been a member for only a couple months, but I am delighted to see the dialogue of folks who love their Norwegian heritage and exchange recipes and experiences with each other.
Recently, a person made a post looking for “Bonka Beef,” and it spurred a lively discussion.
She wrote: “When I was a kid, my mom used to make a Norwegian beef stew that she called Bonka Beef. She braised the meat and added bay leaf, potatoes, carrots, and onions. I googled the recipe and apparently there is no such thing. The Norwegian beef stew is called Lapskaus. I wonder if my mom made up the name Bonka Beef just for fun. Curious if anyone knows if there really is a dish called Bonka Beef.”
More than 140 people chimed in in the comments section. Some people sent links to bankebiff recipes (though all in Norwegian, which is a barrier for a lot of people), others talked about their memories of using a meat mallet to “banke” (to hit or strike) the cheap(er) cut of meat. A few people pointed out that lapskaus is a totally different dish, some called it Swiss Steak, and several people commented that they thought their own mothers made up the name too. But one theme was clear: Bankebiff is a beloved dish that sparked warm memories of home and childhood, and it was no longer lost in translation!
It piqued my curiosity since I hadn’t heard of bankebiff before this, so I did a bit of research to develop a recipe for The Norwegian American.
Bankebiff, also called bankekjøtt, falls in the category of husmannskost, which is home-cooked traditional dishes made at home, centered on inexpensive cuts of meat, root vegetables, porridges, and not many spices. In other words, old-school Norwegian dishes that taste like home.
Bankebiff is a simple beef stew: Beef chunks that are simmered with some onion and beef stock for a couple of hours. A light coating of flour on the beef helps to develop the fond (the tasty brown bits in the pan that are deeply flavorful) and add a bit of body to the finished gravy. Sometimes carrots are added, but most recipes just call for onions.
Banke refers to the cut of beef from the leg; in English, we call it the top round or bottom round. (Someone in the Facebook group helpfully uploaded a diagram of Norwegian and American cuts of meat to confirm this!) No meat mallet is needed to turn this cut of meat into meltingly tender bites.
For my recipe, I kept it simple: Sautéed onions with slices of bottom round beef steak lightly dredged with flour and simmered in beef stock with a bay leaf and peppercorns until tender. The technique and ingredient list may be simple, but bankebiff is more than the sum of its parts with its rich, savory depth. Boiled potatoes add a nice counterpoint, and you could also add some glazed carrots or another vegetable to round out the meal. My young taste-testers asked for seconds, which is a ringing endorsement for this recipe.
Bankebiff is an old-school dish that is a worthy contender for your dinner table this winter. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Do you have a dish that you remember, but don’t have the recipe for? Let’s see if we can solve the mystery! Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!
Bankebiff eller bankekjøtt
Adapted from MatPrat
2 lbs. top round beef
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
4 tbsps. butter, divided
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tsps. fine grain sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1 bay leaf
4 cups beef stock
To serve: boiled or mashed potatoes, stewed peas, lingonberry preserves
Here’s how you make it:
Cut the beef into 1-inch slices, and season generously with salt on all sides. Let the meat come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Sauté the onions: Melt 2 tbsps. butter in a heavy-bottomed pot (I use my 4-quart cast iron Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and a generous pinch of salt and sauté the onion until they are translucent and starting to take on a golden hue. Remove from the pot and set aside.
Stir together the flour and 2 tsps. salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the beef slices and toss to coat evenly.
Sear the meat: In the now-empty pot, add in the remaining 2 tbsps. butter and the beef. I do this in two batches so I don’t crowd the meat. Sear on all sides to get a brown crust.
When all the meat is browned, add ½ cup of beef stock and scrape up the fond, the brown bits in the bottom of the pot. Add in the remaining stock, onions, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer for 2 to 2.5 hours. Give it a stir every half hour or so, making sure the meat or onions aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. The meat is finished when it is tender and easily cuts with a fork.
To round out the meal, serve with boiled potatoes, stewed peas (ertestuing), and lingonberry preserves.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 18, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.