Rullepølse: a versatile classic

Almost any meat can be used to make these Scandinavian rolled cold cuts

Photo: Synøve Dreyer  / TINE Mediebank Ribberull, a traditional version of the spiced meat roll, is shown here, made with pork. Almost any meat can be used in spiced cold cuts. We have even heard rumors of Alaskan moose rullepølse!

Photo: Synøve Dreyer / TINE Mediebank
Ribberull, a traditional version of the spiced meat roll, is shown here, made with pork. Almost any meat can be used in spiced cold cuts. We have even heard rumors of Alaskan moose rullepølse!

Melinda Bargreen
Everett, Wash.

There must be nearly as many recipes for rullepølse as there are Norwegian families; every family seems to have its own twist on this delicious, traditional rolled meat. My vote for “most unusual preparation” goes to a transplanted Norwegian at a butcher shop north of Seattle; her rulle is not only boiled, but hung (to cure it) and also baked. You’d think it would emerge as tough as an Army boot, but apparently it’s very tender.

Perhaps no other food preparation—in modern American kitchens, anyway—requires skills not only in butchering, but also in needlework. Rolling the meat up and stitching it neatly closed is a task not for the faint of heart. Occasional bad words have been known to emanate from family members as they wrestle the rullepølse. It helps to have singer/accordionist Stan Boreson recordings in the background, as he warbles “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.”

Rullepølse—Moxness family recipe

12 cups water
1 1/2 cups salt
3 small bay leaves

Meat (per rulle):
large-boned lamb breast
boneless veal steak, breast, or other boneless meaty cut of veal

Spices (per rulle):
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. poulry seasoning
1/8 tsp. saltpeter (for red color)
2 tbsps. finely chopped onion

Make brine ahead of time and refrigerate it before making the meat. Combine brine ingredients in a large canning kettle or stockpot.

The lamb breast should be a large rectangle whose long side is about 8” to 11”. Cut the veal into thick strips about the same length. Place the lamb skin-side down.

Sprinkle about half the spices and onion for each rulle over the top of the lamb breast. Place veal strips lengthwise on top of the lamb breast to form a solid layer nearly as large as the piece of lamb, and sprinkle the rest of the spices on top of the veal.

Firmly roll up the rulle, and bring sides and ends of bottom lamb layer together by sewing them with string and a large upholstery needle. Then, wrap string around to keep the rulle from cracking while cooking, or even better, buy a length of tubular elastic netting from a butcher or meat market, the kind of netting typically placed around a rolled roast. Rub the rulle with a little salt, sugar, and a pinch of saltpeter (for red color).

Cover with cold brine in a large canning kettle or other stockpot. Let stay for 7-8 days and remove; cover each rulle with hot water and cook slowly, about 2 hours, until tender.

Remove and place on a cloth (a piece of clean, old sheet will do). Wrap firmly with the cloth and press overnight in one pan, with another weighted pan pressing down on the rulle; refrigerate. Slice thin and serve on sandwiches. Keeps well in the refrigerator.

Shelby Gilje
Seattle, Wash.

This recipe is originally from Les and Elinor (called P’nuts by her husband) Johnsen, a renaissance couple who spent many years in the US Air Force. In retirement, they operated a Christmas tree farm in Shelton. She was of Danish heritage; he of Norwegian ancestry. Both are deceased. Les was knighted by King Olav V for his service in training the Royal Norwegian Air Force during World War II. Both Les and P’nuts were graduates of Stanford University. Les was a cousin of the late U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson. Mrs.Johnsen said Les, who was short and stocky, called all of his girlfriends (who also were short) P’nuts. It was years before I knew her given name was Elinor.

Recipe was tested in December 2007 and again in January 2013 by Shelby Gilje for clarity in measurements and directions.

Ingredients for cooking water:
1 tbsp. pickling spices
1/2 tsp. saltpeter (to preserve color)

unbleached cheese cloth (available at grocery or fabric stores)
needle with large eye (my needle is about 2 1/2 inches long, but a slightly curved carpet-mending needle would also work)
heavy thread or hemp string

Ingredients (per rulle):
1 flank steak (beef or lamb)
1/4 to 1/3 pound lamb or beef chunks or strips
1/4 to 1/3 pound pork chunks or strips
3 envelopes of Knox original, unflavored, powdered gelatin, (2 1/2 tbsps.)
1 small chopped onion (you can also add garlic, parsley, or herbs)
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
pink or white salt & pepper to taste

Do not cut fat off of pork, lamb, or beef as it will help hold things together, along with the gelatin. Otherwise the roll may be dry and/or crumbly.

Have butcher butterfly flank steak so it is thin and easier to roll. Or, alternatively, pound flank steak with meat cleaver or mallet to even and thin it out. Trim off odd pieces to make it roughly into a rectangle. That makes it easier to roll up, sew, and tie together. Save trimmed pieces to put inside as stuffing, or freeze and save for use in other dishes.

Lay flank steak out; place spices, chopped onion, salt, pepper, and chunks or strips of meat on the flank. Then roll and stitch, until flank is completely packed and rolled up much like a cinnamon roll. Place roll in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with string at the ends, and once or twice in the middle.

Use a nonreactive container such as a plastic bucket large enough to hold water and completely submerge the roll or rolls. Remember: container must fit in the refrigerator.

Make a brine using 1 cup table salt or 2 cups kosher salt per gallon of water. Place the rolls in the brine, and put a meat press, heavy plate, or bowl on top to keep them submerged. Store in the refrigerator for 7-10 days, depending on how salty you want them.

Now you’re ready to cook the rolls! Take out of brine and place them in a pan large enough to cover with water. Add pickling spices and saltpeter. Bring water to a boil and simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Remove the rolls and place on a plate or in a bowl. Let cool, then cover with saran wrap and place a weight on top—a meat press or a six-pack of soda or beer works just fine—and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

Remove the string and cheese cloth, slice, and enjoy. Can also be frozen for later use.

Note: Since this recipe is time-consuming, it is smart to make more than one roll at a time and freeze some for later use, depending on how popular it is with your family and friends.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 16, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Melinda Bargreen

Melinda Bargreen is a Seattle-based writer and composer whose career at The Seattle Times began in 1977. Her choral works include the “Norwegian Folksong Suite.” Melinda contributes to many publications and is the author of Seattle Opera’s forthcoming 50-year history book. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a doctorate in English from the University of California, Irvine.