Tjälknöl is an ingenious way of cooking a large piece of meat. Tjälknöl is really two words: tjäle means ground frost and knöl means tuber, like a potato tuber.
The method was invented by the Sami people, who have long farmed reindeer (caribou) in northern Sweden, Norway and Finland. Before fridges came along, they would keep their best pieces of meat fresh by burying them in the snow.
When they wanted to cook their tjälknöl they would dig another hole in the snow, fill it with rocks and then build a charcoal fire on the rocks. They would then wrap the meat, put it on the fire, cover it with earth and cook it very slowly, usually overnight. The final stage was to soak it in a hot marinade and leave it to go completely cold. The meat is then sliced as thinly as possible.
The result is an absolutely stunning piece of meat, quite dense, slightly salty and delicately flavoured.
Sami people and reindeer in Lapland. Photo: Staffan Widstrand/Image Bank Sweden
Serves: 8 or more people
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: At least 12 hours
At least 1kg (2lb) frozen boneless piece of reindeer
1000 ml (4 cups) water
250g (1 cup) salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp crushed black pepper
2 tbsp crushed juniper berries
1. Put the frozen meat on a rack in an oven heated to 75C (170F) or as near to that as you can get.
2. After two or three hours insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. The meat will be ready when the thermometer reads 65C (150F). Allow about one hour per 100 grams (15 minutes per ounce), but be guided entirely by the meat thermometer as ovens vary so much at low temperatures.
3. When the meat is cooked, mix the water, salt, sugar, bay leaves, black pepper and juniper berries in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
4. Place the cooked meat in a bowl just big enough to hold it or use a large polythene bag and pour the hot marinade over the meat, ensuring that all the meat is covered. Put a lid on the bowl or tie the bag and leave to cool completely for 4 or 5 hours.
5. Remove the meat from its marinade, pat dry and slice as thinly as possible.
Tjälknöl, served with vegetables. Photo: John Duxbury/Swedish Food
Tjälknöl should be served cold and sliced as thinly as possible. It is usually accompanied by potatisgratäng (potato gratin) and/or fried diced root vegetables and rårörda lingon (stirred lingonberries) and/or syltad svamp (pickled mushrooms).
- As ovens vary a lot, particularly at low temperatures, keep an an eye on the meat the first time you try this dish. Once you know your oven you should be able to cook the meat overnight.
- Although this recipe was originally developed for cooking reindeer it also works well with venison, elk
(moose) or beef.
- The meat keeps well for several days in a fridge if wrapped in foil.