Swedish Christmas dinner: An all day feast
If someone knows how to put on a feast, it’s the Swedes. On Christmas Eve you’ll find a minimum of 10 dishes on the table—in most families even more. The Swedes start eating pretty early, usually around lunchtime, and will spend all day feasting.
The Swedish Christmas dinner includes all kinds of meats, fish, cheeses, and delicious potato side dishes. The day is usually finished with a generous serving of ‘tomtegrot’, Santa porridge—a creamy rice based porridge boiled in milk with cinnamon and butter to taste. This dish is also eaten in Denmark, but often at lunch, and it’s called ‘risengrød.’
The entire set-up is a buffet called “julbord” (Christmas table). Many dishes are much akin to what you will find at the traditional Christmas parties celebrated throughout Scandinavia during November to January, but with a few additional items unique to Christmas Eve.
Swedish families all have their own list of foods they serve. We’ve picked out some of the most common dishes, with a few ideas on how to get your hands on them for your own Swedish Christmas dinner. In addition to this long list of delicacies, the Swedes also have many of the dishes served at a Danish and Norwegian Christmas dinner like roast pork and ris a la malta.
… here’s your shopping list for a Swedish Christmas dinner!
The ham is the centerpiece of the Swedish Christmas dinner. Finding a ham in the US is pretty easy, but finding a Swedish-style ham is a lot more work. You may need to put in some effort in transforming available options, or be prepared to spend a bit more to get a truly Swedish-styled ham. First, you’ll need to find a non-smoked salt-cured fresh ham. That’s the difficult part. Most grocery stores don’t keep fresh hams, and when they do, they are not necessarily salt-cured. We found one at Whole Foods for about $30-50 (6-10 lbs). Once you have your fresh ham in house, you’ll need to cure it yourself. Curing can take up to 20 days depending on the size of your ham, so be sure you get your ham in time.
You may have decided by now that you are not ready to go this route. Luckily, there are some alternatives. Your safest bet would be to get your ham from one of the Scandinavian food stores. Check out Willy’s Products, Scandinavian Butik, or Nordic House. Or, if you live close to an IKEA, you are in luck. They usually carry Swedish-style cured hams during the holiday season.
No Swedish feast without meatballs. It’s true that the Swedes love their meatballs, and judging on how many meatballs are sold at IKEA, the Americans are fans too. The Wall Street Journal says that IKEA dishes out more than 150 million meatballs in the US every year. But before you rush off to IKEA to get your meatballs, please read on. We’ve heard many Swedes mention that the IKEA meatballs are a tad too fatty, and of course don’t taste exactly as they should. So, if you want to be more traditional—and let’s say adventurous—make your own.
Meatballs in Sweden are made from traditional family recipes that have been developed and passed down the family tree over time. Unfortunately, getting a recipe from a Swedish family may not be easy. Some may keep it in the family, and those who will share it just tells you to mix the meat with a tad of this and a tidbit of that. Luckily, you can find plenty of recipes online. We are fans of this recipe from Lessons from my Swedish Kitchen.
Today Sausage are not as common on Christmas Eve as they used to be, but there are still homes where you’ll find a variety of sausages on the table. The main sausages are Prinskorv. Prinskorv (prince sausages) are small link sausages made from spiced pork and veal. Go ahead and buy your prinskorv at IKEA. Most Swedes don’t make their own sausages, and the IKEA brand is quite all right.
You also have the option to get these from the various Scandinavian online food stores. Skandinavian Butik sells Schaller & Weber prinskorv for $16.75 per package and Willy’s Products sells it for $15 per package.
Gravad Lax and Herring
No Christmas table without cured salmon (lox) and herring—two Scandinavian favorites. The Swedes cure their salmon as opposed to smoking it. This gives it a unique flavor more true to the original flavor of Salmon. The cured fish is matched with a mustardy dill sauce called ‘Hovmästarsås’ (head waiter sauce). Curing salmon is easy but takes at least 24 hours. All you need is a piece of raw salmon filet, a lot of dill and some salt. If you still find that too much work, smoked salmon is an easy alternative to the cured version and is accessible in nearly any grocery store.
While salmon is well liked throughout the world, herring is a bit more of an acquired taste. Herring is served at the Swedish Christmas Dinner in a variety of tastes. Herring can be eaten on its own or accompanied by boiled potatoes or on rye bread. In the Northeast, marinated herring from the brand Blue Hill Bay is sold in most supermarkets. They offer a good many different marinades, including wine, dill, mustard and cream, and will do the job.
We don’t really know who Jansson was. It’s claimed that the name may have been coined after a Swedish opera singer, Pelle Janzon who was popular during the late 19th century and quite the gourmand. Others claims Gunnar Stigmark coined the term in an article in the Swedish magazine “Gastronomic Calendar” in the early 20th century.
Regardless of its origin, this delicious potato casserole is very unique to the Swedish Christmas table. Ingredients are easy to come by, and it’s fairly easy to make. All you need to do is get your hands on some potatoes, anchovies, heavy cream, onions, butter, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Prep the dish and pop it in the oven.
Of course, some families have variations of this dish, so feel free to play around and add extra taste, as you like.
We couldn’t find a good English name for this Swedish dish, but it roughly translates into a Sandwich cake. It’s an extremely festive and colorful dish on the Christmas table.
This one looks very fancy, but is actually very easy to make. It might take some time to get the topping looking nicely, but could be done as a family activity including your children. Let them decide the pattern. The easiest version is layering white toast with creamed filling and topping. The filling is usually egg or mayonnaise based.
The additional toppings and decorations are usually made up of salmon, small shrimp, tomato, cucumber, a variety of cold cuts, caviar and lemon slices. You can play around with the toppings, but of course make sure that their flavors fit together. For example, salmon and roast beef in the same bite may not be such a delicious mix.
The two most common cheeses to have on the Swedish Cjristmas table is “Julost” (Christmas cheese—a rather bland cheese that no one really seem to like that much). Still it’s a ‘must’. Second, you must serve ‘Vasterbottens ost,’ the pride of the northern part of Sweden. This cheese has a strong nutty flavor and works great on its own or served in pies.
You can scour your local grocery stores for some Scandinavian Cheeses. Both Danish and Norwegian cheeses are widely available in the US. Swedish cheese you can purchase at IKEA. Or, head online to one of the Scandinavian food stores. We’d suggest that you just go ahead and pick any cheeses for your table. Just don’t forget to serve some rye bread and crisp bread with the cheese. Two traditional Swedish favorites.