17 November 2013


The other day I came across a recipe for a traditional Swedish casserole, but with a new twist to it, which seemed very appealing, not the least the fact that it would cook fairly quickly. The original version is actually called sjömansbiff and should have chunks of beef in it, however, this version uses beef mince instead, so cooking time is the time it takes to get the potatoes cooked.


Sjömansbiff literally means seaman's beef and the reason for this is that it's a convenient thing to cook on a boat, since everything goes into one pot. The casserole is made with beer, which was more readily available on ships in the past, unlike fresh water. The recipe I used is here and is in Swedish. Needless to say, I had to swap out some ingredients which I wasn't able to find in my local supermarket.

5 - 6 portions
2 largish onions
300 g white cabbage
600 g waxy potatoes
50 g butter
500 g beef mince
1 tbsp dark soft sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 - 2 bay leaves
2.5 dl dark beer, e. g. porter or stout
4 dl beef stock
2 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tbsp fresh tarragon
2 dl sliced pickled cucumber (preferably brine-pickled)
Salt and pepper to taste
sprigs of fresh parsley for serving


  1. Peel and dice the onions (about 1 cm chunks). Wash and cut the cabbage also into 1 cm pieces.
  2. Peel the potatoes if needed, then slice into 5 mm thick slices.
  3. Heat up the butter in a casserole dish until it bubbles and starts going a little brown, then add the onions and cabbage and fry until the onion starts going translucent. Stir now and then.
  4. Add the beef mince and stir round to avoid getting large lumps of it.
  5. Add the potatoes once the mince has browned and follow on with the sugar, soy sauce, bay leaves, beer and stock.
  6. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. In the mean time, wash the thyme and tarragon and remove the hard stalks, then cut into small pieces. Slice the cucumber and add to the casserole along with the herbs.
  8. Stir through and let simmer for another 15 minutes or so until the potatoes are ready. Leave uncovered if you think there's too much liquid or add more beer and/or stock if it seems too dry.
  9. When it's ready, serve with parsley on top

The swapped ingredients were:

  • Dark soft sugar instead of light syrup - I've still not found a decent replacement, but I'm reluctant to drag home a bottle of this all the way from Sweden.
  • Tarragon instead of chervil - I'm not sure it's possible to get hold of at this time of the year, but a quick search on the internet indicated that chervil tastes a little of parsley and anise, so I thought tarragon would be a decent substitute.
  • Cucumber pickled in vinegar - completely slipped my mind to look for brine-pickled cucumbers.
  • Beer - I also forgot to get porter/stout type of beer and so had to make do with what was in the larder - ale and not too strongly flavoured either. Lundulph commented that I should go for a porter or stout with a higher alcohol level, he reckons they have more flavour. Or cider, though I don't think it would work here.

I've started using the Oxo beef stock cubes with reduced salt lately and keep forgetting to account for this, so my casserole was a bit on the sweet side - the tarragon and the vinegary cucumbers enhanced this too, which is why I think it would be better to try and find the brine-pickled variety. Perhaps also reduce the sugar somewhat. So the casserole tasted a bit on the sweet side, however I quite liked it.

I didn't notice the cabbage much, but it seemed to provide a good bulk to this dish, so I might even use more next time. Perhaps it's because I bought a very small cabbage head and it had a milder flavour. Though it still came up to over a kilogram in weight. I'll have to think of ways to use it up in the coming week, cabbage is good.

Lundulph said it reminded him of a Lancashire hot pot and I should give this a try as well, even if the cooking method is different - Lancashire hot pots should be slow cooked and should be made with lamb. But I guess the principle is very similar - not too much preparation, put everything in a pot and let it cook, then eat.

The only drawback I can see with this is that it won't freeze well because of the potatoes. I think they'd disintegrate. The above amounts are enough for us two for three meals, which is OK, even if we aim not to have the same dish more than twice within a couple of days and any further left-overs I freeze for a later date. My Dad on the other hand can happily eat the same thing day in, day out, if it's one of his favourites - bean soup, moussaka, stuffed peppers...

However it is a reasonably quick dish to make and now when it's getting cold and dark outside, a hearty casserole works ever so well. Especially when followed by a slice of chocolate brownie, we'll be eating those for some time to come yet...

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