3 min read

Fiskeboller And Hvit Saus

Fish balls and white sauce, and the concept of husmannskost.

Husmannskost—“husband’s fare”1—is a Norwegian term used to describe simple, hearty, traditional foods. Fish balls—ground white fish covered in a thick white sauce—entered that pantheon later than lutefisk and lefse, but they are very much considered a Norwegian staple. From all I can find, the modern variant has been around since the fifties.

Fishballs were a weekly affair during my childhood and one I thoroughly despised. I can only assume this was a common feeling amongst kids: Fish shaped as balls covered in a thick white sauce doesn’t exactly scream “kid-friendly.” To add insult to injury, it was also the only dish we made during elementary school home economics. There was no escaping the fish balls—the dish’s cultural relevance cannot be understated.

Fish balls from a tin were ubiquitous in the eighties. Fish, potatoes, white sauce: Dump the can in a pot with a plop and let it simmer for ten minutes, et voilà: an instant dinner. That’s modern eighties convenience for you.

As an adult, I have long held a suspicion that I probably would stomach fish balls made from scratch. The concept isn’t entirely unappetizing, and eating them as a kid wasn’t exactly traumatizing.

Repurposing a recipe from Meny, it quickly became apparent that while not as horrid as I recalled, fish balls still give me a pavlovian response. Why don’t I like them? I can’t say. It is entirely unreasonable, but I kept chewing and chewing each bite like I was eight years old again.

I wouldn’t be surprised if adults trying fish balls for the first time would handle them just fine. Again, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with fish in white sauce. Plus, the recipe is easy to follow.

Fish balls on a plate
Like many traditional Norwegian foods, this is not a great-looking dish.

The Fish Balls

  • 1 ¼ lbs white fish, no skin or bones (I used halibut)
  • 1 ts salt
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • Pepper
  1. Toss the fish and the salt in a food processor. Mix until smooth.
  2. Mix in flour and egg.
  3. Slowly mix in milk. (Add more than 1 ¼ cups if the mixture is dry.)
  4. Heat water until it almost reaches a boil, then reduce to simmer.
  5. Dip a tablespoon in cold water and scoop up balls of fish. Dump them in the water.
  6. Let cook until firm, about 5-10 minutes, then lift them out and put them on a plate.

The White Sauce

  • 1 ¼ oz all-purpose flour (50 g)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 1 ¼ cups plain yogurt (or milk — yogurt just adds a zing)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat milk in a pot.
  2. In a separate pot, melt butter over low heat.
  3. Add flour to the butter and whisk until smooth.
  4. Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly. You want a smooth consistency.
  5. Let the sauce reach a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Add fish balls (and optionally boiled potatoes) to the sauce and let simmer for five minutes.

Fish balls are often served with grated carrot, presumably to offset the sauce’s heaviness.

That American Can

You can find fish balls in a can in the US, too, over at Amazon. It is unlike anything I have ever seen.

Can of fishballs
The bizarre Husmor brand. Husmor means “housewife,” and the typography in the heading looks suspiciously like 1940s Nazi propaganda. The man’s olive-green suit doesn’t help, either.

  1. “Husband” here refers to the old usage of the word: the head of the farm.