Biff à la Lindström—beetroot beef patties—is a popular feature on many Swedish restaurant menus. But which Lindström can really claim to have invented (or at least named) the reddish patty?
It turns out to be a valid question, considering the number of names that have come up during the years.
All these Lindströms…
In 1962, food writer Hiram at newspaper Svenska Dagbladet shares a recipe of the beef patties and wonders who “that Lindström” who created the beef patties à la Lindström really was. Her readers come with suggestions: publicist Karl Adam Lindström, or why not a Carl Lindström from Kangsala in Finland, who went from being the shoemaker’s son to the Russian tzar’s cook?
A more interesting suggestion might be the cook of “the late director” Isac Wallberg at Slottsmöllan in Halmstad: Johanna Lindström. Reviewing Johanna Lindström’s cookbook from 1876 shows a few (by today’s standard) imaginative creations, such as calf brisket with asparagus and crayfish tails. But among the meat dishes, I cannot find anything similar to Biff à la Lindström. However, the cookbook features a Russian salad that includes beetroot and pickled cucumber—but also carrots, parsnip, farmer beans, and egg. The thought of combining beetroots and pickled cucumber wasn’t completely foreign to the author. All in all, it is a thorough cookbook, so one would think that if Madame Lindström would have created Biff à la Lindström, the dish would have been noted down (albeit possibly under another name).
But, Hiram wasn’t the first to ponder the origins of this dish. In 1944, newspaper Dagens Nyheter had the same discussion, although with even more suggestions. It started with a few names: the sacristan Albert Lindström; Maria Kristina Lindström, who started a restaurant in 1834 that later was called “Tysta Mari”; a head waiter at restaurant “Freden”. Publicist Karl Adam Lindström is mentioned here as well.
A few days later, more suggestions: the actor Karl Gustaf Lindström or wholesale merchant Willehard Lindström. The latter supposedly was ordered to eat the ingredients of the Lindström beef patties by his doctor because of a stomach issue, but the patient tired of it all and mixed the ingredients and had them fried into a beef patty.
Lieutenant Henrik Lindström—the actual creator of Biff à la Lindström??
Then a reader suggests that the creator might be a certain businessman called Lindström, who spent many years in Russia before he settled down in Småland in the south of Sweden and got “many—I think ten—beautiful daughters”. In the next Lindström text, we get more information. This businessman—Leonard Jonatan Lindström—had nine daughters and four sons, according to the article. Apparently, the Lindström family claim that it was one of the sons, Henrik Lindström, who created the beef patty. And that is the version of the history that seems to have the greatest amount of supporters.
In 1970, Dagens Nyheter interviewed Henrik Lindström’s granddaughter, Rut Hellsten, who shared the origin story. The lieutenant (and later, kapten) came to Kalmar from Helsingfors in Finland on the 4th of May 1862, probably on his way to Visby where he was stationed. At Hotell Witt, he ordered the ingredients of the patties to the table, mixed them, and sent them back to the kitchen for frying. Lindström was born in S:t Petersburg and it is assumed that he got the inspiration to the patties from the Russian cuisine. It wasn’t just Lindström and his friends who enjoyed the beef patties—Biff à la Lindström became popular and a fixture on Hotell Witt—and from there, the beef patty and its name would have spread.
In Mathistorisk Uppslagsbok, Jan-Öjvind Swahn retells the story above. He seems to have a somewhat amused attitude to the hunt for the one true Lindström, but states that Henrik Lindström is the most probable creator.
Today’s Biff à la Lindström
So what’s part of a classic Biff à la Lindström? Beetroots, capers, and potatoes, according to the research. The oldest recipe I’ve found in my personal cookbook library is from Prinsessornas kokbok from 1932. The recipe is pretty typical, apart from including a decilitre of cream.
Lindström’s granddaughter Rut Hellsten shares a recipe that features tenderloin—something that both she and her interviewer considers a bit too expensive. Instead, they recommend boneless beef inside. Today’s First Hotel Witt makes their patties using calf, a suggestion I haven’t seen anywhere else. Most recipes simply state minced beef or possibly minced beef with a part of minced pork.
A review of the cookbooks shows at least a bit of variation. Kajsas kokbok (1936) loses the capers. Leif Mannerström sticks to his father Gösta’s additions—HP sauce, dijon mustard, and anchovy. It seems to be most accurate to keep the cucumber as a condiment on the side, although some recipes include it in the patties. Several recipes suggest adding a bit of the brine of the pickled beetroots, for example, Hellsten’s family recipe and Det nya svenska köket.
Of course, cooking can be a matter of convenience. The standard cookbooks Rutiga kokboken, Vår kokbok (1962) and Bonniers kokbok all start with a normal minced beef recipe and adds capers, beetroot, and pickled cucumber. No extra yolks are added apart from the whole egg that is part of the minced beef recipe, and as it already contains breadcrumbs, they omit the potato.
Biff à la Lindström according to Hotell Witt
Hotell Witt—or, First Hotel Witt, as they are called today—turned out to be generous when it came to the cooking secrets of Biff à la Lindström. The hotel’s chef, Anders Elfström, through General Manager Anette Söderström, shared that the secret is that half of the onion, beetroot, and capers are ground with the minced beef, together with the egg. Apparently, this gives the right color and texture. The rest of the onion is fried until golden before it is added into the beef mixture.
Anders Elfström also worked in the hotel during the 70s, and at that time, the patties were served with potatoes, gravy, and pickled gherkin. Today, it is served with boiled potatoes and gravy.
Even if today’s First Hotel Witt doesn’t have an à la carte-restaurant, the dish is—unsurprisingly—one of the most popular choices for bookings and events. (Apparently, some guests happily devour four beef patties.)
How to cook real fine Biff à la Lindström
Chop everything finely, and you’ll lower the risk that the patties are difficult to form or that protruding bits burn to the frying pan. This recipe is similar to the Lindström family recipe, but has more yolks (something that is popular among chefs such as Mannerström). For four portions:
600 g minced beef
1 medium-large cold boiled potato (about 1,5 dl or 0,6 cups when diced)
About 5-8 pickled beetroots (about 2 dl or 0,8 cups when diced)
3 tbsp capers
1 yellow onion
(some beetroot brine)
Salt and pepper
For frying: butter or oil
For serving: potatoes (boiled, fried, mashed—take your pick), pickled gherkin, gravy or browned butter
- If you’re going to grind the beef yourself, you can grind the meat together with the beetroot, chopped onion and capers à la First Hotel Witt. Otherwise, put the minced beef in a bowl. Chop the potatoes, beetroots, capers, and onion finely and stir them into the minced meet.
- Add the yolks and—if you want—some beetroot brine (about 0,5 dl or 0,3 cups) for the color.
- Season with salt and pepper. Mix as little as you can but until you get an even batter.
- Form the batter into four large round patties.
- Fry the patties in butter or oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat, about 4-5 minutes per side.
- Serve with potatoes, pickled gherkin, and gravy or browned butter.
Make the simplest gravy by heating some liquid meat extract and water in a frying pan once the patties are done and removed. Season and strain.
Leif Mannerström serves fried eggs with his Biff à la Lindström. In the event that you still have eggs at home after adding all these yolks to the batter, it is a nice idea.