Let me just come right out and say it. These Swedish meatballs are the bomb! Seriously. They. Are. Awesome. IKEA had better watch out. I’m just sayin’.
Swedish meatballs are a perennial favorite among the smörgåsbord set, which is why I had to include them in my Meatball Week series. These plump and moist little nuggets of meat are delicately seasoned with fragrant spices like cardamom, allspice and nutmeg before being bathed in a rich and velvety cream sauce. As with most traditional ethnic dishes, you’ll find as many different recipes for Swedish meatballs as there are cooks who make them. I’ve tried many different versions, and I think this one is the best I’ve tasted.
The basic recipe for my meatballs came from Marcus Samuelsson, who got it from his Swedish grandma. When a recipe comes from a famous chef’s grandma, you just know it has to be good. With ingredients like honey and pickle juice, it’s unlike any I’ve seen before. I did deviate quite a bit from the original, but that’s just how I roll. That’s the great thing about recipes like this. There’s lots of room to improvise.
The meatballs themselves are made with a mixture of beef, pork and veal. I’ve always been a fan of using veal in meatballs. I think it gives them a lighter texture and better flavor.
Let’s get started!
To make the meatballs, you first sauté some finely diced onions in olive oil. Set them aside to cool while you gather up the rest of the meatball ingredients.
Toss the sautéed onions in with the other ingredients and mix them all up together in a big bowl. Form as many golf ball sized meatballs as you can get. I got a ton. Then, brown them in a skillet. But, don’t cook them all the way through.
Yes, that is butter that those meatballs are frying in – big, fat, voluptuous butter. But, it’s okay. I don’t do this every day. And, I don’t have an endorsement deal with any big drug companies.
Next, whip up that fabulous Swedish meatball sauce. You start by making a roux, which is used as a thickening base for all kinds of sauces, gravies, soups and stews. A roux a mixture of butter and flour that is cooked together until it reaches varying shades of brown, depending on what it’s being used for. Cooking the flour allows it to thicken the sauce without giving it a “raw”, starchy taste. The roux for this dish should be on the lighter side – sort of like a café au lait color. Marcus’s grandma’s recipe doesn’t call for a roux. But, I wanted a sauce with more body, so I made one.
When the roux is ready, add some stock, a little at a time so that it doesn’t sputter up and splash you in the face. Trust me, that is not pleasant!
Then, add some heavy cream, lingonberry preserves and pickle juice. No, that’s not a typo. I thought the pickle juice was weird too. Just do it, though. You’ll thank me later.
When the sauce starts to bubble, gently plop the meatballs in. Then, simmer them in that glorious sauce until they’re cooked through. Honestly, it took almost all of my self-control not to just slurp that sauce up with a big, fat, giant spoon!
Serve them with more lingonberry preserves and some pickled cucumber slices – and watch your guests drool.
loosely adapted from Marcus Samuelsson
Note: This recipe calls for lingonberry preserves, which can be a little tricky to find. If you can’t find them, you can use red current jelly or preserves, which will work just fine.
For the meatballs:
- 1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2/3 pound ground chuck or sirloin
- 1 pound ground veal
- 1 pound ground pork
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 2 large eggs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more as needed
For the sauce:
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup lingonberry preserves
- 4 tablespoons pickle juice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Combine the breadcrumbs and heavy cream in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about five minutes, until softened. Remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, veal, pork, onion, honey and egg, and mix well with your hands. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the breadcrumb mixture and mix well. Shape the mixture into meatballs the size of a golf ball, placing them on a plate lightly moistened with water. You should have about 40 meatballs.
- Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, in batches if necessary, and cook, turning frequently, for about 4-5 minutes until browned on all sides, but not cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to a platter and start the sauce.
- Return the skillet to the heat and melt the 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the flour. Keep stirring and cook the flour and butter until the mixture turns a light brown color. It should look like the color of coffee with cream.
- Whisk in the stock, about a cup at a time, whisking constantly. Then whisk in the cream, preserves and pickle juice, and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to simmer on low for another 5-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly.
- Serve hot with lingonberry preserves and pickled cucumbers.
If you missed the first two Meatball Week installments, you can find them here: