Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meatballs (Sweden)

Swedish meatballs, they are the sort of dish that conjurs up images of a cozy fire lit room in a snow covered glen, Elke Sommers and Sven the Viking stoking the post prandial sexual fire with delicious morsels of comforting pan braised flesh! At least that's my image, Zola's may be a little less Wagnarian. I digress. Anyway whenever I think of Elke Sommers and Sven the Viking I also think of our fantastic friend and noted Swede, Per. The following recipe and entertaining cultural annotation are his. I'd like to add Per was the first person to contribute to the blog (c'mon you bludgers, lets see some more!) and this excelent dish was the first prepared and consumed in the name of Foodchains. Fitting too was the fact that for this meal we were joined by our friend (and Per's) Mike, who consumed a mammoth plate (as did I) and who's comments provide further brevity to this wonderful swedish classic: "Dude that's huge. Keep crushing meatballs."


At the risk of appearing predictable I will share my mother's recipe for meatballs. I learned the "recipe" growing
up so it's sort of a dish without regimented measures of ingredients, let me try to recall...

1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 1/2 pound ground pork
(this was an economic choice because pork was a lot cheaper than beef
in Sweden in the 70s. Some fancypants go 1/3 with veal but not me. I'm
keeping it real)
2 large yellow onions
breadcrumbs (stale bread placed in a bowl with milk) About 4 or 5
slices in a cup of milk
2 eggs
more salt than you think you would need
more white pepper than you think you would need
lots of black pepper
more butter than you think you would need

You can make the bread stale by placing it in the oven at a plate warming temperature for an hour or two or by leaving it out overnight.

OK, you are ready to go! By the way, do not be alarmed by the lack of herbs and spices. It is, indeed, what puts the big, soft Italian balls at a disadvantage when measured against the tight little bronzed Swedish balls that they will never be.

Finely chop the onions and brown them in some of the butter. Mix the beef and pork, add salt, white pepper, breadcrumbs, black pepper, eggs, and browned onions. Mix for a long time with your hands. Fry a trial meatball in butter when everything has been mixed. It will probably be bland. Add more salt, white, black pepper. Fry another one in butter. It, too, may be bland. Add more salt, white, black pepper. You get the picture. You can make more breadcrumbs beforehand just in case and add another egg if it's too crumbly. They are not meant to be cakey, obviously, but they need to hold themselves together. It usually takes me 3 or 4 tries to get it right, but usually just the salt and pepper part.

When you are satisfied, when a golden brown meatball comes out nice and savory, mellow with a little salt and a black pepper kick, you have to go into production. Roll the little guys with the palm of your hands, make them kind of small, like about an inch and a quarter from pole to pole and put them somewhere, like on a large cutting board so that as you fry them, you have fresh soldiers going into the frying pan (I don't have to tell you that a cast iron skillet disperses the heat best). I fry them in
butter and pour out the drippings every other shift (these drippings you keep).

This is not Orthodox Swedish but it's good advice: dice a handful of Shiitake mushrooms, sautee them in butter, and pour the meatball drippings and scrapings into the mushroom pan as you go along. Keep it at a low simmer, and add some cream, flour, and soy sauce to taste. Not too much heat, not too much soy sauce. This makes for a much better gravy than the Swedish white one that is often served with meatballs.

When all the meatballs have been fried and the gravy is kicking ass, serve with lots of mashed potatoes and lingonberry preserves. Lingonberries aren't super easy to get ahold of, so cranberries areactually a very close substitute. If anyone bitches they can find the door on their own.

The most important part of this recipe is browning the onions before mixing the meat - they lend an excellent flavor. This is what I learned from my mother watching her make them (and helping out in the kitchen as a kid). The second most important thing is using the drippings for the gravy. Mushrooms, Shiitake or not, just make it that much better.

This is one of those things that is easy to make but takes a little time. But who doesn't want to come over for a dinner party when they know you have Swedish meatballs down pat? Yup, vegetarians.

1 comment:

Zola said...

I wanted to add that when I referred to these meatballs as 'small', I was firmly corrected. Apparently nothing in Sweden is small or big. Everything should be MEDIUM.