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January 4, 2009 4:55 PM   Subscribe

What's your best recipe and technique for authentic Swedish meatballs?

On a recent trip to Sweden, I had the most excellent dish: (Swedish) meatballs at Restaurang Lingon. The balls were super tasty and light. The gravy was just amazing, and it was served on airy mashed potatoes with lingon berry preserves.

I just tried to make the same dish at home, and it did not go so well. I think part of the problem is that I used an American variation from a cookbook. It was fine food and all, but it was not close to what I ate in Uppsala.

So, can you please post your favorite authentic, old-style recipe? Perhaps something from your Swedish grandmother or friends living there. I would also appreciate cooking tips for making the dish, not just the ingredients. (For example, never/always use a food processor, or always use some kind of bread, etc.)

There was a great thread on tomato sauce, which I would love to replicate here for swedish meatballs.
posted by about_time to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I'm partial to Tyler Florence's recipe for Swedish meatballs. However, I think it's really just the addition of dill and caraway that does it, since his recipe otherwise is fairly similar to other recipes I've seen. I tend to think that baked meatballs are inferior to meatballs cooked on a skillet because I like the fond to make a good gravy. However, I find that baked meatballs are lighter. So, try switching up your cooking method.

Tip for cooking: Use clarified butter for cooking the meatballs. Neutral oils don't add much to the flavor party and unclarified butter burns, which leads to not so nice gravy.
posted by saeculorum at 5:09 PM on January 4, 2009

Best answer: Here's my Swedish grandmother's recipe. I don't know how authentic/old-style it is.

Mix (by hand, no food processors or spoons or anything):

3lbs fatty ground beef
1c milk
2 eggs
1c smashed soda crackers
a chopped onion
some worcestershire sauce (I always just splash it in till it looks right, about a tbs or so)

add more crackers/milk as needed to get to meatball consistency, then form into balls

Brown the meatballs over medium heat, then set them aside.

Mix 1/2c flour with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of paprika. Add this to the pan drippings. Cook for 3.5 minutes or so, constantly stirring so the flour doesn't burn. Add 4c cold water and 1.5 c sour cream. Cook and stir till smooth.

Pour gravy over meatballs and simmer till cooked.

Whenever I make it, I substitute a pound of pork for a pound of beef and end up having to add oil for browning and cooking the flour, but the original recipe just uses the beef fat.
posted by Diz at 6:01 PM on January 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Don't know if this will qualify as old-style, but Cook's Illustrated just did a "best recipe" for Swedish meatballs in their January 2009 issue. The issue might still be on the stand. I haven't tried it but am dying to, especially because the writer emphasized s/he sought to create both lightness and flavor and avoid that heavy, dense, sits-in-your-stomach feeling. Their recipe uses a mix of ground pork and beef, which is unusual, and a stand mixer and a panade (bread crumbs and cream) to increase moisture and fluffiness.
posted by Herkimer at 6:16 PM on January 4, 2009

Best answer: Here is a recipe that is basically a traditional Swedish recipe (very similar to the ones in Swedish I have).

The main difference/variations is in the "filling". That recipe uses potato flakes, the more common method is dried bread crumbs and milk (mix 1/4-1/2 cup bread crumbs in 1/2-3/4 cup of milk, let sit for 10 min). Cold boiled potatoes or bread are sometimes used instead of bread crumbs. The onion can be sauteed before use, recipes typically use twice the amount in that case).

Some random tips:

Use both ground beef and ground pork for best result. Do not use any lean varieties, the fat is important (otherwise they tend to get dry, just like burgers).

Never use a food processor, a wooden spoon is enough. Don't mix too much!

The amount of milk used with the bread crumbs can be altered to get the right consistency of the mix.

Always brown the meatballs in a skillet. If you're making a lot you can finish them in the oven, otherwise just lower the temperature for 3-5 minutes until done.

Rinse your hands in water now and then when rolling the balls, and place them on a cutting board that also been rinsed in water. Make them all the same size. Too small and they tend to get dry.

The sauce is basically just a brown sauce/gravy with lots of cream. Heavy cream is preferable... A small amount of chinese mushroom soy sauce is often added for color in Sweden (not sure how that happened...)

A bit of ground all-spice is traditional, but not always used.

The recipe linked above is not really traditional - I've never seen garlic, caraway or dill being used.

On preview: Diz's recipe looks quite traditional, but notice the typical bread-crumbs substitution I mentioned :)
posted by rpn at 6:39 PM on January 4, 2009

I would recommend bread crumbs over crushed soda crackers, though there are different kinds of bread crumbs you can buy, in addition to making your own. Maybe a blend will appeal to you. Its a variable I would play with.

Also, if you crack an egg into the meat before forming it into balls, that will help them hold together.

I have no idea if any of the above is "traditional."
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:42 PM on January 4, 2009

Best answer: This is taken directly from my copy of "Vår Kokbok" (Our Cookbook), one of the most common Swedish cookbooks:

400 grams "blandfärs" (the term for ground meat that is 70% beef and 30% pork)
4 tablespoons unsweetened bread crumbs
1 tablespoon potato flour
150 milliliter milk
1 egg
1.5 teaspoon salt
1.5 milliliter black or white pepper (the original term is "kryddmått" which is about 1 milliliter. It's tiny, basically a pinch.)
1 tablespoon finely grated raw yellow onion

Mix the bread crumbs, potato flour and milk, let sit for at least 10 minutes. Add the egg, salt, pepper and onion to the bread crumb mix. Mix gently with the ground meat, using only a fork. Only mix until it's just blended together (if the meat is handled too much, it will get rubbery).

Shape the meat with your hands into either large or small, but even-sized, balls. Every now and then, wash your hands with cold water. Place on a wet cutting board.

Brown butter or margarine in a pan. Add the meat balls - not too many at a time. Shake the pan so that they brown evenly. Reduce the heat, let them simmer without a lid and without adding liquid for about 3-5 minutes (depending on size) until just cooked through.

The sauce:
Remove the meat balls to a warm side dish. Add water into the frying pan until you have about 300 milliliter of drippings. Add a small bullion cube.
In a separate bowl, mix 2 tablespoons flour with about 100 milliliter milk. Shake/mix to a smooth, thick sauce without lumps. Add the flour/milk mixture to the pan while stirring. Simmer 3-4 minutes. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons cream, and then add about 0.5 teaspoons of soy for flavoring.

Below the "basic" recipe, there is a recipe for "Deli Meatballs" that are a bit fancier. The recipe here reads:

500 grams mixed ground beef
2 mid-sized cold and grated potatoes
1 small yellow onion, grated
1 egg
1.5 teaspoon salt
2 milliliter (two pinches) allspice
150 milliliter cream

The recipe is the same after that, just cold potatoes and cream instead of the bread crumbs, potato flour and milk of the basic recipe.

Just a few thoughts based on the way my grandma did it:

- Definitely bread crumbs, not soda crackers, soaked in milk. Potato flakes or oatmeal works too, makes them a bit lighter. (I actually use more than the recipe above, about half again as much.)
- My grandma used grated cardamon-flavored skorpor (Swedish Rusks) as the bread crumbs, so I usually add a tablespoon of cardamon to the bread crumbs, which adds a nice flavor.
- The key is to not over-work the meat, only mix enough to blend with the bread crumbs and egg.
- Always use a skillet to brown the meatballs. The just don't taste the same in the oven.

Hope that's useful! Sorry for the metric measurements. The original recipe has everything in deciliters, which I have converted to milliliters (as U.S. measuring cups have that as well). Good luck!
posted by gemmy at 10:43 PM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

Listen to rpn and gemmy.
posted by Iteki at 12:45 AM on January 5, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, these are all great recipes so far! Please keep 'em coming! Tack!
posted by about_time at 6:50 AM on January 5, 2009

I don't have a full recipe, but I know my mom (born and raised in Sweden) uses a mixture of ground beef, veal, and pork in her meatballs, and every one of my friends who has tried them has said that they were the best Swedish meatballs they've ever had. (And not just to her to be nice, they've told other friends of ours about them, too). I will try to get the recipe from her again and post it here. Also, we rarely ever have any gravy on them. Not sure if that's a local preference from where she grew up or just a personal preference of hers.
posted by Grither at 6:51 AM on January 5, 2009

Don't use dill.

Stick with nutmeg or allspice, a mix of leaner beef and pork and breadcrumbs. Let the breadcrumbs soak in milk for a little bit.
posted by FergieBelle at 7:26 AM on January 5, 2009

Excuse the short reply earlier, was on my ipod. I tried ringing Lingon for you, but they are renovating, so I have sent an email. Will give you a shout if I get a reply.

The key elements are, as mentioned mixed-mince (veal is nice but then you risk aproacing kalvbullar territory, vealballs), breadcrumbs presoaked with milk, and not overmixing the meat. Note that breacrumbs in sweden are bone dry, so crumb it first, and then let it dry.

It's important to note that 15% fat is considered "fatty" meat here, I understand ground beef in the states may have a higher procentage? Part of the reason for using mixed-mince here (pork and beef) is in order to get in the fat. Also, mince is very finely ground here, maybe 1.5mm "strands", which impacts the consitancy.

You can pipe them out as opposed to rolling them hard if you prefer, some places do like that if they have a mushier mix.

Last but not least...... are you sure they weren't mooseballs? The restaurant menu is rather nice, and they have some interesting flavour combos, so it is very possible they had something special in there in terms of seasoning or indeed meat.
posted by Iteki at 8:21 AM on January 5, 2009

are you sure they weren't mooseballs?

I didn't have the time to look at the restaurant menu last night, but this was going to be my question too. Moose meat is very common, and adds a whole different flavor that is hard to reproduce with beef or pork. It's generally really lean, though, so it would not be surprising to have a moose/pork mix for the meat - that's how my other grandma does it sometimes.

My mom got a hold of some ground venison when they lived in in Ohio, and we used it mixed with pork to make almost-moose-tasting meatballs. If you have any possibility to try that, I would recommend it.
posted by gemmy at 9:50 AM on January 5, 2009

Response by poster: I didn't think to contact the restaurant! Great idea, Iteki. Thanks for your help! I love MeFi!!

I don't think they were mooseballs as my Swedish host helped translate the menu. But that doesn't mean this particular recipe didn't have some moose in it I suppose. I actually have a picture of the meal (it was that good :), which I will locate and post as quickly as I can.
posted by about_time at 1:54 PM on January 5, 2009

No Scandinavian background, however the basis of my 'light and fluffy' meatballs was to include beaten egg whites in the mix, and then use a skillet.

This might match with some of your other recipes along the way.
posted by Flashduck at 3:21 PM on January 5, 2009

i had a recipe for swedish meatballs that claimed the key to the light, fluffy texture of scandinavian meatballs was to thoroughly beat in your liquid (and not just eggs, but some sort of thinner liquid). that book said in fact to use a bunch of WATER and that was the key, to mix in small amounts of water thoroughly almost like you're whipping the mixture, but it seems that most of the above recipes are using milk and i think that would do the trick. beaten egg whites also seem like a good idea!

the recipe i used MAY have been in the classic joy of cooking book.
posted by dahliachewswell at 4:22 PM on January 5, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, here's a pic of what I ate at Lingon. My thought was this would help Iteki identify the dish when speaking with Lingon (but maybe not).
posted by about_time at 6:28 PM on January 5, 2009

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