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Swedish Meatballs:
 Smörgåsbord Favorite

Swedish meatballs are probably one of the best-known Swedish cooking specialties, definitely a necessity on the smörgåsbord.  Norway, Denmark and Finland have their own versions, too. Every Scandinavian cookbook has at least one recipe, usually several. The varieties are staggering to think about!  Why so many? How should you pick one?

Remember that meatballs were probably a way to use up leftovers, and then the mystery of all the different recipes clears up.  The cook used the meat that was on hand, a filler that was available, and ingredients for the sauce based on not only regional or family preference, but what was handy.

Some recipes call for half beef, half pork. Other recipes have half veal, half pork.   Some have one-third each of pork, beef and veal.  If you have dietary or political objections to any of the meats, substitute others.  Once, as a way to include a vegetarian friend in a smörgåsbord I was serving, I made a recipe using only a vegetarian substitute for ground beef (and only vegetable oil, no dairy or meat products in the sauce). It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad, either.

For flavoring, some recipes use nutmeg and dry mustard for flavoring, others use minced onions and allspice, others use thyme and marjoram.  White pepper is a common ingredient. I once made them with only minced capers for flavoring, and loved it.

Then you'll want to choose oven-frying or pan-frying.  I think that oven-frying is a lot easier, but pan-frying gives a better result.  I choose oven-frying when I'm short on time and patience.

Sauces? Some prefer a brown gravy, others a white sauce.  Sour cream mixed with a bit of pan drippings tastes great. Gjetost (goat cheese) with some parsley or dill in the white sauce or sour cream makes a tangy treat.

So I've developed my own basic Swedish meatball recipe, building in the variations.   Each time you make them, you can vary the meat, spices, filler, and sauce, depending on what you have in your refrigerator or pantry, or what your taste preferences are.

Jone's Swedish Meatballs

Meat: (the main ingredient)
     2 pounds ground lean meat: use beef, pork or veal
                (may use some textured vegetable protein ground beef substitute)
Filler: (to give the meatballs the right consistency)
     2 eggs
     1 cup milk, cream, meat broth or water
     1/2 cup all-purpose flour OR 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs OR 1 cup torn bread OR 1 cup mashed potatoes
Salt and Pepper:
     Salt to taste (1 1/2 teaspoons suggested)
     Pepper to taste (white or black pepper - 1/2 teaspoon suggested)
More Flavor:
     Option 1:
          1 minced onion
          1/4 tsp dry mustard or 1/4 teaspoon allspice
      Option 2:
           1/4 tsp dry mustard
           1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

By hand or on medium speed with an electric mixture, thoroughly blend the ground meat, filler, salt and pepper, and other flavorings.  Beat until very well mixed.   Form into balls about 3/4"-1 1/2"  in diameter: do this by hand, or use a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop, or a melon baller. Makes 30-150 meatballs depending on how large they are.  Serves 6-8, more on the smörgåsbord.

Cooking methods:

Pan-fried: Heat a skillet with 2-3 tablespooons of cooking oil to medium-high heat. Fill the skillet about half full with the meatballs, and fry them for about 10 minutes.  Shake the skillet gently during cooking to keep the meatballs turning and to cook them evenly, about 10-15 minutes depending on size.  You may need a spatula to encourage some of the more stubborn meatballs to turn over properly.  As soon as meatballs are browned, take them out of the pan, let them cool and drain a bit, and keep them warm (try using an oven-proof dish in a barely-warm oven) until ready to add sauce and serve.

Oven-fried: Use ungreased baking sheets -- the kind with rims on all four sides. Separate the meatballs slightly, bake at 450F for 10-15 minutes.  Remove carefully from the baking sheets..

For most sauces, you'll stir the meatballs into the sauce then transfer them to the serving dish.  Meatballs can be prepared ahead, and refrigerated in a covered container for 2-3 days or frozen in airtight containers for several months.  You can freeze cooled meatballs spread out on a clean, cool baking sheet, then transfer them to airtight containers, if you want to be able to make a large quantity of meatballs and remove just enough at one time.  Thawed or refrigerated meatballs should be heated in a single layer on an ungreased rimmed baking sheet for 10-15 minutes at 375F.

Brown sauce or red wine sauce or sherry sauce:

    2 tablespoons pan fat
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 cup beef broth (may be made from bouillon) or 1 can condensed beef broth
    1/2 - 3/4 cup water (to taste)
    3 tablespoons red wine or sherry (optional)

Add the flour to the pan fat in a saucepan, mix thoroughly.  Discard the rest of the fat from the cooking pan, then rinse the pan in some of the broth to loosen the bits of meat from the pan.  Add the broth to the fat/flour base in the saucepan.   (Tip: at this point, mixing the flour/fat mixture and the broth mixture in the blender removes all lumps thoroughly.) Heating this mixture, slowly add the water to taste.  Bring to a boil.   (Add  red wine or sherry if desired at this point.)

Sour cream sauce or Gjetost sauce:

    1 cup sour cream
    1/2 cup shredded gjetost

Transfer the meatballs to the serving dish. Discard the fat from the cooking pan, stir the sour cream into the pan to pick up the rest of the pan drippings and the bits of meat. Heat slightly, do not boil.  Stir in the shredded cheese if desired. Pour hot mixture over the meat.

White sauce:

    2 tablespoons butter
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 cup half and half or cream
    1/2 cup water or chicken broth (may be made from bouillon)
    Fresh dill leaves or parsley leaves (optional)

Add the flour to the butter in a saucepan, mix thoroughly, turn on heat to low heat.   Discard the fat from the cooking pan, then rinse the pan in the water or broth to loosen the bits of meat from the pan.  Add the water or broth to the butter/flour base in the saucepan and mix thoroughly.  (Tip: at this point, mixing the flour/fat mixture and the broth mixture in the blender removes all lumps thoroughly.) Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and add the half and half or cream slowly.   Simmer until a good consistency.  Add dill or parsley if desired.  Stir the meatballs into the sauce until heated through.  Transfer to the serving dish and serve immediately.

Enjoy experimenting with your meatballs!

Don't miss: Scandinavian meatball recipes on the web

 

 


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