In a perfect world, I’d spend every day playing in the kitchen, experimenting with new ingredients and cuisines, making stuff and posting it here. OK, there would likely be a few other things involved in my perfect world, but wouldn’t that be swell? In the real world, as in other peoples’ worlds (and the opposite of so many others’ worlds), some days I find myself at IKEA looking for a new desk chair, because the stuffing on my old one has somehow worked its way to the outside of the upholstery. And on this particular day, having tried to reel in my appetite, I was starving at said IKEA visit, and thus cranky, and impatient in the as-is section, and then in line, and by the end of it there was no time to go get Swedish meatballs. But it occurred to me that IKEA doesn’t actually have a monopoly on Swedish meatballs.
And if I put my mind to it, I might be able to make them my very own self.
This is the kind of revelation I’d love to dedicate my working life to. Making meatballs, and passing them on. That’s a worthy pursuit, isn’t it?
So here’s the Secret of the Swedish Meatball: you don’t really need a formula. Whether you start with frozen meatballs or make them yourself. (I generally don’t bother with unnecessary binders – like egg – or ingredients like breadcrumbs that were initially added to stretch pricey beef – but it doesn’t matter at all what you add – just do what you like.) Adding a pinch of allspice and/or nutmeg will give them that distinctive Swedish flavour. And if you cook them in a heavy skillet on the stovetop, you’ll create lovely crispy dark bits in the bottom of pan, exactly the kind that make for wonderful gravy.
To recap, you make gravy by shaking flour into fat in a pan – fat + flour won’t get lumpy – then whisking in liquid, like stock or wine. It will bubble and thicken, and turn into gravy. You can add more stock if it’s too thick, or a big glop of sour cream to creamify – spellcheck says that’s not a word, but I contend that it is – the gravy into something like what you get on those deliriously good Swedish meatballs. (If you use low fat sour cream, turn down the heat. Be gentle, or it could separate.) You can totally do this, and wing it even.
If you need a recipe, here you go:
Adapted from Cookie, October 2008. If you want to streamline things, start by gently shaping pure ground beef into balls, straight out of the package – don’t bother mixing anything in.
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 small onion, coarsely grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp. allspice and/or nutmeg (optional)
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. butter (optional)
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup sour cream
Lingonberry or cranberry sauce (optional)
In a medium bowl, gently combine the beef, onion, breadcrumbs, egg, spices and salt and pepper with your hands, and shape it into 1-inch balls.
In a drizzle of oil in a heavy (cast iron is great) skillet set over medium-high heat, cook the meatballs, rolling them around as you need to, until deep golden and crusty and cooked through. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a bowl and set aside.
Drain the excess fat from the pan, leaving about a tablespoon. Add the butter (if you like, or just leave the drippings in the pan) and the flour, and whisk to combine. Add the stock and stir, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the mixture boils and thickens. Whisk in the sour cream and stir until it has the texture of creamy gravy. This whole process will only take a few minutes.
Return the meatballs to the pan and roll them around to coat. Serve with cranberry or lingonberry sauce. Serves 4-6.