Daughter Eilene is having friends over to play games again and this time they had a specific dinner request—they wanted Swedish meatballs. This is a dish that even before wife Jan joined the Noom program she would not let me make—she does not like Swedish meatballs because the meat is usually mixed to the point where it loses all texture. Swedish meatballs are usually small in size—½-1 tablespoon—and mildly spiced. They are usually served in gravy or with gravy on the side.
I decided to make Jan a dinner salad and remove all of my usual dietary restrictions in making these tasty treats. I looked at several recipes online—1, 2, 3—to decide what ingredients are usually used in making Swedish meatballs. I picked and chose the ingredients I liked to make my own version of this American 1950’s standard potluck dish. One major change I made was to add Better than Bouillon to punch up the rather bland gravy.
Karl’s Swedish Meatballs
(Optional) 1 package of wide egg noodles OR boiled or mashed potatoes
½ cup Panko
½+ cup milk
3 Tbs. ghee, separate uses
½ yellow onion, finely diced (about half a cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large eggs
¼ cup parsley, finely minced
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp Kosher salt
1 lb. ground beef (83%)
½ lb. ground pork
¼ cup AP flour
1 can (14.5 oz.) beef broth
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbs. Better than Bouillon, beef base, reduced sodium
4 oz. sour cream
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
Note: While at many potlucks or parties Swedish meatballs are served by themselves, if you are planning to have them for a dinner a starch is nice to have. In Sweden, they are usually served with boiled or mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. In America, I have usually seen them served with wide egg noodles. You should have any starch you are planning to use cooked and ready to serve when you have finished your gravy.
1. Put the Panko and milk in a medium bowl and place in a small mixing bowl, stir, and set aside.
Tip: You may need to add an additional 1-2 tablespoons of milk.
Note: This mush is called a panade, and helps prevent the meat proteins from linking up which would make your meatballs tough and dry. You want the bread crumbs to absorb as much milk as they can. You may also use fresh bread crumbs for your panade which will need less milk.
2. Put one tablespoon of ghee in a small sauté pan, over medium high heat, and sauté the onions until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
Tip: When I want really finely diced onions, I use my mandolin—set to the finest cut—and I then stack the slices to cross-cut them into very small, discrete bits.
3. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute.
4. Stir the onion mixture into the panade.
Tip: In most recipes I have read cooks making meatloaf or meatballs will put the meat in a bowl and then sprinkle the other ingredients on top. You then have to struggles to mix the various ingredients evenly throughout the meat. I prefer to thoroughly mix all of my additions into the panade, which is then easily mixed into the meat.
5. Add the eggs, pepper, allspice, nutmeg, parsley, salt to the panade bowl and blend the mixture completely.
Tip: The soggy bread will have cooled the onions off enough that there is no danger that the eggs will start to cook while you are adding them to the mix.
6. Put the beef and pork into a large bowl—or the bowl of a standing mixer—and add the panade mixture.
7. Blend the ingredients thoroughly.
Tip: A standing mixer is a real help in this process. I mixed—on a medium speed—for five minutes, scrapping down the beater and sides of the bowl about every minute.
Note: While the panade prevents your meat from turning into sausage, you can overwork the meat—so that it turns out more like baloney or a hotdog, rather than a gently textured meatball.
8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the meat mixture in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to firm up.
Tip: The process of mixing the meat actually warms it slightly, which will make it sticky and hard to roll into balls. Chilling the mix actually firms up the fat and makes the meat easier to handle.
9. Measure and roll the meat mixture into balls and set them on a tray or plate.
Tip: A very useful device for this process is a cookie scoop—which looks like a miniature ice cream scoop. While some recipes call for one tablespoon of meat per meatball, the more traditional—American—size is about half a tablespoon, which produces ¾ inch balls.
Note: I usually scoop out my meat and place them on a plate. Once the plate is full of little lumps of meat, I get my hands wet and roll each measured scoop into a ball. The moisture prevents too much fat from sticking to your hands.
10. Put the last two tablespoons of ghee in a large sauté pan or skillet, over medium high heat.
11. Fry the meatballs until brown on all sides, about one minute per side.
Tip: You will probably need to do this in batches.
Note: Gently flip the meatballs as they are cooking. Once they are fairly set you may stir each batch a bit more roughly, to make sure they are evenly browned and cooked through.
12. Remove the finished meatballs to a tray and set them in a warm oven—200° F—while you finish cooking the other batch or two of the meatballs.
13. When the meatballs are done, drain off the grease from the pan and add the flour.
Tip: You want to add back an equal amount of the grease to the flour to make a roux.
Note: Scrape off—and save—any fond that is sticking to the pan, before you add the flour to the pan to prevent this flavorful bits from burning while you make the roux.
14. Continue cooking your roux until it is to your liking.
Tip: Many cooks making this dish would stop at a blond roux—where you have cooked it only long enough to get rid of the raw flour taste. I prefer to continue cooking it to more of a “peanut-butter” or “brown” color.
Note: A darker roux adds its own special flavor to a dish. This is a very lightly seasoned dish, so I used the tricks I know to boost the meaty flavors.
15. Add some of the beef broth to the roux and stir until the roux is incorporated.
Tip: When you first add a liquid to a roux, the roux will tend to clump up. If you add all of the liquid at the same time it is very difficult to get all of the lumps out.
16. Stir the rest of the broth, pepper, allspice, nutmeg, Better than Bouillon paste, and any recovered fond into the pan.
Note: Most of the recipes I looked at did not add any spices to the gravy. In my experience, this produces rather bland and dull gravy. I decided to reprise the seasoning used in the meatballs and I added the beef paste to really boost the meaty flavor.
17. Continue simmering your gravy for 10-15 minutes, until it has melded and thickened.
Tip: If you think you need more gravy for your diners, you may need to add a bit more liquid. If you think the gravy is not thick enough for your liking, you may add some cornstarch slurry to thicken it up.
18. Blend the sour cream into the gravy.
Tip: Once you add the dairy, you do not want your gravy to come to a full boil, as there is a risk of the sour cream curdling.
19. Add the meatballs to the gravy and simmer for another minute or two to make sure the gravy and meatballs are all heated through.
Note: Some people prefer to serve the meatballs and gravy separately, so that their diners can choose how much gravy they put on their plate.
20. Transfer the Swedish meatballs to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining parsley.
21. Serve warm over noodles or potatoes.