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~For the Love of Meatballs from Sweden (Köttbullar)~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c701d995970bSvenska köttbullar.  Swedish meatballs.  The only two Swedish words you'll ever need to know. The National Dish of Sweden, and famous throughout the world, I've never met a person who doesn't adore them -- soft, one-inch meatballs bathed in beefy, creamy sauce love.  Traditionally served during the holidays as an appetizer or main-course at smorgasbord (an elaborate, festive buffet), typically accompanied by buttery egg noodles or creamy mashed potatoes, and, always with lingonberry preserves as a condiment, they're elegant, extraordinary and exquisite.

Sweden's culinary gift to meat, gravy & potato lovers:

IMG_7204(God bless us every one.)  

Swedish-style meatballs were first brought to America in the early 1900's by Swedish immigrants who settled in America's upper midwest.  These meatballs (which were very different in taste from the Mediterranean-type meatballs many Americans were familiar with) quickly gained in popularity and by the 1950's and 1960's recipes for them were being published everywhere.  Every American housewife wanted a cutesy little chafing dish with a candle on the bottom for Christmas, so she could showcase this gourmet dish to her holiday cocktail-party menu.

IMG_7064The basics:  Recipes for Köttbullar (tshut-boo-luh) vary regionally but not drastically in Sweden, as well as from household to household in each region.  All recipes contain ground beef or a combination of ground beef and pork (I'm told beef is more common in Northern Sweden and the beef/pork combo is more common in Southern Sweden).  Fresh, crustless bread crumbs soaked in milk are the component that lends all versions their signature soft consistency. Seasonings include a subtle, well-balanced blend of salt, black pepper, nutmeg and/or allspice. The meat(s), soaked crumbs and seasonings get mixed together with beaten egg to bind them together, formed into 1" balls (Swedish meatballs are never over-sized), then sautéed in butter. Once lightly-browned on all sides, the meatballs are removed from the pan and set aside.

To make beefy gravy or not make gravy at all:  It's an option.

Traditional Swedish meatballs are topped with or simmered in a beefy brown gravy or a creamy, beefy brown sauce (not everyone adds the cream or sour cream) and served as a hearty main course.  But, believe it or not, even in Sweden they don't always serve their meatballs simmered in sauce.  Because of their smallish size, they make a tasty appetizers too -- served, of course, with toothpicks and traditional Swedish lingonberry preserves as a condiment for dipping.

IMG_7113Making beefy gravy:  Once the meatballs have been removed from the skillet, some flour gets stirred into the golden pan drippings to make a roux, and then it's time to add two to a few cups of stock.  Get out your homemade beef stock because this is is a recipe that deserves the best (not shortcuts like canned broth).  I am going to interject something personal now:  chicken stock has no place in a recipe for Swedish meatballs.  I've seen it done and it upsets me.  In the name of common sense and creamy goodness, why would anyone add chicken stock to meaty, beefy pan drippings?  They would not.  Period.  Once the gravy thickens, you can drizzle it atop the warm meatballs or simmer the meatballs in the gravy for 5-10 minutes.  The choice is yours.

To make beefy gravy or beefy cream sauce:  It's an option too.

IMG_7168Turning beefy gravy into beefy cream sauce:  While the beefy gravy is coming to a simmer and thickening up, if it's the creamy version of Swedish meatballs you are looking for (and we Americans do love our creamy version -- it is said that we, not the Swedes, added the cream to the gravy) there are two schools of thought, so, you have to make a decision: add some heavy cream or sour cream.  No, you cannot substitute skim milk, lowfat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk or yak milk.  Your choices are heavy cream or sour cream.  Pick one.  One is not better than the other, it is a simple matter of personal taste -- a subtle creamy taste or a tangy creamy taste.  I like the beefy cream sauce and I'm opting for the sour cream today.

Here's my recipe for 'authentic' Swedish Meatballs:

IMG_7000For the meat mixture:

2  pounds ground beef tenderloin, not ground beef

1  pound ground pork tenderloin, not ground pork

2 1/2  cups fresh, crustless, potato bread breadcrumbs, about 7 slices of potato bread after removing crusts

1/2  cup  + 2-3 tablespoons whole milk, enough milk to make the breadcrumbs very wet without any milk puddling in the bottom of the bowl 

2  extra-large eggs

2  teaspoons ground allspice

1  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 3/4  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper or coarsely-ground black pepper

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup minced yellow or sweet onion

4  tablespoons butter + 8 tablespoons EVOO for frying first batch of meatballs, 2 tablespoons butter + 4 tablespoons EVOO for frying second batch (Note:  This amount will vary depending upon the size of your skillet or electric skillet.  Adjust it accordingly, using the same proportions of each to fry meatballs.)

IMG_7122For the beefy creamy sauce mixture:

all the golden-brown pan drippings and fond from frying the meatballs, OR, 8  tablespoons salted butter  (Note:  Butter is only necessary if you have no pan drippings to work with, for example:  if making gravy or sauce to finish-cook a batch of Swedish meatballs that have been fried in advance, frozen and then completely thawed.

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon ground allspice

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

4  cups beef stock, preferably homemade, very warm to hot + up to 1 cup of additional sauce for contolling consistency of sauce (Note:  You can find my recipe ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you:  Beef Stock ~ in Categories 15 & 22.)

1/2-1  cup lingonberry preserves, to your desired degree of sweetness

1/2  cup sour cream, to your desired degree of tanginess

For accompaniment and garnish:

cooked and buttered egg noodles or creamy mashed potatoes

additional lingonberry preserves, for dolloping alongside each portion

minced, fresh parsley, for garnishing each finished portion

IMG_6988 IMG_6992~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, trim the crusts from 7 slices of potato bread.  Slice bread into large pieces and place in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Using a series of 16-20 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs.  Transfer crumbs to a small bowl.

IMG_6994 IMG_6996~ Step 2.   Tenderloin is perfectly suited for this recipe so I grind them myself.  After cutting the proper quantities of beef and pork into chunks, working in batches, I place it in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 16-20 rapid on-off pulses, grind it up.  

IMG_7010~ Step 3.  Transfer the ground meats to a large bowl and give them a rough mix.  Place the eggs in a small bowl with the allspice, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  The breadcrumbs are already in a small bowl, so, measure out the milk.

IMG_7020Using a fork, whisk the eggs with the spices. Add milk to breadcrumbs, stir to thoroughly combine and set aside 5 minutes.

IMG_7037 IMG_7038~ Step 4.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the minced onion.  Increase heat to saute, stirring frequently until onions are soft and translucent -- not browned.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool about 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7050 IMG_7025~ Step 5. While the onions are cooling, add the whisked egg mixture and the milk-soaked breadcrumbs to the bowl with the ground meats. Using your hands, combine.  Add the cooled onions, and again, using your hands, thoroughly combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside, about 45-60 minutes to give all of the flavors time to marry.

IMG_7061~ Step 6.  Line a 17 1 1/2" a 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.

IMG_7063Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure portion meat mixture into balls.  You will have approximately 7 1/2-8 dozen.  Line a second 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil and parchment.

IMG_7073~ Step 7.  Place 4  tablespoons butter and 8 tablespoons olive oil in the bottom of an electric skillet and preheat it to 300 degrees.  My electric skillet is about the same internal size as a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, so this amount of each gives the bottom a nice even coating of 'fat'.

Note:  I use butter and EVOO rather than all butter because butter, with its low smoke point, can and will burn easily.  The EVOO prevents that from happening.  I like to fry all types of meatballs in an electric skillet because it allows me to be in control of the temperature at all times.

IMG_7093 IMG_7090~ Step 8. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat off.  Take the time to pick up each meatball and roll it between the palms of your hands to make it as round as possible before placing it in the skillet.  I'm working in two batches of about 4 dozen meatballs each.  Do not crowd the pan.  Heat the skillet to 275 degrees IMG_7112and fry gently and slowly, until lightly browned on all sides, but NOT completely cooked through, lowering the heat if necessary, about 6-8 minutes total.  Do not overcook meatballs.  Using a pair of tongs, remove from skillet and place on foil/parchment lined baking pan. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and 4 tablespoons of EVOO to skillet and repeat process with second batch of meatballs.  Cover pan with foil and set aside to keep warm.

IMG_7129Step 9.  Heat the beef stock until steaming (I use the microwave).

IMG_7128Heat the drippings to 250 degrees. Sprinkle and stir in the flour, allspice and nutmeg. Keep the roux moving constantly, until it is foamy and the color of coffee with cream, about 1 minute.

IMG_7144~ Step 10.  Add and stir the beef stock into the roux, in three parts, stirring after each addition.  

IMG_7155With each addition, the initially thick mixture will loosen up to form a smooth gravy.  Note:  At this point, the skillet can be covered and everything can stay "on hold" for 1-2 hours in advance of finishing.

IMG_7181 IMG_7175~ Step 11. Bring the beefy gravy to a very gentle simmer.  Add meatballs:  I am adding half and freezing half today, but, all will fit in an electric skillet this size.  Continue to simmer gently for 6-8 minutes, adding additional stock at any time if the gravy becomes too thick.

IMG_7186 IMG_7190~ Step 12.  Stir in the lingonberry preserves, a few tablespoons at a time, tasting after each addition until you like the sweetness.  I add 1 cup.  Turn the heat off and do the same with the sour cream, until you like the tanginess.  Sauce tasting is fun:

IMG_7220Whether served as an appetizer or as a main course, words to describe this exceptional combination are almost impossible to come by:

IMG_7268For the Love of Meatballs from Sweden (Köttbullar):  Recipe yields approzimately 7 1/2-8 dozen (90-96) Swedish meatballs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife; fork; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; 8" skillet, preferably nonstick; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; aluminum foil; electric skillet; tongs; spatula; large spoon 

PICT0002Cook's Note:  Every cook needs to know ~ How to:  Make a Roux & Slurry (to Thicken Foods) ~.  To get the specifics about each one, and learn differences between the two too, click into Category 15!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)


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