Real, hømemåde Swedish meatballs in a rich, cream gravy is as comforting as dinner gets. Serve it with boiled potatoes, lingonberry preserves and cucumber salad.
Have you ever dragged your a$$ all the way to Ikea supposedly because you desperately need a new Lillnaggen for your bathroom (but really it’s because you can’t live another day without a Swedish meatball). Do you crave meatballs the way a theater kid craves a spotlight? Do you power-walk straight past all those cozy-looking beds and then say, “Oh look, the cafe. Totes forgot they had one. Hmmm, it does happen to be meatballtime, er I mean lunchtime.”
(Five orders of meatballs later…) “What?”
Yeah, I’d have no idea about that (wipes nutmeg-scented gravy off lips with a Guldlök napkin).
For many Americans, Ikea Swedish meatballs are the only version they’ve had, which is a shame because, tasty as they are, they’re also mass-produced and kind of bland.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when Matt and I went to an excellent Swedish restaurant in Hudson (DaBa, now sadly closed), that I realized just how much flavor real Swedish meatballs could have.
This version is loosely based on the version we had at DaBa, and also influenced by a recipe by the fantastic Swedish chef, Marcus Samuelsson. While our recipe is pretty traditional, I’m adding an extra ‘ish’ onto Swedish to placate any Scandinavian purists who might balk at any recipe that doesn’t exactly match their Mormor Ingrid’s. A dash of Worcestershire sauce and a spoonful of mustard may not be standard, but they add a lovely bit of extra zing to the creamy sauce.
In fact, our version also has a little lingonberry jam and a tablespoon or so of the delicious brine from the quick-pickled cucumbers (thank you, Marcus Samuelsson). The result is a sauce that’s creamy and rich and not the least bit bland.
For the meatballs themselves, we use a 50/50 mix of pork and beef. You can also add veal to the mix, but it’s not necessary. We do recommend using fresh nutmeg because it has much more flavor than the pre-ground stuff. You’ll definitely taste the difference here.
The technique will be familiar to anyone who makes Italian-style meatballs. A mix of meat, some bread soaked in milk for moisture (called a panade), an egg for binding. Using white bread will result in the most tender meatballs, but panko is a decent substitute. Dry Italian-style crumbs will result in the heaviest texture so we don’t recommend them here.
Traditional Swedish meatballs are quite springy in texture which happens when the meat mixture is aggressively mixed, usually with an electric beater, until it becomes almost a paste. I like to keep them soft and tender (awwwww), so I mixed it pretty gently just using my hands. Enough to fully combine everything, but not too much more than that.
The soft meatballs may flatten a little on the side as you cook them, but that’s okay. Let them get beautifully brown and then gently turn them and brown the other side. Keep turning them as they cook until they’re brown all over. They may not look like perfect balls (heh heh, I am 12) but they will taste glorious and leave delicious brown bits on the bottom of your pan which will flavor your sauce.
We recommend serving them with boiled baby potatoes, lingonberry (or red currant) jam and Swedish Cucumber and Red Onion Salad with Dill. The bright, vinegary tang of the salad is not only a great foil for the rich dish, you can also use a tablespoon of the brine in the sauce itself to perk up the flavor.
If you’re not making the cucumbers, you can use the brine from any pickle jar in your fridge, or just use a little white wine vinegar.
Now we’re making our own meatballs, we don’t go to Ikea so much any more. It’s okay, though, we’ve taken to drawing arrows on the floor and blocking all the doors with furniture so it takes an hour to find the bathroom. Skål!
Swedish (ish) Meatballs with Cream Gravy
For the meatballs:
- 1/2 cup 1oz, 25g fresh white breadcrumbs or panko
- 1/4 cup 60ml whole milk or heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons 30g unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup 100g, 4oz onion (about 1 medium), finely chopped
- 3/4 pound 350g ground beef (chuck or sirloin)
- 3/4 pound 350g ground pork
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 teaspoon .5g freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons 9g coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon .6 freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons 25g all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups 600ml low sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 cup 120ml heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons 60g lingonberry or red currant preserves
- 1 tablespoon 15ml pickle juice from Quick Cucumber Salad (or use 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar)
- 1 tablespoon 15ml Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons 10g dijon mustard
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Lingonberry or red currant preserves
- Quick Pickled Cucumber and Red Onion Salad with Dill
- Combine the breadcrumbs and heavy cream in a large bowl, stirring with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened. Set aside for at least 5 minutes to let crumbs absorb liquid.
- Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 12-inch straight sided sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat until the onions are soft and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- In the bowl with the breadcrumbs, add the sautéed onion, ground beef, pork, egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands until completely combined.
- With wet hands (to keep the mixture from sticking), shape the mixture into meatballs the size of a small golf ball (about 2 tablespoons each), and set them on a tray. You should have about 28-30 meatballs. (You can do this in advance and chill the balls until you are ready to cook them)
- Melt the rest of the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, in batches if necessary, and cook, turning frequently, for about 7 minutes until browned on all sides and cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and drain off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet.
- Decrease the heat to low and add the flour to the skillet. Whisk until lightly browned, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Return the skillet to the heat, whisk in the stock, cream, preserves, pickle juice, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard, and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- If you want to reheat the meatballs, add them to the sauce, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about five minutes, until the the meatballs are heated through.