Heavenly Swedish Meatballs with Gravy

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Serves: 4
  • Level: medium

‘…This is a brilliant family meal that will have people licking sauce off the plate and asking for more. Just so delicious, who needs to go to Ikea ever again? Well me actually, I need a sofa!’

Pete
'Learn how to make mouthwatering meatballs with lashings of gorgeous gravy just like the Swedes do! Once you've made your own you'll never shop-buy again...'

What you need

For the meatballs

400g mince beef

400g mince pork

1 onion

1 large egg

75g fresh white bread crumbs

200ml single cream

1tbs butter – 1 tbs light olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the gravy

2 medium onions

1 large carrot

2 large sticks celery

1000ml chicken stock

1/2 tsp allspice

2 bay leaves

200ml double cream

1 large tablespoon Lingonberry jam/sauce (from IKEA of course – or redcurrant jelly)

2 tbs butter – 4 tablespoons light olive oil

Salt and pepper

Lemon

optional flavourings

1/2 tsp fresh thyme

10g dried porcini mushrooms

125ml white wine

1tsp aged balsamic vinegar



Dad's Recipe Tales

What makes meatballs Swedish?

Did you ever wonder why Swedish meatballs are Swedish?

Other regional meatballs reflect their nations tastes notes so clearly they might just as well come garnished with mini national flags: the Italian meatball will taste of tomato and basil; the Spanish meatball of smoked paprika and red pepper; the Moroccan meatball might include tomato and harissa; the Indian meatball will come with curry sauce and yoghurt… So how is it that we can tell if this type of meatball is Swedish?

Is it the cream in the sauce? Sweden is obsessed with dairy products – could this be the essential Nordic ingredient? Allspice is a dominant ingredient, but it’s not native to Scandinavia. Allspice does have a certain spruce-like woodiness. Is it the scent of Nordic pines that remind us of Sweden? The sweet red, but bitter, lingonberry is an essential accompaniment – happily this ingredient is native to arctic tundra – but how different is this to eating North American meat with cranberries? Does the grey blandness of the meatballs and gravy remind us of a de-saturated landscape in a Scandinavian crime drama? We can imagine how this type of comfort food could easily sooth the weary soul of Swedish crime detective Kurt Wallander, as he ruminates over another grizzly murder in Ystad.

Perhaps it’s the experience of eating the meatballs in the all-pervasive Swedish environment of IKEA that creates the distinctive Swedish character. As you navigate your way along the prescribed blue and yellow path, toil and traipse through endless propped dioramas of trendy Swedish furniture, become both stimulated and bamboozled by unpronounceable Swedish brand names, finally seeking refuge and sustenance in the restaurant at the end of the path, you acquiesce – as have millions before you – and order a plate of köttbullar. As you tuck into this plate of creamy heaven you will have convinced yourself that these meatballs are as Swedish as a Billy the bookcase.

What will help is a few more interpretations of the Swedish meatball. Take a trip to some of London’s Swedish eateries. Anna Hegarty’s restaurant has closed (see below) but Lisa’s in Portobello Road serves meatballs in the style of Anna’s, as does Cooper and Wolf’s ‘traditional’ meatballs. Fika in Brick Lane offers a lamb meatball flavoured with dill, a more obvious Scandinavian taste. ScandiKitchen on Great Titchfield Street serves theirs with beetroot and pickled cucumber – which conveys a classic Swedish heritage.

As we begin to discover how this meatball fits into the Scandinavian culinary scene we can now stick our mini Swedish flag into the meatballs and happily pronounce them Swedish. And as we pass through Swedish Hej Coffee in Bermondsey to take stock, we confidently order their version of Swedish meatballs – ‘viking balls’ – and will know that the provenance is as obvious as if they were wearing little horned-viking hats.

How Dad Cooked It

This recipe is based on Anna Hegarty’s recipe for the Swedish meatballs which she served in her North London Swedish restaurant for over 20 years. I learned of the recipe via Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s wonderful cookbook, ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’. Makes about 32 walnut size meat balls.

  1. Start with the gravy. Chop the vegetables finely. Fry in a pan with light olive oil and butter. Add a pinch of salt and cook on a low heat for about half an hour – we’re looking for the sweet caramel flavours that emerge from a slow sauté of onion. Add the allspice and stir, then add the stock and cook on a rolling simmer for 20minutes, let it reduce by a third. Add the lingonberry or redcurrant and stir. Decide whether to keep the vegetables in the sauce or to strain. Then finish the gravy, add the cream, stir and bring back to a simmer. Season with salt to taste, add plenty of pepper and a squeeze of lemon.
  2. Optional flavourings. Add the thyme, mushrooms, vinegar and wine to the vegetables when they have cooked. Keep the heat high and reduce until almost evaporated. Then add the stock as above.
  3. Make the meatballs. Chop an onion as fine as possible. Add to a pan with the butter and oil. Sweat gently for about 10-15 minutes until soft and transparent.
    Combine the cream with the breadcrumbs to form a consistency like stiff porridge. Add the meat to a large bowl, whisk an egg and add it with the breadcrumbs and onions to the meat. Season with allspice and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and form into walnut size balls. Put on a plate. Ideally these should rest in the fridge. (Meat patty mixtures are more complicated than imagined – getting the consistency right is tricky. In particular mixtures that are too wet and loose can be a nightmare. Breadcrumbs can be added to help absorb moisture. Resting in the fridge will also help firm up the meatballs.)
  4. Coat each meatball in flour. Heat a large frying pan, add butter and light oil and fry the meatballs in batches. Aim for a good all round colouring. If the pan is getting too clogged with burning flour, clean the pan between batches. Use fresh butter and oil if necessary.
  5. When the meatballs have cooked add to a clean pan with the sauce and heat gently for 10 minutes, allowing the flavours to blend and the sauce to thicken (from the flour on the meatballs).
  6. Serve with boiled potatoes – and lingonberries! Some chopped parsley provides a final flourish. You can serve with pasta or rice instead of potatoes.

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