As a British resident of Sweden, there are various conversations you find yourself with your former countryfolk:
- How’s Switzerland? (We don’t actually… we don’t… never mind)
- Do you really get loads of time off when you have a baby? (Yes)
- Is, like, everything absolutely perfect? (No)
- Is it weird how it’s sometimes light all night? And dark all day? (Yes)
- Do people eat meatballs all the time?
…and, cliched though it may seem, yes they do. There’s probably no more common dish in the canon of Swedish husmanskost than Meatballs, potatoes, cream gravy and lingonberry jam, meaning that if you go and sit down in a random restaurant in Stockholm for lunch, it’s pretty likely to be on the menu. Or if you go to a school canteen, or a train restaurant car, or a supermarket cafe. You even get them on the Christmas lunch table. They’re something that, fairly reliably, is everywhere.
So, what makes a Swedish meatball, as opposed to any other? I have a feeling you could ask a dozen people and get a dozen answers there but to me, a foreigner who has eaten many meatballs in many places in Sweden, the top tier factors are probably a strong flavour of allspice and white pepper, the second are a smooth-ish ball with a mixture of pork and beef, and the third could contain any number of different variations depending on who you ask.
This is a giant batch of sixty or so meatballs that would feed 6-8 adults very comfortably. The recipe cuts down very happy though and, if you do make a giant batch like this, they freeze (after cooking) brilliantly.
This is the recipe of an immigrant in Sweden but, if it’s inauthentic, at least it’s tasty. It’s best eaten with creamy mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam and, if you like, some Pressad Gurka.
For 6-8 portions you will need:
For the meatballs:
- 500g pork mince
- 500g beef mince
- 2 large handfuls of breadcrumbs, the higher quality the better
- One largish onion, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 2tsp ground allspice
- A very big grind of white pepper (or black if you don’t have any)
- A generous pinch of flaky salt, to taste
- Unsalted butter, for frying
For the cream gravy
- 250ml double cream
- A dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Put all the meatball ingredients into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer (if, like me, you’re slightly lazy). Mix them together thoroughly til completely uniform either using your hands or the paddle attachment of your stand mixer.
Put a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, then roll the mixture into balls slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball. Once you’ve got to about 20, put a generous slice of butter into the pan, so it fizzes and bubbles, then add a single layer of meatballs to the pan (mine takes exactly 20). Shake the pan a couple of times a minute so the balls stay nice and round and brown deeply all over. They’ll probably take about 5-7 minutes to cook through to the middle (check they’re done by inserting a skewer and seeing the juices run clear) during which time you can roll up another full batch from the mixture.
Remove the cooked balls to a warm plate in the oven, scrape any burned bits from the bottom of the pan, add a little more butter if needed and then repeat the process til you’ve used up all your meat mixture. You’ll easily be able to throw together some mashed potatoes in this time too, it’s not especially intense.
When all the balls are cooked and on the warm plate in the oven, keep your meatball pan on the heat, throw in half a cup of water, and scrape away at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as the liquid bubbles, dislodging all the brown, crispy, delicious bits. When the liquid has steamed off a bit and reduced to a thicker, syrupy consistency, add the cream, bring to the boil, add the dash of Worcestershire sauce if you want, check the seasoning and pour into a warm jug, though a sieve if you feel fancy.
Stick everything in the middle of the table and let everyone dig in and help themselves. We usually have about eight meatballs each, but everyone knows their limit from all those trips to IKEA, so I’ll leave you to make your own decisions on that front.
Written down, this all seems like much more work than it really is. It’s definitely possible to do all this from beginning to end in an hour or less.