How brown is thy meatball?
I love meatballs. And hardly ever eat them. One forgets that they are good...
My mom's meatballs were very brown and crispy on the outside. Bevan's meatballs were large and lightly flattened and bright with goats cheese and spring onions. Inoteca's polpette are fat and tender and flavoured with orange. The meatballs at Frankie's Spuntino are soft and splintered with pine nuts. That was the day I fell in love with edible Brooklyn: on the cover was a picture of the Frankie's meatball mixing bowl. And I used to make delicate beef meatballs cooked in a spicy broth, from the pages of Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
I have eaten Swedish meatballs only twice: once at the Swedish Embassy in Washington DC, where they were kept warm in heavy silver chafing dish, and once at Ikea in Red Hook. There was no silver chafing dish there. The other night I craved the former. They had a sauce I never forgot - tangy, rich, creamy.
After a lot of canvassing on the Web to find out what Swedish meatballs are about, and being startled by the nutmeg and allspice, this is what I came up with. The versions I liked online were for Norwegian Meatballs (Food 52) and Alton Brown's recipe.
3/4 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 lbs ground beef
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk. In a bowl combine the meat and all the spices, including salt, and work together well with your hands until thoroughly combined. Squeeze the breadcrumbs dry and add to the meat mixture, along with the egg. Mix with your hands again.
Rinse off. Now roll the meat into little balls between your palms (...). Mine were about an inch in diameter.
In a heavy pan, melt the butter* and brown the meatballs over medium-high heat, but do not cook through. Once browned, keep aside in a bowl.
* if your beef is on the fatty side, no butter is necessary - it will brown in its own fat.
On to the sauce:
In the same pan, melt the tablespoon of butter and gently cook the onion until pale brown. This will take some time, upwards of 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir thoroughly. Cook another minute. Turn up the heat, add the wine and stir furiously to scrape up the fond stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, while stirring. Keep stirring and cook for about a minute, bubbling. Add the cream and stir to blend. Lower the heat to a simmer.
Now return the meatballs - which will be sitting in a bloody pool of juice - to the pan, into the sauce, along with that juice. Cover and cook gently for about 10 minutes. Halfway through, add the lemon juice.
Taste, and adjust seasoning if you like.
And that's it. Those are your Swedish meatballs.
Eat them just like that, in a bowl, with a side dish of something green and crunchy with a mustardy vinaigrette, to offset their warm, soft decadence.