You knew it was coming, it was just a matter of time, and now it’s here in this post! This is the real deal, our Mormor’s köttbullar (Swedish Meatball) recipe.
In this post we’ll chase the origin of the meatball, as well as give you a step-by-step guide to making meatballs the way we make them in Sweden. We hope you stay with us for our journey through meatball land.
Let’s get going on this subject, but before I do, should you wish to bypass my rhetoric, just Jump on down to the recipe!
Once, many years ago, I sat at a Chinese banquet (I sat at a lot of these in my day) in Shanxi province and ate, drank and argued with my Chinese colleagues as to the origin of the meatball. The discussion began after being served a dish of what the Chinese called “Lion’s Head”, which was a plate of large meatballs (type of meat was unknown) with a yummy sauce on it. Here’s where the argument, no the discussion came in. My Chinese colleagues, who by now were drunk as skunks (as was I) insisted that the Chinese invented the meatball.
Well, I just couldn’t stand for this, as in my mind meatballs began in Persia back when Jesus was a baby. From Persia the meat form (kofte) went to other regions, ending up just about everywhere. Surely, Marco Polo must have taken the idea of meatballs to China in the late 1200’s AD. Doesn’t that sound logical to you? Well, the
great meatball debate went on through the night, during which time I was introduced to a local Chinese “wine” Fen Jiu.
Now, you might wonder why I put “wine” in parenthesis. Fen Jiu is 65% alcohol, hardly wine by my standards. My fine host also struck up a game of Jiuling, a drinking game not for the light drinker. The game we played went like this. You shake a dice in a cup and turn it down on a table. The person shaking the dice then decides the person who must play. If chosen and the gods are blessing you, you’ll guess the correct number of spots on the top of the dice. If the gods aren’t blessing you, you have to drink (all at ounce) a large shot class of “wine”. If you guess correctly, your opponent must drink (all at ounce) a large shot class of “wine” and you get to shake the dice. If you are interested in more information regarding the Chinese drinking culture, you can read it in this China Daily article (English).
Back to the debate. The night ended with me christening the interior upholstery of my host’s brand new Shanghai Buick, which was taking me to a rural Chinese hospital (not for the faint of heart). But that’s another story for another time.
Once I recovered, a local Chinese meatball scholar showed me the proof that indeed meatballs began in China. Yep, he showed me a recipe from the “Lu” cuisine of China that claims the round meatball began during the Qin Dynasty. If my history is correct, that would make this Chinese meatball recipe date back to somewhere between 221 to 207 BC (as in before Christ). So, I did the math and realized that they might have me on this one. Then again, how I’m I to know if the recipe was authentic. It was in ancient Chinese characters that even my translator didn’t completely understand.
One of the oldest know Assyrian cookbooks (tablets) known as the Yale Tablets (ca. 7th century BC) records the use of meats and spices, so they must have made a form of the meatball. We do know that a meatball recipe is included in the Roman Apicius book of recipes (ca: 900 AD). So, maybe old Marcus Gavius Apicius chomped down on the first meatball.
But no matter if it’s called a Koofteh, Kofta, Albondigas, Skilpadjies, Tsukune, Pulpety,
hakklihakotletid lihapallid, rissoles or köttbullar; they’re all tasty and been a part of our food culture from the dawn of cooking time. However, the truth is, no one can say for sure where meatballs originally came from.
Heck, here in Sweden we’re not sure how the meatballs arrived. The mainstream view seems to be that the Swedish King Charles XII (1697 – 1718 AD) is responsible. It seems he got himself exiled because he got Sweden’s butt kicked by the Russians in 1709 and turned tail and ran down to Bender and then started a ruckus and was detained by the Ottoman Navy until 1714. At that time, he is said to have brought back a recipe that became Köttbullar or meatballs. But, I say phooey to that, it must’ve been the Ingvar Vittfarne (ca. 1016-1041). Ingvar the Far-Travelled as he was known “went a viking” down to Syria to kick some butt there. Although he lost, but did return to Sweden. Surely, he would have brought back the recipe for kūfta.
We do know that in Sweden the first recorded mention of a meatball recipe was in Cajsa Warg’s (1754) cookbook. Thus the “Swedish Meatball”.
But once again I ramble on. Enough food history for this posting, let’s make some of Mormor’s meatballs.
Our Mormor, is actually my mother-in-law, who is famous with all her many grandchildren (and others) for her handmade meatballs. Yes, I guess they’re Swedish meatballs, because they’re “made in Sweden”. Here in Sweden, we just call them köttbullar. She always seems to have some around. Perhaps that’s because they freeze so well. Traditionally, here in Sweden they’re served with boiled or mashed potatoes, peas, cream or brown sauce (gravy), lingonberry sylt (cowberry jam) and press gurka (fresh pickled cucumber salad with dill). Of course, we also have the many non-traditional ways to prepare meatballs such as curried, teriyaki and so on.
FYI: Lingonberries, grow profusely in Sweden. If you’re in North America, you might know then as cowberries, lowbush cranberry or foxberry. In Canada they’re known as lingonberry or low bush wild cranberry. My research indicates they also grow in the UK, Australia and other areas.
To say Swedes love their meatballs is an understatement. Scan AB (think Hormel) make 3,000,000 köttbullar per day in their Skara, Sweden production facility. That’s just one plant of one manufacturer of meatballs here in Sweden. But the king of all köttbullar distribution is IKEA or the “Swedish church” as some call it. IKEA claims in their Quick Facts to sell 2 million meatballs per day around the world. Yes, you should be able to get frozen köttbullar and lingonberry sylt at your local IKEA store. But don’t you want to make your own? They’re so much better.
Let’s make some Meatballs.
Let’s get cracking, you’ll need seven primary ingredients. Blandfärs, breadcrumbs, beef broth, sauteed onions, egg, salt and pepper.
What the heck is blandfärs? Methinks this is the secret ingredient that makes köttbullar (Swedish meatballs) different. Blandfärs is a blend of 50% beef and 50% pork with about 18% fat. Another thing that make our meatball different here is that the minced meats are made using a smaller grinding plate and thus a finer grind and different texture. Blandfärs is the king of minced (ground) meat in Swedish cuisine, used far more than beef mince (ground beef). This 50-50 blend is also available in many European countries from Scandinavia, the Baltic region and the UK. An interesting discovery while researching for this post was the similarities between the Swedish meatball and those in Finland, Denmark and Norway. But, the Estonian meatball recipes are the closest to ours. Maybe the Swedes got the recipe from Estonia.
Unfortunately, we were never able to find a pork and beef minced blend when we lived in the US. Likely it’s just not popular. So, what are you to do in the US? Grind your own, that’s what we did. If you do grind your own, use well marble pork and beef which is cut into small cubes. Then prior to grinding, mix the meats well. Run the meat through the course (Chili meat) plate first, then through the fine #5 (1/8″ 3mm) plate. No meat grinder? Then ask your butcher if he can do it. Optionally, you can mix equal parts of beef and pork mince (ground). If this you use this method, we’d recommend using disposable kitchen gloves and run your hands under chilly water prior to mixing. This keeps your body heat from breaking down the meat’s texture.
Once you’re all prepped up, you’re ready to mix the meatballs. You’ll notice above we have our trusty Kitchen Aid mixer on the bench for mixing. There’s a couple of reasons for using the mixer (if you have such device). First, it blends better than you can with your hands. Secondly, the mixing paddle is cold and your hands are at room temperature. If you don’t have a large mixer you can use a hand mixer, but go slow in the beginning. If you do need to use your hands to mix, use disposable kitchen gloves and run your hands under chilly water prior to starting. This helps maintain the texture of the meatball.
Begin by placing the meat blend, breadcrumbs, beef broth, sautéed onions, egg and half of the recommended salt and pepper in the mixing bowl with the paddle blade.
Mix using a medium low speed until the meat mixture appears just blended and turn off mixer. At this point, I like to remove the bowl of meat mixture and toss it in the fridge for 45-60 minutes. This gives the breadcrumbs time to absorb the stock, thus giving you the best consistency. After resting the mixture, take a heaping teaspoon of the mixture and either pan fry it or microwave and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed. Also at this point, if the mixture is too wet (which I suspect it might be), you’ll need to thicken it a bit. Here’s where Mormor’s experience comes in. Don’t add more breadcrumbs, but instead add potato flour. Just sprinkle a bit on and mix. If it’s still wet, repeat. Now if you mix seems too dry, just add a tiny bit of stock and mix. You want these bad-boy meatballs to roll into a ball and not slump.
OK, I must say that here’s where experience pays off, cause I’m sure Mormor can out roll me 3 to 1. But then she’s been doing it for a while. Why I bet she’s made over a million meatballs herself. When you roll the meat, you’re looking for a ball that weighs about an ounce (30g) and it should roll into a ball about an inch (25mm). Now, I’ve been known to be a bit obsessed with perfection (AR) and maybe so, but I weigh out the meat on our kitchen scale. OK, Birgitta (Mormor) quit laughing it works for me.
So, you should end up with a little meatball that looks something like this. Now’s an appropriate time to touch on the subject of mass production. For this post we doubled the recipe ending up with fifty Swedish beauties (meatballs), thinking we’d freeze half. The other half was dedicated to our weekly “Thursday Dinner & Movie” nite with Eva’s systerson (nephew). He chowed down on twenty-five of those wonderful balls of meat and Eva and I had fifteen between us and Chloe needed her share, so none made it to the freezer. Lesson here, make lots!
Image disclaimer: I realized when I got to this point when writing this post that I forgot to take an image of the meatballs frying. This image, although shot by me is not the handmade meatballs. They were purchased for the shot.
Fry the meatballs turning often, until they’re golden brown. Be sure and check that the meatballs have reached at least 160°F (72°C) for food safety. As for the fat of choice, BUTTER and plenty of it. If butter isn’t your thing, use a non-flavor imparting oil. But, if you want the authentic taste, butter’s the way to go. Pop another Lipitor and go for it. Oh, not to worry, we haven’t forgot the sauce (gravy), the recipe is below.
Dinner’s on the table and we’re ready to eat. Wait, I forgot the pressed gurka, back in a flash.
Chloe says, “I am soooooo busted!”
This recipe has been tasted and approved for human and dog consumption and has earned Chloe’s 5 paws rating.
Where do you think the meatball started?
Let us know in the comments section just after the recipes.
Mormor's Swedish Meatballs and Sauce
Meatballs, made the Swedish way. Mormor's (Grandmother's) recipe for the classic meatball, that's adored by all and always seen at major holidays. Traditionally, here in Sweden meatballs are served with boiled or mashed potatoes, peas, cream or brown sauce (gravy), lingonberry sylt (cowberry jam) and press gurka (fresh pickled cucumber salad with dill).
- 1/2 medium yellow (brown) onion, minced.
- 1-1/3 pound 50-50 minced (ground) beef & pork. See note 1.
- 4 tbsp (4-msk) dried breadcrumbs, fine.
- .85 cup (2 dl) beef broth, measure 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp.
- 1 large egg.
- 1-1/2 tsp (1-1/2 tsk) salt, (table).
- 1-1/2 tsp (1-1/2 tsk) fresh ground white pepper, black can be substituted in a pinch.
- butter for frying or neutral flavored oil.
- potato flour, as needed.
- 1 cup (2.25 dl) water, warmed.
- 1 tub Knorr Homestyle beef stock, 1-2 bouillon cubes can be substituted.
- 2 tbsp (2 msk) flour.
- 3/4 cup (1.75 dl) milk. Water can be substituted, but it's not as good.
- 3 tbsp (3 msk) Heavy Cream. Light cream can be substituted.
- 1 tsp (1 tsk) Chinese soy sauce. Any dark soy sauce can be used.
- 1 tbsp lingonberry or red currant jam.
First off, sauté the onions in a little butter until nicely soften but not browned. Remove from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature.
Place the minced (ground) meat blend, breadcrumbs, beef broth, sautéed onions, egg and half of the recommended salt and pepper into the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle blade. If a stand mixer is not used, place ingredients in a large bowl. (See note 2.)
Mix using a medium low speed until the meat mixture appears just blended and turn off mixer.
Place the bowl of meat mixture in the fridge for 45-60 minutes.
After resting the mixture, remove from the fridge. If the mixture is too wet, thicken it by using a tablespoon of the potato flour at a time. Be careful not to add too much potato flour. Should it be too dry, add a bit of stock.
Now, take a heaping teaspoon of the mixture and either pan fry it or microwave and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed.
Roll the meat into a ball that weighs about an ounce (30g) which should roll into a ball about an inch (25mm) in diameter.
After rolling the meatball they can be fried immediately, chilled in the fridge for cooking latter in the day or frozen. (See note 3)
Heat the butter until bubbly, but not smoking. Fry the meatballs turning often, until they're golden brown. (See note 5.)
After the cooked meatballs are removed from the frying pan, drain off the excess butter. Pour in the cup of warmed water and deglaze the pan. Be sure and scrape all the good bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer.
At this point, if you want to have a smooth gravy you must sieve (strain) the liquid. For a more rustic gravy, skip this step.
If the liquid was stained, return to frying pan and bring to a boil.
To the boiling liquid add the Knorr Homestyle beef stock (kalvfond) or bouillon cubes and mix. Return to simmer and cook for a couple of minutes until the beef stock is well blended.
Using a jar with a lid, shake the milk and flour until no lumps remain. Then pour the milk and flour mixture into the simmering stock in the frying pan and increase temperature to a medium heat. Stir continuously until the gravy thickens. Once it's to your liking, reduce heat to a simmer.
Add the cream and soy to the gravy and give it a good stir. Taste the gravy for seasoning and adjust if needed.
Lastly, stir in the jam until well mixed and serve in a warmed bowl.
- If you can't find a preblended minced pork and beef you can mix and grind your own blend. Use well marble pork and beef which is cut into small cubes. Then prior to grinding, mix the meats well. Run the meat through the course (Chili meat) plate first, then through the fine #5 (1/8" 3mm) plate. No meat grinder? Then ask your butcher if he can do it. Optionally, you can mix equal parts of beef and pork mince (ground). If you use this method, we'd recommend using disposable kitchen gloves and run your hands under chilly water prior to mixing. This keeps your body heat from breaking down the meat's texture.
- A hand mixer can be used if you don't have a large mixer, but go slow in the beginning. If you use your hands to mix, use disposable kitchen gloves and run your hands under chilly water prior to mixing.
- Should you be headed to the freezer with this batch you can either cook and freeze or freeze uncooked. Uncooked meatballs should be used within 4 months and cooked within 3 months.
- As for the frying oil, BUTTER and plenty of it if you're looking for that Swedish taste. If butter's not your thing, use a non-flavor imparting oil.
- Be sure and check that the meatballs have reached at least 160°F (72°C) for food safety.