How to make perfect Swedish meatballs

The trick to making moist, tasty Swedish meatballs is to use a mixture of beef and pork mince, usually it’s either a 70/30 or a 50/50 mix -this generally depends on where in Sweden you come from as it’s mixed differently in various parts of the country – as it’s pre-ground like that in the supermarket. In Taiwan you’d have to mix it yourself and I’d say 50/50 is to prefer here, at least if you’re using mince from Costco or Carrefour. Citysuper has leaner, finer ground mince and that would work with a 70/30 mix and it also makes for “smoother” textured meatballs, but it’s twice the price which kind of sucks.

So here’s what you need before you start:

1 large mixing bowl
A good, thick bottom frying pan, especially if you’re cooking on gas as you need to be able to simmer things in it, forget about the cheap Teflon pans, they won’t do as you’ll burn everything in them
A large, slightly wet chopping board
A whisk
Butter and a splash of olive oil for frying

Ingredients, for about 3-4 people you need:
500g of mince as per above
A large onion, finely chopped or grated, the latter if you don’t like onion chunks
An egg
Salt
Pepper
Ground allspice, this is very important as it adds the distinct flavour to the meatballs

Additionally you’ll need a few ingredients for the sauce:
Milk and/or cream
Water or vegetable stock
About a table spoon of plain flour
Gravy browning (optional)
Salt
Pepper
Ground allspice
Maybe some more butter

To serve with the meatballs you need some or all of the following:
Boiled potatoes or mash
Swedish Lingonberry jam, available in IKEA or sold as Preiselbeere jam in Citysuper if they still have it
Pickles
Peas, I use the small frozen ones from Carrefour, put them in a strainer and defrost by pouring boiling hot water on them
Other vegetables are optional

So how to make the meatballs?

Well, you simply mix the mince, onion, egg and spices together in a large bowl, don’t mix too hard though as the fat will render out of the mince and stick to the sides of the bowl. Try doing this with your hands, as you’ll be using them to roll the meatballs later on anyhow. Mix to a fairly smooth mixture, although the trick here is to get the beef and pork to blend as much as possible rather than anything else. It’s easier to do if the meat is at near room temperature rather than straight out of the fridge.

Now bring out the slightly wet chopping board, the reason for it to be wet is that the meatballs won’t stick to it. Roll balls somewhere around the size of a NT$10 or NT$50 coin, the smaller they are, the quicker they cook, but the longer they take to roll.

Once you’ve finished rolling the meatballs, don’t leave them sitting too long before you start frying them, as they’ll sink together and will be harder to fry.

Heat up a frying pan, but don’t go crazy here, especially if you have a gas cooker, as you don’t want the butter that you’ll fry the meatballs in to burn. Put a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil in the pan – the oil is to help prevent the butter form burning – let it melt, start putting in the meatballs, enough to cover about half the surface of the frying pan. I generally start with a circle around the sides and then add 3-4 meatballs to the middle of the circle. Check the heat so you don’t burn the meatballs, you want them to brown, but not crisp as such. Keep turning the meatballs so all “sides” are cooked, they’ll most likely not be the round kind you get in IKEA, but rather somewhat awkwardly shaped. Once all the sides are cooked, scoop them out and put them in a container while you cook the next batch. Once all the meatballs are cooked, keep them in the container, as next up is the sauce. If you’re planning on making the sauce, you don’t have to cook the meatballs all the way through, as they’ll end up simmering in the sauce, but more on that below.

If there’s enough fat in the frying pan from cooking the meatballs, no extra butter is needed at this stage, but if it’s dry, you need to add a knob or two of butter for the sauce. Whisk in about 1 table spoon of flour into the fat, it should make a fairly thick and hard paste. To this, we need to add liquid, depending on your preference you can use cream, milk or a combination of the two, as well as some water. Start with the cream/milk, about 100ml of cream and 250ml of milk, stirring in a little bit at the time into the fat/flour mixture. At first this will look like a mushy paste, but it’ll get thinner as you add more liquid. My granny always used to mix in water from her boiled potatoes and carrots (she always boiled peeled potatoes and carrots together), but regular drinking water is just fine and you need about 100ml or so. This help make the sauce more of a sauce than a creamy, gooey mess. Simmer the sauce and flavour with salt, pepper and allspice, add gravy browning for a browner sauce, only a drop or two tends to be enough.

Now the trick to make really tasty and moist meatballs is to put the meatballs back into the sauce and simmer them in the sauce for 10-15 minutes at a low heat. This will also impart flavour from the meatballs into the sauce, making the sauce that much nicer. And that’s it. Serve with some or all of the sides mentioned above.

If you don’t want to eat the meatballs in the traditional way, then just cook them so they’re cooked through to start with, but this generally produces a dryer end product.

Some people also add breadcrumbs or oats mixed with milk to make for a “cheaper” mixture for the meatballs, but I’m not a big fan of this.

Filmjölk – Active Lactic Culture

This isn’t a recipe as such, but if you like me have lived away from your home country for a long time, sometimes you get the urge for something special from back home. Well, I found something really great here, thanks to a fellow Swede who used to live here. You can actually buy little packets of Active Lactic Culture here, there are a few different kinds and make sure you don’t pay too much, as the going rate for a pack of 10 sachets is about NT$250. I’ve seen shops sell the same stuff for twice the price and some other brands for near enough four times the price. It’s kept in the refrigerator in health food stores here, so make sure you look in the right place. Also make sure you store it in your fridge. The Active Lactic Culture makes something that is very similar to Swedish Filmjölk, although it’s not quite as tangy. The only similar thing I know of in English is buttermilk, but it’s not the same, as buttermilk is very sour.

It’s really easy to make and doesn’t require any cooking skills at all.

What you need is:

  • 1 litre of milk
  • 1 sachet of the Active Lactic Culture powder
  • A clean container that fits the milk

You could actually put the powder into a milk carton or bottle, but it’s hard to check if it’s ready of you do this. I use a semi-clear drinking bottle with a wide opening. Pour the milk in, it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s cold or room temperature and there’s no need to bring it up a high heat as with yogurt. It might take a little bit longer if it’s cold, but that’s about it. Add the sachet of Active Lactic Culture powde, shake gently and leave outside in a warm (not hot) place for 12-16h, although the instructions say up to 24-36h if it’s cold, but I’ve never had to leave mine for more than about 16h. When finished, the top of the milk should be set, kind of like yogurt, now move the container carefully into the fridge, don’t shake it, as that seems to make it lumpy. Let it cool down for 2-3h and then you can shake it up. The texture should be like thick drinking yogurt and it should have a fresh smell. If it smells funky, then something went wrong in the process and I had this happen to me once. The good thing is that just as with yogurt, you can use what you’ve just made as a base for making more. Add 2-3 table spoons to 1 litre of milk for your next batch and repeat the rest of the steps above.

The package I bought looked like this and it’s made by this company