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.

Flavors

So, I finally got around to visiting Flavors, the only Swedish restaurant in Taiwan apart from Ikea, which I don’t really think counts. They’ve just opened at a new location and the place was small ,but cozy and well decorated, although it didn’t look particularly Swedish. The dinner tonight was arranged by the Swedish Trade Council here in Taiwan and there was about 20 people or so in total, most of them other Swedes.

The selection of dishes aren’t really representative of Sweden, as Ola, the chef and owner, does his own little thing, but the meatballs looked authentic enough. I ordered the warm smoked salmon salad for starters while Brenda got the Italian mushroom sallad. The menu differs slightly from the one on the website, so there might be some difference choices when you get there. For main course I went with the venison & hasselback potato with juniper game sauce, while Brenda decided to go for the prime beef & potato tower with green pepper sauce & garlic butter.

First we got some freshly baked bread with tapenade, although not being a big fan of olives, this wasn’t really for me and the bread has some peculiar flavour, but you could tell it was very fresh. Then we got some pumpkin soup – which for some reason seem very popular with restaurants in Taiwan – which was ok, but nothing spectacular.

The venison on the other hand was very tender and cooked just right, although I only got one hasselback potato which I think was a bit stingy considering that what I ordered was well over NT$1,200. Brenda’s steak came with more potato and was also very good and had a nice sauce with it and came in at under NT$1,000. Of course tips and tax wasn’t included in the price.

The dessert was some kind of apple cake from the southern parts of Sweden in a light vanilla sauce, all quite tasty, but the sauce could’ve done with a bit stronger flavouring. All in all with drinks, the tab ended up at close to NT$3,000 which is a bit steep considering what we ate and neither portion was huge. I will be going back as the food was tasty, although I think I’ll go for the veal chops & truffle mashed potato with truffle sauce, as I saw someone else eating at it was a good helping of mash and four veal chops, which looked like a lot more food than the two pieces of venison I had and it was slightly cheaper. The meatballs also looked ok, but also seemed quite expensive, considering how easy and cheap they are to make.

Flavors is a place for when you want to eat something out of the ordinary in Taipei, but it’s not cheap. Of course, it all comes down to your budget, although I might have to go back and check out the supper club at some stage as well.

You can find out more by visiting their website or giving them a call at 02-2709 6525. The map below shows where they are, it’s not that hard to find, it’s about a 5 min walk from NY Bagel and they have a big sign outside. Just don’t talk too loud outside or the upstairs neighbours will come down and complain 😉