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
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)
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
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

Gambas al Ajillo

Or prawns in garlic as it’s also known as it’s a traditional Spanish tapas dish and it’s one of my favourite tapas dishes. It’s also very easy to make and you can go more or less complicated depending on what your taste is and what you got at home. I suggest using pre-fired dry garlic (in Taiwan you can get in large plastic containers from RT-Mart), as it makes the dish a lot nicer than when you use fresh garlic. Another reason for this is that you get a nice crunchy garlic that doesn’t give you the bad garlic breath. It’s also worth noting that it’s very easy to burn garlic and it gets very bitter if you do this. There are a few different ways of cooking this, but here’s my take on it, which I by no means claim is authentic. The best place I’ve eaten this in this part of the world is a Tapas restaurant in the green belt in Manila, the Philippines.

So what do you need?

To serve four people as a tapas or two as a main course you need the following:

  • 500g of raw peeled, de-veined prawns, with or without tails
  • Good quality olive oil (as you’ll be dipping bread in it)
  • Chili to taste, preferably a Spanish kind, but most chili’s seem to work as long as they’re not too spicy
  • Garlic to taste (loads!), but as I said above, the pre-fried dry garlic makes for a much nicer dish
  • Fresh bread, either something like a baugette or pita bread

You got to options of cooking this, either in an oven safe container, preferably earthenware, or in a skillet/frying pan. Slice up the chili’s. Heat up the oil with the chili’s in it in your container of choice, either on top of your cooker or in the oven (about 200 degrees C is a good temperature), until it sizzles. Add the prawns and garlic, cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until the prawns are cooked through. Make sure you stir them them once or twice while they’re cooking and if you’re using the dry garlic, I’d add some more just before it’s done, as it stays nice and crispy that way. You can put some freshly chopped parsley on top when you serve and enjoy while it’s still hot.

The kitchen item locator

So, there you are in your presumably tiny little Taiwanese kitchen trying to cook up that something special from back home when you realise that you don’t have that kitchen gadget that you really need and you don’t have a clue where to get it. Do not fret, as hopefully this list will help you find a store that has just what you need.

Your first port of call should be IKEA, as they have most of the stuff you’d expect such as potato mashers, rolling pins, baking tins, pots and pans etc. These things can otherwise be hard to find or quite expensive. They also sell a digital kitchen thermometer, although it’s limited to 130 degrees C or 266 degrees F. Ikea also has kitchen scales, the digital model is quite expensive, but I found a cheap analog model in the Hsinchuang store that’s a mere NT$299 with a bowl. Of course they have other useful things like potato peelers, spatulas scissors, orange juicers and a whole lot of other stuff you might or might not need. This is also a good place for pots and pans, as they have some insanely cheap stuff if you’re on a tight budget, although the quality might not always be as great as the price. Just be aware that the different stores might stock slightly different items and from experience the Hsinchuang store has a lot more stuff than the other stores.

I recently found a real bargain shop here, it’s Japanese and called Daiso. They sell all sorts of weird and wacky stuff, but also a lot of useful things. The best thing? Everything costs NT$39. There’s a list of where their stores are located on the website. They have stuff like cake decorating sets, paper baking cups, metal baking cups (for ice chocolate etc), small baking tins (suitable for Taiwanese size ovens), and all sorts of other gadgets. Most if not all things are Japanese, so some of them might not be all that useful if you’re not familiar with what they’re for. They also sell things like plates, glasses, etc. although I wouldn’t go for their pots as they’re all very cheaply made.

Working House is another place that is useful when it comes to various bits for both the kitchen and around the house. They carry a large selection of glasses at affordable prices as well as some other hard to find kitchen items like baking tins and trays, rolling pins and various other stuff. They also have a selection of odd bits and pieces of snacks, a range of furniture, some plants and various other things that could be useful arround the house.

Carrefour has started to carry a decent range of kitchen accessories as well and have things like paper muffin cups, graters, spatulas etc. They also sell pots and pans and all sorts of other stuff and what they have will depend on how good your local Carrefour is.

C!ty’super is the only place I’ve found that sell cheese slicers in Taiwan, although I’m sure you can find them elsewhere. I bought a very good Dutch one for NT$550 which might sound expensive, but it cuts any kind of cheese, even the really soft ones. They also have the wire kind of cutters, but I don’t like those. They also stock a wide range of otherwise rather expensive imported kitchen gadgets, knifes and pot and pans.

Homebox is some kind of a DIY store, but I found a really big solid spatula here as well as something else I found really useful, gas burner rings. The rings can be attached to any gas cooker and allows you to use smaller, flat-bottomed pots on the local gas cookers, something that’s not always possible, at least not if you want them to stand straight on the cooker. They also have a range of other kitchen accessories, but I’m not sure how good the quality is of all the stuff they have.

You can of course find a lot of stuff in most supermarkets here, but it can be really hard to find certain things in a pinch. There are some specialised baking stores here too, but I’ve never been to one, but if you’re looking at trying your luck at baking in your toaster oven, then they might have some of the items you need.

Costco sells greaseproof paper, which can otherwise be expensive and hard to find. They also sell a fairly large oven, the biggest “portable” one I’ve seen for sale here that just plugs into your wall socket. It comes with a rotisserie attachment for chicken and it looks quite nice, although I haven’t gotten around to getting one, as it’s about NT$8,500. It’s meant to be 45L if I remember right. They also sell things like Kenwood kitchen mixers, but again, quite expensive at NT$13,500, but they also sell some smaller mixers and hand-held ones, but these can’t really be used for baking. Costo also stocks a bread maker for around NT$2,200 and that’s the best price you’ll find here for one of those. It’s not great, but it does the job.

For a cheap hand mixer, check out your local supermarket, as most of them stock cheap ones for between NT$500-1000 and some shops have bigger ones with a bowl attachment for a little bit more. The cheapest oven you can get here that can be considered to be used for more than one person, is a Synco, which is supposed to be 27L. Not big, but you can fit a normal size cake tin inside it. Most other ovens are a lot smaller and combination microwaves aren’t common to find here. Panasonic has a couple of models, but they’re anything but cheap.

All “Western” style ovens here use 220V which can be an issue as you’d have to have someone come around and wire it up for you and that is only if your land lord allows you to have one installed, as I haven’t seen any stand alone cookers here as is common in the US and Europe. I’m not sure why this is the case, but I guess cooking isn’t all that popular here with most people eating cheaply from local restaurants. A basic model will set you back around NT$20,000 and the sky’s the limit after that.

Hopefully this list has been to some use and if you have anyhting you’d like to add to it, please let me know.

Home made Marzipan

One of the things I’ve found that I sometimes need for baking and that is really expensive to buy in Taiwan is Marzipan. However, it’s quite easy to make by yourself. One great thing here is that it’s dead easy to get hold of powdered almond, as it’s used as an ingredient for some kind of drink. You should be able to find it in most supermarkets, although I know for sure you can get the pure powder in Carrefour. Sometimes the almond powder is mixed with sugar and thickener etc. at least if you’re going for the pre-mix that some shops sells. This can still be used, but isn’t as good, although there’s no need to add any sugar if you get this stuff. Costco also sells whole almonds that you you can blanch, peel and grate (work ok in a blender if you do small amounts at a time), but this is a bit of a hassle, although in my opinion these almonds are a bit nicer than the local kind.

So what you need is almond powder, powder sugar and an egg white. You need equal amounts of almond powder and powder sugar which is placed in a mixing bowl along with an egg white. One egg white is good for about 100-150g of each of almond and powder sugar, but you might have to add more of the dry stuff if it’s too soft. You’ve now made a batch of almond paste, which can be used for baking and making various sweets, as it’s not overly sweet in itself, but it’s not really suitable for covering cakes with, as it’s very soft and doesn’t stick together well enough to be molded in the same way as Marzipan.

To make this into Marzipan you need to add a little bit more powder sugar, in total it should be about 1/3 to 1/4 of almond powder and the rest sugar. This makes the almond paste much more moldable. This isn’t “real” Marzipan, but it’s as close as you’ll get making it at home. The real deal is made with almond oil instead of the egg white and usually apricot seeds, but I doubt that is easily available in shops here. Sorry I’m not being to specific with regards to the measurements, but it’s a little bit of a trial and error process. To get more almond flavour you can buy almond extract which is available in some supermarkets here. You’ll want to add it little by little so that the flavour doesn’t get too powerful. You can also colour this with food colouring if you intend to use it for other things.