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 by Austrian brand d’Arbo in Taiwan
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.

Back in Taipei…

Well, the move went… about as wrong as it could. The day before Brenda’s car broke, well, we were on our way to B&Q to get some stuff and the car started to run strange, but as lucky as it was we were right next to a garage that could fix it, although it ended up being an unexpected expense. The day of the move, we’d also arranged to have the AC installed and the cable and internet guy was coming. Yes, I know, we were trying a bit too hard to get everything done in one day.

Well, first off the guy who gave us the estimate for the move was off, way off, instead of the two vans he told us we needed, we needed four. Great, that bumped the cost up to twice what we’d estimated. The cable guy turned up and wasted loads of time mucking about and it turns out there was some kind of blockage in the holes from the basement up to the place and then he disappeared for about 2h, no idea what he was doing. Meanwhile it started to rain, for about 10 minutes, so the AC install guys calls up and say they can’t come, as it’s raining, so they’ll come the next day…

The cable guy finally comes back, manages to somehow bodge the wires in place and tells us that the place is wired “funny”. So he refuses to put in the internet properly, so now we have a cable modem sitting in a cabinet built into the wall, with a power and Ethernet cable coming out of it. All this because he claimed it wasn’t his job to put cables inside the house and we had to hire someone else to do that. What????

So the following day the AC install guys turn up, dump a load of stuff off and then goes missing for an hour, then one of them and another guy turns up and starts installing it and by now it’s already afternoon. So what happens, well, after they’ve wasted loads of time talking crap and mucking about, they manage to install the unit in the front room, but they’ve only got the wall unit up in the bedroom, but there’s a 15 minute downpour, so they tell us they’ll be back tomorrow to finish off the job… What?!?!?!

That night we ended up sleeping on the blow-up bed in the front room as it was so hot. By now it’s Sunday and the AC guys turn up, spends 20 minutes doing whatever they’re doing and they’re gone. All done, of sorts. Of course they left a huge mess for us to clean up and they forgot to put on some kind of protective thingie on one of the outside units, so lets hope it doesn’t break because of that. I really, really hate sloppy people like that.

So due to various stupid things, we had to wait two days before we could get the place in order after the move, which really is annoying. Most other things have gone smoothly and we had someone from IKEA turn up to put together some furniture we bought there as he was twice as fast as I would’ve been as he had all these fancy power tools. We also had someone come and put up some blinds in the front room, as I’m not really good with drilling straight holes…

This weekend we had a small moving in party, not everyone we expected turned up, but part of the reason was that about an hour before we expected people to start turning up, there was a massive downpour. I had made some tunnbröd with salmon and gravlax sauce, meatballs with mashed potatoes and sauce and for dessert semlor and apple pie. All in all it was a success and even Brenda’s friends seemed to quite like the food.

Sunday night I bought myself a second hand bike, a rather large Giant Yukon, as for some reason it’s not that easy to find larger bikes here. It’s the most advanced bike I’ve ever owned, it’s got more gears than I think I’ll ever use and it got front suspension and a suspension in the seat post. It rides quite nicely, although I had to take it on the MRT (which by the way is NT$80 no matter how far you go, but only allowed on weekends and holidays and then only to certain stations) and then ride it home, which was interesting. I haven’t really ridden a bike for a long time and I didn’t know the exact route, so I went too far, twice…

At least it should be nice to ride it along the river here, although we need to figure out how to get down to the bike paths along the river, but it’s not a long ride to get there at least. We figured it’s best to start on flat ground and there isn’t too much of that if you want to ride a bike away from traffic here in Taipei, but luckily there are some nice long bike paths along the river. You can ride all the way from Xindian in the south to Danshuei in the north, which is a very long ride, but we might manage to do it some day 😀