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Braised meatballs are one of the most comforting foods in the world. Pair them with a creamy sauce and a starch and you pretty much have heaven on earth. In my take on classic Svenska Kottbullar (Swedish Meatballs), I use a couple techniques to maximize tenderness and flavor, and our Pierre Poivre blend for its rich and warm profile.
3 slices white bread, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup milk or cream°
4 Tbsp butter, divided
1 medium onion, minced
2 tsp Pierre Poivre, finely ground‡
1 pound ground beef (chuck preferred)
1 pound ground pork (or sub veal)
1/2 tsp baking soda
Cream or sour cream
Chives and/or parsley, for garnish
Mix the bread in a large bowl with the milk or cream, this mixture is known as a panade, and is one key to making tender meatballs.
In a skillet melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat and cook the onion and Pierre Poivre until the onion is softened (about 7-8 minutes). Once cooked add it to the bowl with the panade and stir well to help cool everything down.
Once the contents of the bowl are not hot to the touch (it shouldn't take long), add the meat, baking soda (which also helps tenderize the meat, and aids browning), and the eggs, and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. If you're feeling lazy this can also be done in a stand mixer with a dough hook.
Once evenly mixed, mix in 1 teaspoon of salt, then immediately form small balls (about the size of a large grape), and set them aside on a sheet tray.
Set your oven to 300°F, add 1/2 cup of beef broth to a pot, cover, and place it inside. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet (you can reuse the one you used for the onions), over medium-high heat.
With your hands gently re-roll the meatballs into rounds if they've gotten a bit flat. Cook them in batches, transferring them to the pot in the oven once they are evenly browned.
Note that they do not need to be cooked through as they finish in the oven, so just focus on browning, adding butter as you need to keep plenty of fat in the pan. I sometimes do this with two skillets at once to speed things along.
Allow the meatballs to braise for half an hour after the last ones go into the pot.
Meanwhile add about an equal volume of flour to the pan drippings from the meatballs, then cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 5-6 minutes to form a light roux. If it's particularly liquid, add more flour, if it's too thick, add a bit of butter. Then transfer to a sauce pot.
To make the gravy, add the liquid from the braised meatballs to the sauce pot (remember the handle of the pot will be hot), along with 3 cups of beef broth. Season to taste with tonkatsu sauce (you can also use a mix of lingonberry jam and Worcestershire sauce which is more traditional), then cook over medium-high heat until thickened. Add cream or sour cream until it's lightened to a tan color.
Serve the meatballs over mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or spaetzle, then top with the gravy, plus chives and/or parsley for color and brightness.
I like to make big batches as this dish reheats pretty well and the meatballs can be frozen and used in other dishes, but the recipe can easily be halved for convenience. Use 3 tablespoons of milk or cream for the panade, it's close enough to 1/6 cup.
° Cream makes, unsurprisingly, a richer and tastier meatball. It's what I prefer, and then I feel satisfied eating fewer of them, same idea behind my only using butter from Brittany or Normandy.
‡ The chunky texture of Pierre is normally excellent, but in a finely textured dish like this I prefer it ground more. Here's the grinder we use for small jobs like this. Any blade grinder will work, just dedicate it for spices unless you like your coffee peppery.
* I like using a richly flavored beef broth and adding gelatin for body, one to two teaspoons per cup.
† Tonkatsu sauce is a lightly sweet Worcestershire sauce from Japan that's good in and on pretty much anything. Growing up we always had it in the fridge and my favorite is the Kagome brand. It's excellent on meatloaf too.
• Serve leftovers in a sandwich. Slice the meatballs in half and either warm them or keep them cold. Add shredded lettuce, sliced sweet onion, mayonnaise, and Tomato & White Sultana Chutney. Its light heat, gentle sweetness, and bright acidity are a great match.
• In the colder months I love using this meatball mix for a mash-up of a Patty Melt and a Burger au Poivre. Make a patty and then coat with Pierre Poivre and/or Le Poivre. Sear on both sides, add water and steam to cook the meat through, then sear again to crisp. Serve on toasted bread with onions. A melted cheese with a strong flavor like Raclette is lovely on top, and if you make a pan sauce try a splash of cognac to liven it up.
• One of my Swedish friends swore by this serving suggestion, though who knows if it's traditional or not. Instead of potatoes or noodles, serve the meatballs over a thick slice of buttered toast with jam. I can confirm that it's excellent.
Food images and recipe © Christian Leue
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