For a long time I have played around with Marcus Samuelsson’s Swedish meatball recipe, which is a great addition to a Christmas Eve supper, or a Christmas lunch. The combination of sweet (lingonberry preserves) and creamy (heavy cream) and tangy (pickle juice) with the rich meatballs is just the perfect holiday mixture.
When I make meatballs, I like to make a lot. It’s a pretty labor-intensive—not to mention messy—process. You can always freeze them for later and then have the benefit of having messed up the kitchen only once. When I started making these meatballs, I would fry them in oil on top of the stove. But with the larger batch, I find that it’s dramatically less messy than frying in batches, and I can make sure the meatballs are cooked all the way through. Sure, the resulting meatballs are kind of flat on one side (the side sitting on the baking sheet), but this is a price I’m more than willing to pay to avoid a grease-coated kitchen. If you’re dedicated to producing the cordon-bleu version of these, by all means fry away!
While the meatballs are cooking, you’re cooking up a sweet, tangy, and then ultimately creamy sauce on top of the stove. After the meatballs are cooked and the sauce is thickened up, you can combine them right away in a slow-cooker on low or on top of the stove on low, to coat the meatballs and allow the flavors to mix. After that, you can reheat or keep warm at will. If you’re freezing part of the meatballs, you should freeze them after baking in the oven, and make up the sauce when you’re ready to use them.
Samuelsson’s recipe is based on his family’s Swedish traditions. In my family, molasses is a traditional ingredient in just about anything. And we get the best molasses in the world from Center Market in Cambridge, Md. I keep lots of it in the house this time of year. I played around with using it here in lieu of honey in the meatballs themselves, and I added them to the sauce, just like I do to my barbecue sauce. The result is a nicely browned meatball, and a rich and sweet sauce. (By the way, if you prefer, you can make up the meatballs as below and make the barbecue sauce recipe to dress them. Also delicious.)
Enjoy serving these to your family and friends—and adapt the recipe with traditional ingredients in your house this time of year.
Sweet + tangy meatballs
Based on Marcus Samuelsson’s Swedish meatballs, which is a great recipe
- 1 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large or 2 medium red onions, finely sliced
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 lb. ground veal
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- pinch of cloves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Line two large baking sheets with baking parchment and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 F. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and half-and-half and allow to rest, stirring occasionally while sauteing the onions. Set up food processor fitted with metal blade.
2. In a large saute pan, melt olive oil and butter together over medium heat. Add sliced onion and saute until soft and transparent. Do not allow to caramelize. Scrape contents of pan into food processor. (Set pan aside without washing to make sauce later.) Add soaked bread crumbs. Pulse about 20 times until onion is finely chopped and mixture is well combined.
3. In a large bowl, combine onion mixture, ground meats, molasses, eggs and spices. Using your hands, combine until mixture is consistent, but use a light touch. Do not squeeze or manhandle the mixture. Take your time. When combined, set aside and wash your hands.
4. Place the meat mixture and baking sheets on a work surface. Wet your hands and begin to form meatballs the size of golf balls. Pinch off a suitable amount of the mixture and lightly form them into balls by smoothing between your hands. Line meatballs up, not touching, on the sheets. When all meatballs are formed, place the sheets into the oven and lower the temperature to 400 F. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the internal temperature of meatballs is 170 F. Remove from oven and set aside.
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chile powder (this is not the same as chili powder, which should not be used)
- pinch cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 c molasses
- 1 and 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or pickle juice
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
1. While meatballs are in the oven, make the sauce. Using the saute pan you used for the onions, warm tomato paste and ketchup over medium-high heat. When mixed and bubbling, add chile powder, cayenne, and allspice. When these are mixed in, add molasses and stir until bubbling and combined. Slowly add apple cider and whisk until mixture is smooth and combined. Cook this mixture until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Adjust heat lower if boiling too rapidly.
2. When mixture is thickened, add salt, chicken stock, and vinegar. Whisk again until very smooth and continue simmering until reduced and thick, another 10 to 20 minutes. Taste sauce and correct seasonings. Remove pan from heat and stir a few times. Slowly add cream, whisking constantly, and bring back to a simmer. Keep warm until ready to combine with meatballs.Taste again and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
3. To finish the dish, place the cooked meatballs in a large heavy Dutch oven or sauteuse with high sides. Cover with sauce and gently combine until meatballs are coated. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Serve as hors d’oeuvres, or with mashed root vegetables, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles.