Swedish meatballs must be one of the most famous things to come out of Sweden. If you ask people what they know about Sweden the list usually goes; Abba, IKEA, Volvo, Swedish meatballs. If they’re into football, music, films, or Scandi noir, the answer might stretch a bit with things like Zlatan, Swedish House Mafia / Avicii / Red One, Alexander Skarsgård / Alicia Vikander / Ingemar Bergman, or The Bridge / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – but those first ones are usually the first four mentioned. I mean who’s been to IKEA and hasn’t had the meatballs?
Here’s where it gets interesting though – because what I’m guessing that you don’t know (unless you read The Local Sweden) is that most Swedish people wouldn’t have the IKEA style meatballs the way they’re served in IKEA. This is because we have a division of how you serve ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (or ‘posh’ and ‘non-posh’ if you like) meatballs. And don’t get me started on meatballs with fries. Unless you’re buying them at a street vendor / kiosk / petrol station during a drive (and even then they often have mash as an alternative) or you’re a toddler, you do not have meatballs with fries.
So, as you may deduct from the above, the good, or posh, meatballs are the homemade kind. The ones your parents or grandparents used to make for you when you were little. The ones that are hand-rolled with love. These are (always) served with potatoes or (homemade) mash, cream sauce, and lingonberry jam. They are traditionally made from mixed mince – half beef half pork – but can also be all beef, moose, boar, deer, or whatever else your family is in to. In my family it was moose.
The bad, or non-posh, meatballs are the factory-made kind you buy in the supermarket – or at IKEA. In Sweden these are usually served with pasta (often snabbmakaroner, i.e. ‘quick macaroni’ which takes about 2 min to cook) and ketchup. I know! Ketchup. This is what we used to get in school when I was little and we were served meatballs. It’s also what my mum used to pack in my food thermos (that or pancakes) when we were going on outings with school.
Another use for the non-posh meatballs is on a traditional Scandi-style open sandwich, together with what we call beetroot salad (which is essentially small cubes of beetroot mixed with mayonnaise).
The other use for the posh meatballs is of course at the Christmas table and Christmas dinner – served besides the sausages and other hot foods – and that brings us neatly on to today’s recipe, because after Christmas we had loads of meatballs left. Feeling slightly tired of Christmas food, I suggested we could make meatballs with mash and cream sauce.
The recipe below is a very basic meatball recipe. My nan and my dad always used to put onion in theirs, but since I’m not a fan of onion (I can do it in stew where I can pick it out or soup where it’s blended) I don’t. Some people put garlic in theirs, others allspice. And like I already mentioned before, people use all kinds of meat. Even chicken and turkey, but then I don’t think it would go too well with the sauce. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that if you want to experiment – go nuts! You can also replace the milk with cream if you want a heavier feel.
500g mince (I use lean beef with 5-10% fat)
50 ml breadcrumbs
100 ml milk
Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for about 10 minutes, until they have swelled and soaked up all the milk.
Mix in the egg.
Add the mince and salt and pepper. Mix together (best done with a fork or your hands).
Roll out the meatballs by taking a piece of mince mixture and putting it in between your palms, moving them in opposite directions.
Fry in butter on medium/high heat for 5 ish minutes, until cooked through.
For the cream sauce to go with it, I usually improvise. The way I go about it is: add a small piece of butter to a pot, then pour in 300 ml cream. Add 1-1.5 beef stock cube and stir until dissolved. Then add a splash of soy sauce, some white pepper and, if necessary, some flour to thicken. If it’s too thick, add some milk. Not enough saltiness, add more soy sauce. And so on. However, this doesn’t make for a very good recipe for someone who doesn’t know what they’re after in the taste and texture department, so I’ve Googled a recipe for you and adapted it slightly to go better with my version.
1 tbsp butter
300 ml cream
1 stock cubes / 1-2 tbsp concentrated stock
1 tsp soy sauce
So as stated above, melt the butter in a pot. Add the cream and a teaspoon of flour. Whisk until there are no lumps.
Crumble the stock cube (or pour in the concentrated stock) into the pot and stir until dissolved (combined).
Add the soy sauce and some white pepper.
Leave to simmer until slightly thickened.
This should be served either with a creamy homemade mash or with boiled potatoes, and then lingonberry jam. I know we haven’t talked that much about lingonberry jam before, but I think I’ve made it clear that this is a staple in the Swedish kitchen? We eat it with meatballs, with potato pancakes, with our macaronilåda pastabake, with oven-pancakes (pancake batter cooked in a large tin in the oven, often with bits of bacon in it), kroppkakor (Swedish potato dumplings with pork filling) and so on. If you really want to do these good meatballs justice, you should have rårörda lingon (which translates as raw-stirred lingonberries) because they have less sugar in them and are less jelly-ish in texture. But lingonberry jam will do. (It always does.)
So now you know that Sweden has a tier system in place when it comes to their meatballs, and how to serve them depending on which tier they belong to! You can of course do it differently, but once you’ve had a good, homemade, meatball, mash and sauce meal you will never be able to look at the IKEA version the same again