This is the tale of a meatball that will save the game. Your game, if you’re a player at a Super Bowl party.
Even if you wake minutes before the clock blinks noon on Sunday, you will have time to tackle this meatball. Or rather, many meatballs, since you’ve got a whole team of revelers to feed.
I came across this recipe a few months ago, after seeing Marcus Samuelsson, the Swedish chef, on PBS demonstrating the dish and telling the very charming story of his grandmother Helga and how she made the meatballs over the years.
Never mind that I’ve eaten this dish many times, served alongside mashed potatoes, lingonberries and pickled cucumbers, at Red Rooster, Samuelsson’s restaurant in Harlem, and years ago at Aquavit, his former Minneapolis restaurant. Until I saw Samuelsson make this homespun meal on TV and heard those meatballs sizzle, this dish didn’t call out my name. Now it did.
Next morning, after googling the recipe, I headed to the market for the ground meat — beef, veal and pork — that is the base of this exceptionally tender dish, and the lingonberries that make them distinctly Scandinavian.
Then I set to work. It’s a recipe you can’t fumble, even if someone intercepts you mid-effort. (I know, I know. Enough with the football-ese.) Gently mix the ingredients together, roll them into golf ball-size bundles and cook them in butter. A simple sauce follows, with surprise ingredients of pickle juice and lingonberries. Touchdown! (Sorry.)
So would Samuelsson serve these at a Super Bowl party? We had to ask.
Q: How do these suit the Super Bowl?
A: They are delicious! When I think about the things that I had to get adjusted to in my first two years in the country, it was really three holidays that said America to me: Thanksgiving, the 4th of July and Super Bowl. You know you are not in England, not in Italy. You are in America. On the 4th of July, you’re at the grill having a party; on Thanksgiving we all know what we are doing, and Super Bowl, we are with friends.
Q: What’s the trick to making these for a party?
A: They are really fast to make. Most of us who cook usually have ground meat in the freezer. And rolling the meatballs can actually be done during the Super Bowl pregame when people are talking. It’s fun; it’s a very social activity.
If you do the technique of roasting them in the oven and then searing them in the pan at the end, it’s even easier, because the only trick with meatballs is that if you’re not used to making them, you don’t know if they are going to stick in the pan or how many will fit in the pan.
This technique helps, especially if preparing them the day before, like with the Super Bowl, when you might have a lot of things going on. I pop them in the oven at 375 degrees for seven to eight minutes and then brown them in the pan because it just makes that whole process easier.
Q: Any other Super Bowl suggestions?
A: If there is a theme party, let’s say salsa and tacos or something like that, you can easily spice up these meatballs or the sauce so it’s fitting in with the rest of the party. For the Super Bowl, I always try to cook around who the teams are. In this case I would probably serve the meatballs with grits, since Carolina is one of the teams. I’m not sure I would do venison meatballs, though, even if Denver is playing.
Q: This meatball recipe has followed you from restaurant to restaurant. You wrote about it in your first book, and you are still introducing it to cooks. Why is it so popular?
A: Every culture has a version of meatballs. Every person has a version of it, whether Indian, Italian, South American or Scandinavian. It makes you say “comfort.” It makes you feel at home.
Q: How is the Swedish version different from others?
A: We traditionally use three meats — beef, pork and veal. Then you have a mixture of breadcrumbs and cream and a syrup, which can be translated to maple syrup or honey. When I think of Swedish meatballs, I am looking for the lingonberries and I’m looking for the pickled cucumbers. These are so indicative of Swedish meatballs, just like how the Italians eat theirs a certain way. Little did I know that Ikea would be the big introduction of lingonberries in America.
Q: What’s the role of the pickle juice in the meatballs?
A: The pickle juice cuts through the fat in the gravy so well, and it really adds that “Wow, that’s really different” taste.
Q: Are meatballs popular at your restaurant in Harlem?
A: Absolutely. We try to be avant-garde at Rooster, and we tried to change up the meatballs one time. It failed. The next day I had to put them back on the menu. I think I called the experiment Not My Grandmother’s Meatballs. It was the most humbling experience of my life.
Q: You served these in Minneapolis, too?
A: Yes, we definitely had them. In Minneapolis, it was one of the things we didn’t want to take away as there were so many people — first-, second-, third-generation — who related to them, which was fun. In New York, it’s not the same.
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Lingonberry preserves are sold at Lunds & Byerly’s, Ikea and Ingebretson’s. Cranberry relish could serve as a substitute. From chef Marcus Samuelsson.
For the meatballs:
• 1/2 c. dry breadcrumbs
• 1/4 c. heavy cream
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
• 1/2 lb. ground chuck or sirloin
• 1/2 lb. ground veal
• 1/2 lb. ground pork
• 2 tbsp. honey or maple syrup
• 1 egg
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
For the sauce
• 1 c. chicken stock
• 1/2 c. heavy cream
• 1/4 c. lingonberry preserves (see Note)
• 2 tbsp. pickle juice
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
To prepare the meatballs: Combine the breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until softened. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl, combine the beef, veal, pork, onion, honey and egg, and mix well with your hands. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the bread crumb-cream mixture and mix well. With wet hands (to keep the mixture from sticking) shape the mixture into meatballs the size of a golf ball, placing them on a plate lightly moistened with water. You should have about 24 meatballs.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the meatballs, in batches if necessary, and cook, turning frequently, for about 7 minutes, until browned on all sides and cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to a plate, and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet.
To prepare the sauce: Return the skillet to the heat, whisk in the stock, 1/2 cup cream, preserves and pickle juice, and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the meatballs to the sauce, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly and the meatballs are heated through.
QUICK PICKLED CUCUMBERS
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Note: These will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. From Marcus Samuelsson.
• 1 English cucumber
• 1 tbsp. kosher salt
• 1 1/2 c. water
• 1/2 c. white wine vinegar
• 1 c. sugar
• 1 bay leaf
• 2 allspice berries
Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible (use a mandoline or other vegetable slicer if you have one). Put the slices in a colander, toss them with the salt, and let stand for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine 1 1/2 cups water, vinegar, sugar, bay leaf and allspice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Rinse salt off cucumbers and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Put cucumbers in a medium bowl and add pickling solution; they should be completely covered by the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 6 hours before serving.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste.