At last, I've conquered the meatball! With this recipe, Finnish Meatballs turn out light and tender. They're cloaked in a creamy sauce, true comfort food! Better still? Meatballs may be made in advance and frozen, so they're perfect for holiday entertaining, no last-minute cooking!
Finnish Meatballs are traditional at Christmas in Finland, below you'll find a complete Finnish Christmas menu, one that I often serve either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day or more recently, even on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
Call it meatball mania, our infatuation with globes of ground meat. There’s plenty to love: meatball ingredients are easy to find and inexpensive; meatballs can be cooked ahead of time; once cooked, meatballs freeze beautifully in family-size or individual servings. Most of all, meatballs are somehow more festive than – say – meatloaf, even made from identical ingredients.
In Finland, meatballs are celebration food. Since living in Finland for a year as an exchange student, I like to serve them on Christmas Eve, especially since there’s practically no last-minute cooking.
But for too long, my Finnish meatballs were dense and tough, reminiscent of the proverbial hockey pucks. It took several tries to achieve the tender and flavorful meatballs worthy of a life-time relationship.
For tender meatballs, try these easy techniques, even with your own favorite recipe:Soak the bread crumbs in milk, adding moisture that’s easy to distribute throughout. For the bread itself, use something with both good flavor and some structure; I’ve used everything from whole-grain rolls to a sour dough baguette. The crumbs themselves should be light and airy, not dry and dense.
Be gentle with the meat. When mixing and forming the meatballs, avoid ‘packing’ the meat, which makes for dense, tough meatballs. To allow plenty of room, I use an extra-large bowl for mixing the meatballs, then use a light touch to shape them into balls.
Ingredients like parsley and onion add moisture and bulk but should be minced fine so that they almost disappear into the meat itself. I use a food processor to make the bread crumbs, then to mince the onion, then the parsley.
FOR PARTIES Meatballs are such great party food! For parties, I like to make extra-small Finnish Meatballs, then keep toothpicks or small forks nearby to let people spear the meatballs right from the pan! You can also use a slow cooker to keep the meatballs warm for a couple of hours, again, people like spearing their own!
FINNISH MEATBALLS vs SWEDISH MEATBALLS The Swedish company IKEA [pronounced eye-KEE-uh] has singlehandedly taken Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce "to the world" – even if the meatballs, to my taste, are completely hemks. Real Swedish meatballs are served in a lovely brown sauce, they're underbar! But there's no brown sauce for Finnish Meatballs, instead, Finnish Meatballs are draped in a cream sauce. That's how they're different!
MEATBALLS from AROUND the WORLD The cream sauce and allspice are what makes these meatballs "Finnish Meatballs". But this is such a good basic recipe for meatballs that I can heartily recommend using other spices too, Italian seasoning for Italian meatballs, say, or oregano and lemon for Greek meatballs, pimenton for Spanish meatballs, curry powder for Indian meatballs. More ideas? Let me know!
BAKED vs FRIED Over the years, I’ve come to prefer baked meatballs. There’s no added fat, the house doesn’t reek of fried meat for days and baking even takes less time. But fried meatballs have one big advantage, they’re round! So I worked out a "sear and swirl" technique for cooking meatballs when shape is important.
To fry meatballs, heat a skillet on medium high. Add a light covering of oil until shimmery and let it get hot; don’t use too much, it makes it harder to ‘swirl’. (The oil is hot enough when water flicked off your fingertips sizzles.) Roll a few meatballs in flour or arrowroot flour and drop gently into the hot skillet, leaving plenty of room to move around. Let the balls sear on one side for a minute, then lift the skillet and ‘swirl’ to cook on another side. Repeat the "sear and swirl" process until the meatballs are fully cooked.
RECIPE for FINNISH MEATBALLS
Time to table: about 2 hours
Makes 4 dozen small meatballs or 2 dozen larger meatballs
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 cup (50g) fresh bread crumbs (see ALANNA's TIPS)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 medium onion, minced very fine (about 1 cup)
- 1 bunch parsley, minced very fine (about 1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon allspice (don’t skip this!)
- Bread Crumb & Milk Mixture
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 pound lean ground pork
- 3 cups good chicken stock (such as Homemade Chicken Stock)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Additional chopped fresh dill (or more parsley) for garnish
- Lingonberry jam for serving
MISE EN PLACE Mixing and forming the meatballs is a little bit messy, so get out whatever you'll be baking the meatballs on and have it/them handy. I use a good non-stick baking sheet, also a cast iron griddle. A baking sheet will work, you'll probably want to line it with parchment.
Set oven to 350F/175C.
BREAD CRUMBS Gently warm the milk in a medium saucepan, add the bread crumbs and let soak.
MIX In an extra-large bowl with room for mixing everything with your hands, whisk the eggs. Add all the remaining meatball ingredients EXCEPT the meat.
Stir in the Bread Crumb & Milk Mixture, combine very well, really distributing all the ingredients before adding the meat. (Now comes that messy part!) With your hands, gently break the meat into pieces, then gently work the meat into the mixture until it's all very well combined.
TASTE for SEASONING This is an optional but recommended step. To test the seasoning, form a small meatball and fry it in a tiny bit of vegetable oil in a skillet. Taste and if needed, adjust the seasonings.
FORM MEATBALLS With your hands or a cookie scoop (to measure) plus your hands (to form), gently form meatballs, taking care to not compress the mixture. Arrange the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet about an inch apart, the meatballs don't spread but they do need room for the heat to circulate.
BAKE Bake until meat is cooked clear through and beginning to brown on top, about 15 minutes for small two-inch meatballs, about 25 minutes for larger three-inch meatballs.
MAKE-AHEAD If cooking ahead, let the meatballs cool, then cover, refrigerate or freeze. If frozen, thaw before continuing.
ABOUT ONE HOUR BEFORE SERVING Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. (For serving tableside, the base of a tagine or a large, shallow skillet works beautifully.) Stir in the cream and return to a gentle boil.
Add the meatballs and return to a gentle boil, let bubble until the cream thickens considerably, spooning cream over the meatball tops every five minutes or so to coat the meatballs. The meatballs shrink a bit in the skillet, you can add more, just keep them in a single layer. Just before serving, sprinkle meatballs with fresh dill.
TO HOLD Once the cream sauce has thickened and coated the meatballs, you can "hold" the dish in the oven for about 30 minutes before serving. Set the oven to 180F/80C, cover the dish to prevent further thickening, leave it uncovered if you'd like the cream mixture to continue to thicken.
TO SERVE For an authentic Finnish Christmas dinner, serve Finnish Meatballs with Lingonberry Jam, Swedish Red Cabbage & Apples and boiled new potatoes tossed with a little butter and fresh dill.
Whole Recipe for DIY calculations: 4988 Calories; 341g Tot Fat; 185g Sat Fat; 1966mg Cholesterol; 4911mg Sodium; 97g Carb; 8g Fiber; 23g Sugar; 305g Protein.
Per Large Meatball, assumes 24 meatballs: 207 Calories; 14g Tot Fat; 8g Sat Fat; 81mg Cholesterol; 207mg Sodium; 4g Carb; 0g Fiber; 1g Sugar; 13g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 5, WW PointsPlus 5.
Per Small Meatball, assumes 48 meatballs/Per Three Meatballs: 103/311 Calories; 7/21g Tot Fat; 12g Sat Fat; 122mg Cholesterol; 311mg Sodium; 6g Carb; 0g Fiber; 2g Sugar; 19g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 3/8, WW PointsPlus 3/8.
A Traditional Finnish Christmas Menu
with Rye Bread or Crackers, Cucumber Slices & Fresh Dill
~ Finnish Meatballs ~
with Lingonberry Jam
Swedish Red Cabbage & Apples
New Potatoes Tossed with Butter & Fresh Dill
Christmas Rice Pudding with Warm Fruit Soup
and / or
Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Bread) and
Glöggi: Hot Red Wine 'Mulled' with Winter Spices
More Traditional Christmas Recipes
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