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!
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: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.
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, baking takes less time. But fried meatballs have one big advantage, they’re round! So I’ve worked out a ‘sear and swirl’ technique for cooking meatballs.
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 meatballs (easily halved)
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1 medium onion, minced (about 1 cup)
- 1 bunch parsley, minced (about 1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon allspice (don’t skip this!)
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 pound lean ground pork
- 3 cups good chicken stock (such as Homemade Chicken Stock)
- 2 cups cream
- Additional fresh parsley for garnish
Gently warm the milk in a medium saucepan, add the bread crumbs and let soak. In an extra-large bowl, whisk the eggs, then add all the remaining meatball ingredients except the meat. Add the bread crumbs and combine well. (Now comes the messy part! So have baking sheets or skillets out and ready to use.) With your hands, gently break the meat into pieces, then gently work it in until well combined.
Preheat oven to 350F. Optional: 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.
With your hands, gently form meatballs, being careful to not compress the mixture. Arrange meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet about one-inch apart. Bake until cooked clear through, about 15 minutes for two-inch meatballs. If cooking ahead, let cool, then refrigerate or freeze. If frozen, thaw before continuing.
30 MINUTES BEFORE SERVING Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan. (For serving tableside, the base of a tagine or a skillet works beautifully. For parties, use a slow cooker to keep the meatballs warm for a couple of hours.) 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 slightly and coats the meatballs.
For an authentic Finnish meal, serve with small boiled potatoes tossed with butter and parsley. Otherwise, serve as pictured with Swedish Red Cabbage or buttered egg noodles. For parties, keep toothpicks or forks nearby, let people spear the meatballs right from the pan.
MEATBALLS from AROUND the WORLD Along with the cream sauce, allspice is 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!
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