Authentic Swedish Meatballs
Sweden is a stunningly beautiful place, and authentic Swedish meatballs are worth a trip there alone. Seriously, they were amazing. I traveled to Stockholm in the summer with my family, the first stop in a three-part European adventure. I had never been to Sweden before and quickly fell in love with the simple natural beauty, rich history, friendly people, and flavorful foods.
Although warned of the potential for cool temperatures and possible rain, we lucked out. Our time in Stockholm was flooded with vivid blue skies and long extended hours of sunshine. The city was so bright, it sparkled.
Stockholm is located at the junction of Lake Malar (Malaren) and Salt Bay (Saltjon), an arm of the Baltic Sea. With 14 islands and 50 bridges forming the famous Stockholm archipelago. Stockholm–often referred to as “the Venice of the is one of the North“–is one of the most stunning cities in the world.
From its quaint cobblestone streets to the charming 1800s merchant house cottages that line its shores, Stockholm oozes history. Its unique location is what helped Sweden transfer from an agrarian economy to a more mercantile one.
The food in Stockholm was incredible. But the Swedes take their meatballs seriously, so much so that Sweden’s official website lists a recipe for Swedish meatballs. I have read a tremendous amount about Swedish meatballs and I ate many while I was there. This is my attempt at an authentic recipe. There is an art to making meatballs generally: they must be cooked carefully. But there is an added pressure of making a Swedish one. American Swedish meatballs soaked in creamy gravy are not “legit,” at least based on what I observed in Stockholm or read thereafter.
The Swedes like their meatballs tender and almost pillowy. Their trick? Milk-soaked breadcrumbs. Every authentic recipe I found had this essential ingredient. And it makes all the difference in the world. If you Google “Swedish meatballs,” you may find several Americanized versions. But if you Google “authentic Swedish meatballs,” it is much easier to find the good stuff. You will find variations in what ground meat or combination of meat to use, but all of the recipes incorporate milk-soaked breadcrumbs.
My Swedish meatball recipe is based on the official Nordic one posted on Sweden’s website. The original recipe can be found here. For my version, I use an equal combination of ground beef and ground pork. To me, this gives you the best flavor and fat balance. I soak my breadcrumbs in milk, but I use plain panko breadcrumbs instead of traditional ones. This helps with both the structure and moisture content of the meatball. I add sautéed yellow onions. And the seasoning is classic: salt, pepper, and the secret ingredient of allspice.
The Swedes serve their meatballs with a slightly sweet, slightly tart fresh lingonberry sauce, similar to a less sweet version of American cranberry sauce. Lingonberries are, however, not easy to find in the US, or at least in Northern California (and I looked). I served my Swedish meatballs with a good quality jarred Lingonberry sauce; the jarred sauce was a step down from the homemade variety, but it still tasted great. If you can locate these tasty berries easily, here’s a great recipe to try. Served with a traditional mashed potato puree, I think I made the Swedes proud with this rendition of their national dish.