As a kid (and still as an adult), my mom and I would take the occasional trip to northern New Jersey to spend the day at our local IKEA. I loved opening and closing all the kitchen drawers (no slam!) and checking out all the kid bedroom setups.
We’d usually leave with a giant cart full of cheap and wonderful home decor. But you’d never catch me walking in that parking lot with a Swedish meatball in tow!
To be fair, I don’t think I ate Italian meatballs for most of my childhood either, so swapping out the motherland with Sweden did not help meatballs’ case.
It also always struck me as odd that a giant furniture retailer was also famous for its meatballs. But then again, I do come from a land where a gas station chain is revered for its sandwiches. I guess I shouldn’t judge.
Anyway, when I came across a highly rated recipe for Swedish meatballs on What’s Gaby Cooking, I decided it was time to understand the hype.
Nothing scary jumped out at me in the recipe. Ground beef, heavy cream, and Worcestershire sauce are all old friends of mine. So this dinner was more about showing my younger self up than it was about actually trying a new food.
Rather than with the traditional egg noodles (we ate an abundance of pasta this week), I served these meatballs over rice. I also used a combo of ground pork and ground beef, but other than that, I followed the recipe (almost) to the letter.
The “almost” is because for whatever reason, I decided to 2/3 the recipe. Not double it. Not halve it. Two-thirds it. Some of you may be shocked to hear that I am not, in fact, great at math. I also don’t love to measure all the time.* So, I pretty much just went rogue on all the measurements with no regard to the written recipe. Oops.
OK so these were good. The meatballs were well-browned, they stayed tender, and the sauce got thick and creamy. Certainly nothing to complain about.
But you knew there’d be a “but” right?
BUT there wasn’t a ton of flavor in the sauce or meatballs, especially considering the number of calories! The consistency of everything was spot on. But I was left searching for more flavor.
It might be my instinct to Italian-ify meatballs, but I can’t help but think the dinner would’ve benefitted from some garlic and red pepper flakes. To be fair, the recipe does recommend garnishing with parsley, which I didn’t do, but I think adding fresh herbs into the meatball mix would be even better.
Looking at other recipes online, it looks like some recommend using nutmeg and allspice as well. I have no idea what makes an “authentic” Swedish meatball, but that does sound like it would bring more flavor to the final dish.
I would definitely eat Swedish meatballs again and might even cook them again, with a few flavorful additions (and after running a 10K, perhaps).
The true test, though, will be the next time I’m at IKEA. I have to be honest: I still don’t love the idea of eating meatballs at a furniture store. But I need to know if they’re really that good or if they’re just good “for a furniture store.”
So far, I’m having a hard time believing that what I made could be improved that much.
If you’ve had great Swedish meatballs before, let me know what your flavor secrets are in the comments below or on Instagram @thepickyeaterchronicles. Until then, enjoy this classic from the Swedish Chef. At least my meatballs turned out better than his!
*Some good cooks use never measuring ingredients as a sign that they know exactly what the recipe needs by instinct. Dear reader, please understand that my reason is far less pretentious. I’m just too lazy to wash my measuring cups and spoons.