The Power of Meatballs
Carrie Berger and her children (left to right): Stella, Trigve, Helen, Erling, Harold, Fred, and Edna
When my Grandma Berger was approaching her ninetieth year, her seven children began to worry that it might not be safe for her to continue to live alone. Knowing how vociferously she would object to a change in her living arrangements, they decided to pay her a visit and, as a united front, discuss their concerns.
Oh my, how thrilled she was to see them! “All my children at once, what a wonderful surprise!” She immediately went to the kitchen and began to saw away at a large chunk of frozen hamburger. Several hours later they were sitting around her table, eating her legendary Norwegian meatballs, swooning over the exquisite taste and texture of the meat, the silken gravy floating in craters of mashed potatoes, joyfully accepting the second helpings she urged upon them. When it came time to say good-bye, her children thanked her effusively, got in their cars, and went home, somewhat chagrined that none of them had brought up the reason for their visit. Hence, the title of this blog.
With the exception of the wine, the following is my grandmother’s authentic recipe, a copy of the one she wrote on the back of an envelope for Edna, my mother, but I have spent decades attempting to reconstruct her method–the fine points, precisely how she made them, and why they were so delicious–the crucial information superior cooks often neglect to pass on.
Carrie Berger’s Norwegian Meatballs (serves six, with leftovers)
2 slices good white bread (not sweet, e.g., Tuscan), crusts removed
1 large onion, grated
2-3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 scant teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds (essential)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1/2 to 3/4 cup good (not cheap) dry white wine
- In a large mixing bowl beat eggs well. Add crumbled bread slices and soak until soft. Add grated onion (including juice), salt, pepper, and spices. Mix well. (Hint: This sequence ensures that all the flavorings will be evenly distributed in the next step.
- Add the ground meats and gently combine ingredients by hand. (Avoid using appliances as overmixing destroys texture.)
- Roll in balls no larger than a walnut. (Yes, tedious. Demand help if possible.) Yield: approximately 60 meatballs.
- In a heavy skillet, fry a test meatball. If more salt is needed, I suggest shaking a little over each batch in the next step, again, to avoid overmixing.
- Fry meatballs in batches over medium to high heat, spacing them so they don’t touch each other (which creates steam, which prevents browning). The pork is fatty, so they will brown quickly in the high heat. Remove balls to a large baking dish when they are nicely browned but not cooked through. (If you fry them too long they will be tough and dry.)
- When all the meatballs are browned, drain off fat, reserving the bits of meat sticking to the pan. Deglaze the pan with wine over high heat for a minute or so, loosening the tasty bits, and pour this liquid over the meatballs. Cover tightly.
- Bake in a 200 degree oven until done. Remove from oven but keep them in the covered dish while you make the gravy.
In the same frying pan, melt 1/4 cup butter until it bubbles. Add 1/4 cup flour all at once and whisk over low heat until mixture foams and turns light brown. Drain meatball juice into a large measuring cup and add beef broth (not bouillon) to produce a total of four cups. Add liquid all at once, whisk until it thickens. Add salt and pepper, plus more broth if needed.
Shortly before serving, add the gravy to the meatballs and reheat. This allows the meat to retain its unique flavor.
Serve over mashed potatoes. Powerfully good.