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What are Swedish Meatballs?

Michael Pollick
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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Unlike dishes such as French onions and Vienna sausages, Swedish meatballs actually are a national dish of Sweden. They are often served during holiday seasons and at smorgasbords, the Scandinavian inspiration for all-you-can-eat buffets. The traditional version of the dish is usually accompanied by boiled egg noodles and topped with a sour cream and beef broth sauce. Swedish-style meatballs are rarely used in Italian pasta dishes — they are generally smaller in size and softer in consistency than Italian meatballs.

Basic recipes for Swedish meatballs begin with either ground beef, ground veal or a combination of ground beef and pork. Almost all meatball recipes call for some type of extender, and in the case of Swedish-style meatballs the preferred ingredient is bread crumbs. Bread crumbs are soaked in milk to add volume and moisture to the dish. Some recipes only call for salt and pepper to be added to the bread crumbs, but authentic versions contain a surprise ingredient — fresh ground nutmeg. The nutmeg gives the meatballs a distinctive sweetness not found in Mediterranean-style meatballs.

The ground meat and spiced bread crumbs are combined in a bowl, using one raw egg as a binder. Once the mixture has been thoroughly blended, it's time to form the meatballs. Traditional Swedish meatballs are on the small side, generally no larger than an inch or so in diameter. This process can be time-consuming, and it helps to keep your hands covered with cooking spray or butter. The finished meatballs are now ready to be pan-fried in butter.

Swedish meatballs need to be browned on all four sides before removing them from the skillet. A side dish of egg noodles should be prepared according to directions and set aside temporarily. Once the meatballs are done, they should be placed over the noodles.

A sauce consisting of sour cream, beef broth and some of the pan drippings should be warmed in a saucepan and drizzled over the meatballs and noodles. The entire dish can be heated in the oven until it is warmed through, then served like any other pasta dish or casserole. Some recipes call for a final sprinkling of paprika or freshly milled white pepper.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGEEK, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon262021 — On Apr 18, 2012

Serving these with egg noodles is common in America. Traditional pairings are boiled or mashed potatoes for the starch. Either is delicious, though. In the US, you can get dry packets of the cream sauce and frozen meatballs at IKEA if you are not a good cook or need to prepare the dish quickly.

By anon56539 — On Dec 15, 2009

actually yes, a sour cream and beef broth sauce is authentic. And it's extremely common, although a lot of people, to make things easier, will use a cream soup.

By anon42278 — On Aug 20, 2009

Egg noodles and sour cream? Is this a joke? I'm Swedish and I've never heard of that combination.

By obsessedwithloopy — On Dec 28, 2008

Adding a dash of baking powder to the meatball mixture will add lightness to the final product. Also one can use good quality white bread torn in pieces and soaked in milk.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

As a frequent contributor to WiseGEEK, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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