Sunday, January 6, 2013

In Praise of Fatty Ground Beef

To our great delight, we have finally found a source for fantastic locally raised and butchered beef.  Renée found a farmer in Vermont who would sell us a whole young steer, cut to order.  Even split between four families, that's a lot of beef, but we all have chest freezers and it's fantastically worth it. The flavor is rich and complex with a hint of grass, the texture is dense and wiry but still tender.  It's not aged, but it is well drained (none of the blood bath we got from our first CSA beef).  But when I tried to make meatballs with the ground beef, they broke apart as I sauteed them, and then disintegrated into the sauce as I cooked them.  I thought maybe I had messed up my own recipe, or used the wrong kind of bread crumbs, or something else.  Then Renée said she'd had almost the same problem.  And then it dawned on us: meatballs need fat to hold together, and there is really no fat at all in this beef.  To make meatballs with really lean beef, you need to add fat.  Luckily, meatballs, like meatloaf, really develop their flavor when they're made from a blend of ground meats, and even our locally raised "free range" pork is nice and fatty (other ground meats also add flavor, but not enough fat).  And then just because it's fun to try to add fat, we put in bacon fat and salt pork too.  Now that makes some delightfully fatty and flavorful meatballs, but the bacon fat and salt pork are not necessary. 

Swedish Meatballs

We were asked recently to make Swedish Meatballs for Community Cooks, a group that provides home-cooked meals to local shelters and group homes.  Neither of us had ever eaten them before, but after a little research we realized that there are basically just two things that distinguish Swedish Meatballs: you add nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice to the meat mixture and you cook them in a sour-cream-based white sauce rather than a red sauce.  The spices sounded great, but the white sauce sounded disgusting.  So we decided to make the Swedish spiced meatballs for Community Cooks and ourselves, but to cook ours in red sauce.  But we did have to taste what we were going to serve to others, and to our great surprise, the white sauce is quite good and complements the swedish spiced meatballs quite well.  I'm not going to replace my regular sauce with the white sauce often, but it makes a nice change of pace and I'm definitely going to be adding the Swedish spices to my meatballs in whatever sauce on a regular basis.



Swedish Spiced Meatballs
Serves 4-6

1 onion
1 garlic clove
1 lb ground pork
1 lb lean ground beef
2 eggs
3/4 c bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. bacon fat
2 tsp. salt pork
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated or ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
2 T olive oil

Chop the onion and saute it until just beginning to brown, 5-10 minutes.  Mince the garlic, add it to the onions, and saute another 2-3 minutes.  In a large bowl, mix onion and garlic with all the other ingredients.  Mix well.  Heat two large pans with 1 T olive oil in each.  Form the meatball mixture into walnut-sized balls and drop into pans.  Flip or shake to brown well on all sides, then saute on low until just cooked through, about 20 minutes.  When meatballs are done, put into a large baking pan, cover with sauce, cover with tin foil, and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. 

Swedish Meatball Sauce

2 T butter
2 T flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. gated or ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

In a large pan, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour.  Add the chicken broth 1/4 cup at a time, whisking constantly.  Add the other ingredients and simmer on low, whisking constantly, for 3-5 minutes.  The sauce should be thick but pourable, like a nice thick gravy.

Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with egg noodles.