Sunday, 4 September 2011

Norwegian meatballs and very unsexy gravy

This week I decided to return to Scandilicious and seek out a recipe from our Nordic cousins. After much scanning I settled on the Norwegian meatballs and meatball gravy. It was a meal of two halves. One half of it was delicious, the other so horrendous I had to throw it away and make an alternative.

I started with the meatballs, which are supposed to be equal parts veal and lamb, but I really can’t afford veal so I adapted it and ended up using one part beef mince to two parts lamb mince. The meats are combined with an egg yolk, seasoning, onion which has been sweated in various heady spices and some bread drenched in yoghurt and whole milk. I have to admit, at this stage I was beginning to have my doubts that this was all going to work out. The onion had been positively smothered in allspice and ground ginger (I didn’t have the nutmeg it also required) and I wondered if such strong, sweet spices might overpower the meat. Also, the bread soaked in yoghurt and milk seemed a little strange. Aren’t you supposed to put dried bread into meatballs? I professed that I was basing this questioning of the recipe on my obsession with Italian cooking and forged ahead nonetheless.

The meatballs are rolled then grilled under a hot grill until cooked through, turning once to get some colour on both sides. 
(before cooking)
Somehow, it all worked. Actually it more than worked, they were incredibly tasty. The spices hadn’t overpowered the meat. They complemented the almost sweet lamb beautifully and the yoghurt/milk/bread combo added a light kind of fluffiness to the meatballs I wasn’t really expecting. 

With the meatballs set aside it was time to make the gravy. Ah. The gravy. I have already said that one part of this dish was lovely and the other was a disaster. And I have just revealed how wonderful the meatballs tasted. You don’t need a degree in mathematics to work out that the gravy was a massive flop. I’ve been cooking a long time now and if there’s one thing I always try to do, it’s follow my cook’s instincts. My instincts were telling me this gravy was all kinds of wrong, but I hadn’t been sure the meatballs would work either, so having bought all the ingredients I figured it was worth a shot. 

Beef stock is boiled and reduced a little before adding brandy. I didn’t have any brandy, so I opted for a splash of red wine instead. It would just have a slight maroon tint to it. I’ve put red wine in gravy before. As long as you cook the alcohol away it’s fine. Once the booze was gone and wasn’t burning my nose any more, I reached for the next ingredient - Creme Fraiche. Yes, you read correctly. CREME FRAICHE! Sour cream, in a GRAVY! Every instinct I had was saying ‘don’t pour cold creme fraiche into hot stock and wine. It is wrong!’ I tipped. After an initial few moments where everything seemed to split, some vigorous whisking brought things back together. Next ingredient - goat’s cheese. The recipe referenced brown goat’s cheese, but I just used a standard supermarket version. I whisked. It wasn’t looking good. The gravy seemed to resemble milkshake and didn’t have any of the rich, sexy, thickness of any gravy I’ve ever eaten. (If Gordon Ramsay can call gravy sexy, so can I, because it totally is!) The final ingredient was grated dark chocolate, which melted the moment it hit the boiling liquid and covered my hand as I raced against time to shave it down before the heat made it too soft to grate. 

I stared at the beefy, cheesy, slightly pink tinted milkshake and decided I should taste it. I hoped that some chemical miracle had happened and the flavour would blow my socks off. I reached for a teaspoon, scooped out some of the liquid, blew on it to cool it down and tasted. It. Was. Horrific. I desperately tried to save it with concentrated chicken stock, Bovril and brown sugar but nothing seemed to help. It had a sharpness to it that was clearly supposed to be there, but that made me scrunch my face up in a way that no gravy ever should. I took one last look at the empty pots of ingredients I’d spent money on, then passed the pan over to someone to pour it down the sink. I saved the meal by knocking up some more acceptable gravy with some OXO cubes, cornflour and water and it tasted far superior to the previous gravy from hell.

The following day I took five leftover meatballs to work with a tin of oxtail soup, warmed both through separately and floated the meatballs in the soup. It was lovely. Next time, I’m making my gravy out of oxtail soup! Oh, and this has no relevance to the meal, but while the milkshake was boiling I managed to grab a quick photo of the tiny baby hedgehog running around outside. His mum should probably have taught him not to run around in daylight, but I’m glad she didn’t. Look at his fluffy little face! 

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