Growing up, I remember my mother and my Aunt Marie making frikadellen — Belgian meatballs, and apparently the meatballs of many other European countries — many times. They always served them with one of two sauces: cherry or prune. They were a dish for special occasions and very popular around our table.
I honestly can’t recall how how long it’s been since I last ate Mom’s frikadellen, but I would guess at least two decades. They’ve been on my mind for some time now, so I included them in the menu for a family baby shower recently as an homage to Mom, who died in June. Food and memory are so interwoven, and the presence of both Mom and my aunt was felt through this dish. Both of my daughters and my cousin lit up when they saw that I was serving this classic family recipe, and the reminiscences came pouring forth.
Frikadellen are a blend of ground beef and pork, eggs, some bread crumbs, salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg. And that’s it. No fusion cooking bells and whistles. Just good, plain food made special with a tart cherry sauce.
Mom and my aunt always made their meatballs the size of golf balls, but for the party buffet I made them bitesize using tablespoon-sized scoops of the mixture. I made them the day ahead, browning them in butter and then finishing them in the oven until just cooked through. The next day I reheated them in a slow cooker with a bit of water a couple of hours before serving time, and set out some cool toothpicks so guests could skewer them hot from the pot.
So, a few comments about serving … When I was growing up, we always spooned the sauce onto our plates as a side for the meatballs, but I didn’t quite think it through properly for party purposes. I set out a dish of the cherry sauce with a spoon, but the whole cherries were just too big for the small meatballs on skewers. In future I would give the sauce a quick chop to make it less chunky and then reheat the meatballs right in it when serving them cocktail party style.
This illustrates one of my tips about entertaining, and cooking in general: always reflect on and pat yourself on the back for what worked well, and when something didn’t go as well as expected, think about how you would make it better next time. And don’t beat yourself up over flaws. I’m quite certain I’ve spent far more time thinking about how I could have served this dish better than my 24 guests combined.
And that brings me to the photos. I was hoping to have time to photograph the dish before the party, but that proved to be ridiculously optimistic. As it turned out, I was lucky afterwards to snag a few meatballs and only a couple tablespoons of the cherry sauce which is why it looks rather stingy in the pictures. I thought about making the recipe all over again with my concept for a less chunky sauce, but honestly, that’s not on the agenda right now. Since this recipe would work so well for a holiday party, I didn’t want to hold it back from you for another minute.
So I present to you, from the heart of my family, frikadellen with cherries. Please enjoy.
Belgian Frikadellen (Meatballs) with Tart Cherry Sauce
© Marlene Cornelis, Urban Cottage Life.com 2014
Pre-heat the oven to 350℉. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- 1 lb extra-lean ground beef
- 3/4 lb ground pork
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 c fine breadcrumbs (whole wheat or white)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbsp butter
Place all the ingredients except the butter in a bowl. Then, using a large fork or your hands, mix until everything is well incorporated. If you’re unsure about the seasoning, form a small patty from a tablespoon of the mixture and fry it to taste. (That’s what I did!)
Form the meatballs into small balls and place them on the prepared baking tray. I used my trusty one tablespoon ice cream scoop and gave each one a quick roll to perfect the shape.
Over medium high heat, melt the butter and then brown the meatballs in two batches. You can use tongs or roll them in the pan to get them browned top and bottom and perhaps a bit on the sides. At this stage, you’re not cooking them through. The meatballs release some fat as they’re browning, so I found I didn’t need to add more butter to the pan for the second batch. Return the browned meatballs to the baking tray.
Bake in the oven for twenty minutes, or until nicely cooked through but not dried out.
If not serving right away, set the tray on a cooling rack. Once the meatballs have cooled enough, I put them in a parchment paper lined container and stored it in the fridge until the next day. I left the lid off for the first hour or so and then sealed it to ensure the meatballs wouldn’t steam. I haven’t tried it, but I don’t see why you couldn’t freeze them on the baking tray once cooled and then transfer them to a storage bag or other container.
Tart Cherry Sauce
I used a jar of sour cherries in juice with minimal sugar added. If you thought ahead last summer, and have sour cherries in the freezer, all the better. I find that a tart sauce marries well with the richness of the meatballs, so I didn’t add any additional sugar. I just heated the entire contents of the jar in a small saucepan, and then stirred in a slurry of about one tablespoon of cornstarch and cold water to thicken it. I recommend adding the cornstarch mixture in stages, so you don’t over-thicken the sauce.
If serving the meatballs at a sit-down dinner, I would leave the sauce with the cherries whole and present it as a side dish. As mentioned above, for serving cocktail style I recommend giving it a rough chop with an immersion blender and then mixing the meatballs and sauce together.