Meatballs are a staple when it comes to Sunday night dinners with grandma’s home cooking. But sometimes, you want to get fancy. Really fancy.
New York City’s Aquavit, located in midtown Manhattan, serves up a $29 meatball dish. But these aren’t your average meatballs that you'll find with a plate of spaghetti at your favorite Italian restaurant. These are crowd-pleasing Swedish meatballs.
Chef Emma Bengtsson, born and raised in Sweden, was recruited by then-executive chef of Aquavit Marcus Jernmark to join the team as a pastry chef. Her interpretation of classic Scandinavian desserts transferred into her savory dishes, helping Aquavit earn two Michelin Stars.
Bengtsson, the first Swedish woman to hold two Michelin stars, has revamped the menu at Aquavit by expanding the bar menu, which includes her fresh take on the classic Swedish meatballs.
“I get to do fine dining [and] more elegant dishes in the Michelin star restaurant,” Bengtsson said, “but I also get to cook food that I love to eat on a daily basis.”
While the meatballs probably won’t taste the same when made at home, here are a few tricks Bengtsson uses to create her popular Swedish meatball dish.
It all starts with the cut of beef or pork. Bengtsson uses bigger cuts of meat, such as pork butt and beef chuck. She recommends looking at the quality of meat you are using and trying to get it freshly ground if you can.
“If you can’t grind [the meat] at home yourself, there are a lot of local butchers who will grind it for you, instead of buying pre-packaged ground beef in the store, where you might not know where it comes from or where it’s been,” she said.
When it comes to forming the meatballs, Bengtsson likes to use a trick that she borrowed from her mother and grandmother.
“You dip your hands in a little bit of cold water and then you form your meatballs,” Bengtsson said. “[After they are formed] let them rest in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes.”
One ingredient you should never shy away from when following this recipe is half a stick of butter.
“There’s no Swedish food without butter,” Bengtsson said. “It looks like a lot, but trust me, it’s really worth it. The flavor, the nuttiness comes through.”
Bengtsson also recommends that you add spices and seasonings according to your own personal taste. If you like your meatballs saltier, then you are welcome to add more or less, as long as it will sit well with your taste buds. Not only are meatballs great for dinner but they are one of the best comfort foods to make ahead and freeze for a weeknight.