(East Prussian Meatballs)
By Resident Chef: Harvey Pincis
When I wrote some time ago about poached Italian meatballs in tomato sauce, I mentioned Königsberger Klopse as a reason why I had not looked into meatballs as desirable for some decades. The reason is that while my mother was an exceptional cook in very many ways and quite naturally I grew up and loved her food, Königgsberger Klopse was not her best dish. With hindsight, I can analyse why her version failed to hit the spot, despite my father’s enjoyment. I have heard that 93% of Germans love Klopse and of course, the dish migrated outside of East Prussia to Latvia amongst other places in the Baltic these klopse have been recorded in a German cookbook around 1845, so must have been known earlier than more universal literacy.
Sweden has its own meatball tradition too as anyone who has ever passed IKEA knows. I am guessing, but think it a fair assumption that my father passed on the recipe to my mother without ever having actually cooked them and combined with 1940s/1950s Britain being less cosmopolitan and no internetwebthingy existing until my school companion invented it, even Spaghetti was something fairly exotic at the time. My father taught me a great deal about art and history, but with his phobia of touching food or earth was no hands-on cook or gardener. Unlike his parents.
French and Indian cooking was known of course in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, but I imagine that the Baltic kitchen was not high on cookery writers lists, emerging from rationing that lasted into the early 1950s. By 1955 rationing had ended, but the repercussions of over a decade of rationing were felt, even into the 1960s in some ways.
Younger readers may be amazed that olive oil is something one bought at the chemist and much of what we take for granted, even in multi-cultural Kuwait is fairly standard in most shops and supermarkets in UK today. That is not completely true, near where we lived in London there was a Polish delicatessen that prepared some great cutlets, but sauerkraut out of the jar did not hit the spot as it were. I have eaten great bigos since and could well be a future project. Again, I put that down to my mother’s unfamiliarity with what she was dealing with, rather than a lack of culinary skill as virtually every other dish she made was a delight.
I checked what Wiki had to say and therein lies the sadness. The Oxford Companion does not shed any light either. The ‘broth’ is not salted water, but some serious stock as the poaching medium and an essential additive to the sauce. This changes everything. Here we enter a brave new world of taste.
These meatballs were cooked over two days and day one my capers had done a disappearing act, rather in the same manner of last week’s sweet chilli. Very finely diced cornichons (or baby pickled cucumber) and a dash of lemon seriously worked. Day 2 some extra butter and capers was added. A midnight dash to Sultan seemed slightly overboard at the time, though my much better half seemed less enthusiastic for some strange reason. The pickle/lemon solution did actually work, so not getting upset with the combo. My much better half was happy, so as my best and most honest critic, I accept it did work.
To the recipe. Make stock, make a broth. Next time I am planning to use some heart. I am not crazy about its texture for eating, but after so many vegetarian recipes, this one is actually meat, so one might as well go the whole hog as it were. My muse makes an amazing tomato sauce with chicken hearts and gizzards and while the meat texture is not my favourite, the actual taste is seriously wonderful. Nose to tail is the way to go and not waste resources on the planet.
Take 300 to 500 grams of minced beef or veal or indeed a combination. I use 75% lean for meatballs as the fat does make a serious contribution to taste. Lean does NOT actually cut it. It will affect the taste and for the ‘health-conscious’ you don’t have to eat 100 every day for the rest of your life. Of course, the quantities can be scaled.
Chop an onion (or more depending on scaling up).
In a bowl, add 2 eggs, two pieces of anchovies (the original may well have been herring being Baltic and the modern equivalent using herring is called Rostoker Klopse), salt, pepper and 2 slices of pre-milked soaked bread that has been squeezed of its moisture. One way of using any bread that has gone hard, past its best time.
I also added a splash of Worcestershire sauce for its cooking qualities. Lee & Perrins’ is seriously the best for its ingredients.
Mix the ingredients together thoroughly.
Make into golf ball sizes and drop into the broth, let them cook on a medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Chilling for some time in the fridge might help them keep their shape, but if the mixture is not too wet, they could be dropped straight into the broth.
The sauce; heat a tablespoon of butter and a spoon of butter and the same of flour, i.e. making a roux. Add broth to the mixture to loosen and build the sauce with some salt and pepper with the and herbs, not forgetting the magic capers. Be generous with the capers or as in the original mishap, cornichons and lemon.
Serve and enjoy with new boiled potatoes or whatever side you fancy. The choice is yours.
The author is very happy to have rediscovered a lovely dish that not just works, but also homage to my father who clearly was special to him.
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