Get the Recipes
There's a reason why these meatballs have a permanent place on the menu at Marcus Samuelsson's Harlem hotspot, Red Rooster, and why they get mentioned in nearly every review of the place: his grandmother was on to something. In an act of kindness, he shares the recipe—her recipe—in his new cookbook, Marcus Off Duty, and it's a winner. In Sweden, where Samuelsson grew up, meatballs and mashed potatoes are essentially a street food, as ubiquitous as a burger and fries are here. I'm sure everybody's grandmother has their standby recipe, and I don't know how unique Helga's is, but it's perfect. For the balls, ground beef, pork, and veal are mixed with cooked onion, heavy cream, breadcrumbs, egg, and a bit of honey. In a decidedly non-traditional twist, Samuelsson uses a grill pan to cook them, charring the exterior while leaving the inside tender and moist. Then the meatballs are simmered in a tangy, rich, lingonberry gravy that's "pure Grandmother Helga," he says. (The secret weapon in the gravy is a couple spoonfuls of juice from his Pickled Cucumbers, which is a streak of sunshine through the clouds.) Again, Samuelsson shakes up the traditional Swedish preparation by adding carrots, apple, and loads of onions to his striking buttermilk mashed potatoes. This is rustic comfort food at the hands of a master (I'm talking 'bout Helga.)
Why I picked this recipe: I never had the pleasure of trying Red Rooster's meatballs, but I just had a feeling they'd one-up Ikea's version.
What worked: The meatballs themselves are juicy, well-flavored, and totally versatile. And the classic gravy is out-of-this-world.
What didn't: I liked the results of the grilling, but the process of getting each ball charred (but not too charred) all the way around and cooked through was a little dicey. Worth it, but if you'd rather, using a skillet or baking them would be fine. Also, thinly slicing the large amount of onion and shallot for the mashed potatoes resulted in rather stringy final product—the strands of onion distracted from the creamy mash.
Suggested tweaks: I suggest finely chopping the onion and shallot instead. And please note: The mash ends up looking very unlike the vibrant orange version in the photo; they're really orange-flecked mashed potatoes. (The photo also shows an alternative preparation for the meatballs with a tomatillo-avocado salsa, as opposed to the gravy.) Samuelsson suggests serving this with the Pickled Cucumbers whose juice brightens the gravy; I wholeheartedly second that motion.
Thanks to our friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, we are giving away 5 copies of Marcus Off Duty this week.