Recipe ideas come to me everywhere, at any time and take me in odd directions. I was reading a magazine during an interminable wait at a doctor’s office once and saw a recipe called “German Meatballs.” My mind immediately went to bratwurst, beer and mustard so I was intrigued and kept reading. But that magazine recipe involved frozen meatballs, French onion soup mix and ketchup. That did not appeal at all, and I cannot imagine what qualifies as German about it. But that first thought that popped into my head stayed there.
I rather doubt this version is anywhere near traditional German cuisine either, but it involves all the flavors I associate with German food, my knowledge of which is admittedly limited. In fact, this is a take on my Swedish meatball recipe, made a bit richer with dark rye bread crumbs, tangy with sweet hot mustard and a sauce livened up with beer. Use a good, pale lager – too dark or rich a beer overpowers the meatballs. You can leave out the beer if you prefer, and replace it with an equal amount of additional beef broth. And here’s an idea: pick up some pastrami while you’re at the store – leftover dark rye and sweet-hot mustard make and excellent sandwich.
Let me also share a few little meatball making tips. These freeze really well, so consider making a double batch. Once you get your hands in there and get on a roll, you might as well keep going. And if you are making any type of meatball and want to check for seasoning, make one little meatball and sauté it in a little oil. Taste the cooked portion and adjust accordingly.
For the Meatballs:
4 slices dark rye bread (to make 2 cups crumbs)
2 pounds bratwurst, casings removed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup milk
1 Tablespoon sweet hot mustard
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
For the Sauce:
3 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 cup lager beer
2 teaspoons sweet hot mustard
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
Salt to taste
For the meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with non-stick foil or foil sprayed lightly with cooking spray.
Tear the dark rye slices into chunks and drop in a food processor. Process to small, rough crumbs. You should end up with 2 cups of crumbs.
Place the bratwurst, bread crumbs and remaining meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Using your clean hands, squish everything together to mix well, making sure the meat is evenly distributed. I find it easier to do this if the meat has been out of the fridge for about 15 minutes to take the chill off. Roll the meat mixture into balls about the size of a ping pong ball. A good, heaping tablespoon of mixture is about right. Place the balls on the prepared sheets. You should end up with about 30 – 35 meat balls. Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until cooked through and browned. Rotate the pans halfway during the cooking (top pan to bottom shelf).
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven (the meatballs need to fit in) over medium high heat. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until smooth, about 1 minute. Do not let the mixture darken. Gradually add the milk, the broth and the beer, whisking constantly. Whisk in the mustard and brown sugar and bring the sauce to a boil whisking frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until it thickens, about five minutes. Salt to taste. Remove from heat.
When the meatballs are done, remove them from the baking sheets to the sauce with a slotted spoon. Stir to coat all the meatballs with the sauce.
Serve immediately, or leave the meatballs and sauce to cool, stirring occasionally to coat the meatballs with sauce. When cool, scoop into ziptop bags and seal. The meatballs and sauce can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for up to three months.
When ready to serve, scoop the meatballs and sauce into a saucepan. Put ¼ cup of water in the ziptop bag, seal and shake to clean out any clinging sauce. Pour the water into the pan with the meatballs and reheat slowly over medium heat stirring frequently.
Serve over curly egg noodles and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.
Makes about 30 meatballs