Liège-style meatballs (+ recipe!)

February 17, 2015 § 1 Comment

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Belgium doesn’t just do sweet—sticky waffles, chocolate galore, speculoos and other cookies—it also does sweet-and-savory. One secret to this appealing combo is an ingredient called sirop de Liège, traditionally made from very concentrated juice of apples and pears, though other fruits, including dates, apricots, and prunes, can be added. It’s not a syrup exactly, because it is basically solid. I would call it a cross between apple butter and a very sweet, dense jam.

Though it is often spread on toast as part of breakfast, it can also be used to add a rich, fruity undertone to savory dishes. For these meatballs, I turned to the cookbook What’s Cooking in Belgium. In addition to many intriguing recipes (including Rabbit in Beer with Prunes, which Frank made this past weekend), this book is full of interesting bits of information such as the history of traditional foods and festivals that celebrate certain dishes or ingredients. The meatballs themselves a fairly basic, but the sweet/tart/savory sauce (perfect to serve with a crunchy, bitter endive salad) really makes them stand out.image

Sirop de Liège in its different incarnations: traditional, apricot, and prune.IMG_4554OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sebastian doing his best impression of a food processor.imageOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Serve with one of these beauties.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Liège-Style Meatballs

  • 1 1/3 pounds ground pork and beef
  • 4 medium onions, one minced and three roughly chopped
  • 1 cup fine breadcrumbs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons sirop de Liège*
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar (or more to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • optional: handful of dried currants

* If you don’t have sirop de Liège, the recipe suggests substituting 4 tablespoons red currant jelly and 2 tablespoons honey; I think a good-quality grape jelly would also work

In large mixing bowl beat the eggs into the milk, then add the minced onion, breadcrumbs, and ground meat. Mix the ingredients by hand and then divide to make eight balls, or boulets, each about the size of a tennis ball. (I made mine a bit smaller.) Heat a large cast iron or other heavy skillet, and cook the boulets, flattening just slightly, in oil for 10–15 minutes, turning regularly. Add 2/3 cup water and cook for another 10 minutes.

Once cooked, set the boulets and their juices aside on a plate. Use the hot pan to cook the roughly chopped onions in oil for 10 minutes. When they start turning brown, add vinegar and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a large pot and add 2 1/4 cups water, the sugar, sirop de Liège (or substitution), and bay leaves. (If using the currants, add them now.) Bring to a boil before turning the heat down to a gentle simmer for 5–10 minutes.

In the skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat and mix with the flour. Stir and remove from the heat half a minute after the butter melts, making sure the flour doesn’t burn. Add a cup of the sauce to this roux and whisk until smooth, then return to the pot and stir. When the sauce starts to thicken, add the boulets and cook for a further 10 minutes.

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