Frikkadels or frikadelle – my dictionary offers meatballs or rissoles as an alternative. Now I don’t readily disagree with lofty tomes but, well, balderdash. Because for me a meatball can be any size, made of any meat, and contain pretty much anything in addition to the meat. And that folks, is not a frikkadel.
Nope, to be a true frikkadel, it needs to obey great grandma’s rules: be heady with old-fashioned spice of nutmeg, coriander and clove, rich with sheep fat, ginormous and, very importantly, baked in the oven not fried. Check the box on all of those and you’ve got yourself a proper old-fashioned frikkadel recipe. The word may derive from the French ‘fricadelle’, but it could not be more South African.
This is the stuff of my youth. Gran and mum used to serve it with rice and gem squash halves filled with peas, topped with a pat of butter. A fine idea to be sure, but about as up to the minute as yellow court shoes, Walkmans and mullets.
I give it a modern twist by replacing the gem/rice combo with velvety-smooth orange sweet potato mash. The peas get to stay, but I bring it up to date by adding pea shoots too and, for an extra punch of colour, some trendy beetroot sprouts. Old made new, it’s a magical thing.
All you need is…
¼ cup milk
extra large pinch of white pepper
¾ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp nutmeg
large pinch of ground cloves
1 tsp salt plus one extra large pinch (weird, I know, but it does need that extra pinch!)
2 slices white bread, crusts cut off
800g beef mince (not super lean, you need a bit of fat)
½ cup of onion, grated not chopped
3 tbs melted sheep fat (what gran used to call dripping – you can leave it out, but it would be a pity)
½ cup water
A good frikkadel is a feather-light beauty with a crumbly texture. What’s the secret? A fairy touch. Now nine times out of ten, getting in there with your hands and smooshing things up (yes, it’s a word) gives you excellent results. That’s not the case when you make frikkadels. Use a fork, work fast and mess with the meat as little as possible. Here’s how: Combine the salt and spices with the milk. Add the bread and allow it to soak up all the milk. Then use a fork to break the bread up finely. Add this mixture to the mince along with the melted fat and onion and use the fork to bring it all together. Whatever you do, don’t compact the mince. Think Tinkerbell working with pastry and you’ll be on the right track.
Smear the bottom of an ovenproof baking dish with butter (gran’s rectangular Pyrex dish is great for this). Use your hands to lightly shape large frikkadels. I do the picky food stylist thing and use my electronic kitchen scale to make perfectly even 100g frikkadels. Place them in the baking dish and top each frikkadel with a small dot of butter. Add ½ cup of water to the baking dish and roast in a 190 degree Celsius oven for 35-40 minutes, basting the frikkadels once or twice with the pan juices. If it’s cooking dry, add a touch more water. (Note: Gran used to cook them to death for an hour, but that’s not how I roll.) Turn your grill on for the last five minutes to help them brown, but do keep an eye on it so they do not burn.
Remove the frikkadels and cover with tinfoil to keep warm. Add a cup of water to the cooking liquid and turn it into a lush gravy by thickening it with a teaspoon of cornflour and a teaspoon of Bisto dissolved in a tablespoon of cold water. Yes, I know, this is seriously uncool and many a cook would scoff. But this is the way gran made it, and I loved it.
This frikkadel recipe makes 10 x 100g ones. It’s also excellent served with old-fashioned tomato salad. See Tips, Tricks & Trivia below for how.