Dutch food: meatballs

The cornerstones of the old-fashioned, traditional Dutch meal are cooked potatoes, jus (pan gravy), a piece of meat and cooked vegetables. For potatoes, the (slightly) floury ones are the best, because of the practice of “prakken”. There is no good translation for this word, since it is a typical Dutch activity, in which potatoes are crushed and mashed with your fork on your plate together with the jus to make a coarse or smooth purée (depending on preferences). Some people also add in the vegetables, or “prak” everything on their plate (so also the meat, and sometimes even some apple sauce). This is definitely an at-home behaviour, it is seen as not done to do it in public/in restaurants, and often people are incredibly specific about how to make their “prakje”. The jus is made by adding a bit of water to the pan in which the meat was cooked, but sometimes a jus cube or jus granules are used. The meat can be a lot of things, luxury things like steak or pork chops, but also less expensive things made with mince. One of those is the large meatball, for which I give the recipe below. The veggie can also be anything, for example carrots, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, etc.

I must say that I’m not a big fan of the traditional “prakje” plate, but I do like meatballs, and you can serve them perfectly well with mashed potatoes or fried potatoes, and a nice salad. Do remember to add a dollop of mustard on your plate to dip the meatball in, which is the tradition in my family. My recipe is non-traditional in the sense that I only add a small amount of dried breadcrumbs, and no egg or bread soaked in milk. Adding those things is a practice from poorer times, when meat was expensive and there were many mouths to feed, so it was a good thing to stretch a small amount of meat further. But I think it messes up the flavour and the texture, I rather have the meat pure and eat a day vegetarian to compensate (for sustainability reasons). It is also important to start with the mince cold, and not knead it to much, otherwise the fat will melt, which messes up the texture as well.

Meatballs

Meatballs (serves 4)
500 g mince (either beef or half beef half pork)
1 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp mace (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp majoram
50 g butter

Mix mince, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, mace and majoram in a bowl, only knead until mixed and not more. Divide in 4, form a ball from each piece. Make sure to roll them quite tight, to prevent them from falling apart when baking. Melt the butter in a pan, place the balls in it, and carefully turn them over when the bottom has browned. Repeat until most of the outside is brown. Don’t worry if your balls are not perfectly round any more after this, keeping them round is a fine art (that I don’t master). Add a splash of water to the pan, place a lid on top and turn down the heat. Braise about 25 minutes, then take the balls from the pan. To make a jus, add another splash of water to the pan (if necessary) and stir to dissolve all the sticky bits. Serve the balls with a potato dish and vegetables of your choice, and a dollop of mustard.

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