Tasty Brown Balls

Taste-testing a foundation of Swedish cuisine.

The key to a Swedish meatball, Marie-Christine Alvord explains, is simplicity. "There's only one correct recipe, you know," she says."Yeah, and it's my mother's," retorts Eric DuBois with a laugh.DuBois' catering company, As You Like It, is housed in the Swedish Cultural Center on Dexter Avenue, overlooking Lake Union. Due to its proximity, DuBois finds himself doing a lot of business with the Swedes and other Scandinavian folk who hold events at the members-only Center. In a bid to find the perfect Swedish meatballs, or köttbullar (pronounced shut-boo-lar), he offered $1,000 to whoever brought him the best recipe, a prize package far more generous than you'll get for suggesting the next best-selling drink recipe through Starbucks' new customer idea Web site.Eighty-nine recipes poured in—too many to try, so DuBois began paring them down. The "esoterics," as he calls the concoctions adding ketchup or cornbread mix, "were gently weeded out." The five finalists then prepared their recipes and brought them to a panel of six judges, including Swedish Consul Lars Jonsson, P-I food writer Rebekah Denn, and active members of the Center. The sixth judge, As You Like It chef Pidor Kem, is a Cambodian woman who was raised in a Thai refugee camp after fleeing the Khmer Rouge.It was a tough crowd, with loyalties and opinions of authenticity split along regional lines. Jonsson likes a tender ball. Alvord, who hails from Stockholm, thinks they should be so hard "you have to serve them with a tennis racket." Some like a rich sauce, others think it's a cheap way of covering for a mediocre ball. Flourishes like dill were rejected wholesale by the Swedish judges, despite winning a fan or two from those who couldn't remember the last time we had a Swedish meatball that didn't come from IKEA.After some heated debates over proper sizing, a general agreement that none of the sauces were quite right, and a sudden death round, the top spot was awarded to Brigitta and Gunnar Wallin of Bellevue, who submitted a recipe that originated with Brigitta's mother. (Both Wallins were born in Sweden and grew up eating the delicacy.) Their köttbullar were, in keeping with Alvord's advice, the most basic. In turn, DuBois and Kem will be shipping meatballs made from the Wallins' recipe out by the hundreds for the Skandia Folkdance Society's Midsommarfest at St. Edward Park in Kenmore on June 29.But of course, DuBois was right: No judge thought the meatballs sampled Friday night were as good as the ones their family had been making for generations. "Next time," Jonsson said, "you have to invite us to come and compete."  

 
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