When I was in college I studied in Denmark for a few months. One of the first local dishes I tried there was called “frikadeller”: slightly flattened meatballs, cooked in a skillet until crisp and brown on the top and bottom. They were almost like miniature hamburger patties in shape. They were also meaty, comforting, and lovely on a cold January evening in Scandinavia.
Frikadeller is a classic Danish dish, up there with the likes of aebleskivers and smørrebrød (Denmark’s famous open-faced sandwiches). Danes typically serve frikadeller hot with potatoes and braised red cabbage. Leftovers can be eaten cold and sliced on top of buttered pieces of rich, dark rye bread. While the Danish version is the most popular, varieties of these fried meatball-patties can be found across the globe — from the German frikadellen to the South African frikkadel.
Classic frikadeller contain veal or pork (or a combination of both); common variations include beef or fish. For this recipe, turkey features as the main protein — a lighter, healthier alternative to red meat and a cheaper option than seafood. Egg and panko breadcrumbs hold the meat together while frying, whole milk adds a bit of fat to the lean turkey, and a pinch of ground cloves adds a depth of flavor that sets these apart from the average stovetop meatball. Though they may take a bit of time and effort, the browned, buttery crust that comes from searing them in a hot skillet makes it all worth it.
Turkey Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs)
- 1.5 lbs ground turkey
- 1 onion grated or minced fine
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- Butter and/or oil for frying
Grate or mince the onion.
Place all of the ingredients except the butter/oil in a large bowl.
Mix thoroughly, using a spoon or your hands, for three to five minutes until completely combined into a smooth batter. You can also use a stand mixer on medium speed for about one minute.
Cover the bowl containing the meat mixture with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
Heat butter and/or oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Use enough to cover the bottom of the skillet.
Drop large spoonfuls of the turkey mixture into the preheated skillet. Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon and let cook for 8-10 minutes, until dark brown on one side.
Flip the frikadeller using a spatula and cook for another 8-10 minutes on the other side, or until cooked through. Add butter as needed.
Scoop the frikadeller out of the skillet with a spatula and serve. You may drain them on a paper towel prior to serving if you prefer.
STEP ONE – GRATE OR MINCE THE ONION
Grate the onion into a paste using the coarse holes on a box grater. You can also mince the onion finely using a sharp knife. Be sure to get the pieces as fine as possible — this leads to a better meatball consistency.
STEP TWO – COMBINE INGREDIENTS
Place all of the ingredients except the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on a medium setting until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. (You can also do this step with a spoon — mix in a large bowl until well-incorporated, about 3-5 minutes). The mixture should be moist but not too liquidy.
STEP THREE – REFRIGERATE
Cover the bowl containing the meat mixture with plastic wrap and place it into the refrigerator. Allow the mixture to chill for no less than 15 minutes and no more than 1 hour. Chilling the mixture helps the frikadeller hold together in the pan without having to add excess filler ingredients like flour.
STEP FOUR – HEAT BUTTER
Heat some butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Use enough butter to cover the bottom of the skillet. Adjust the heat so the butter does not burn. You can also use a mixture of vegetable oil and butter, rather than just butter, to keep the fat from burning as quickly.
STEP FIVE – COOK FRIKADELLER
Use a spoon to drop rounded dollops of the meat mixture into the preheated cast iron or nonstick skillet. The dollops should be roughly golf ball sized. Press each one down with the back of the spoon so that they are slightly flattened. Cook on one side for about 8 minutes.
STEP SIX – FLIP FRIKADELLER
Using a spatula or a pair of tongs, flip the frikadeller and cook on the opposite side for the same amount of time, about 8 minutes, or until cooked through all the way. The bottoms should be dark but not burnt. Add more butter/oil to the skillet as needed so the frikadeller brown properly and don’t stick.
STEP SEVEN – SERVE
Scoop the frikadeller out of the skillet using a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs and serve with your preferred accompaniments. You may also choose to drain them on a paper towel to remove excess grease before serving. Leftovers can be refrigerated and served cold, at room temperature, or gently heated in a skillet or in the microwave.
This dish is highly customizable, and there are plenty of spices that would work well as additional flavorings. The meatballs might benefit from a bit of finely minced or powdered garlic, a pinch of dried sage, or some white pepper if you prefer more of a kick.
The classic way to eat frikadeller is piping hot with starchy boiled potatoes and a scoop of tangy red cabbage — a great meal for a wintery evening. In the hot months of summer I usually serve them room-temperature or slightly warm with some dressed greens for a lighter lunch or supper. They would also go well tucked into a soft roll with a spoonful of pan gravy drizzled on top, or perched on a grain salad with a bit of yogurt dill sauce.
How do you plan to eat yours? Let us know in the comments below!