Who doesn’t love meatballs? They’re easy to eat, fun to make and come in endless variation. Hell, there have been whole restaurants and cookbooks dedicated to the humble meatball.
Königsberger klopse is a classic German recipe that uses several ingredients I don’t normally associate with German food: capers, anchovies and lemon zest. I found the recipe in Mimi Sheraton’s classic, The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking, which is to German food what Joy of Cooking is to traditional American food.
Apparently this is a very common recipe in Germany. East Prussia, to be exact, where Königsberg once stood. The city was leveled in World War II. Afterwards, when the Russians took East Prussia, they renamed the city Kaliningrad.
Historically, these meatballs are made from veal or pork. I made them twice: First with wild boar, given to me by a friend, and again using ground bear, sent to me by my father, whose friend in upstate New York wanted to see what I could do with bear meat.
I also initially used bread soaked in milk and torn to pieces, as the original recipe does. But I didn’t care for the texture, so in the bear batch I went with breadcrumbs instead. Much better.
Pronounced something like ker-nigs-burger klop-seh, these meatballs are a little unusual. For starters, they are not browned. You cook them in broth, very gently, and then use that broth to make a roux-thickened sauce studded with capers. Sour cream and parsley is mixed in at the end.
I have no idea how capers and anchovies turned up in a German dish, but it sure is good.
German Meatballs, Königsberger Klopse
This is a super comforting, mellow dish that has just enough zing in it from the capers, anchovies, lemon zest and sour cream to keep everything interesting. I’ve made this twice now, once with wild boar and once with ground bear meat, and both times it was good. If you are not a hunter, your first choice should be ground veal — if you can find humanely raised veal — your second choice should be ground pork.
Some old recipes for königsberger klopse just say to simmer the meatballs in salted water, but I prefer to use stock or broth. I used duck broth here, but beef or veggie broth would also be good. A tip: Do not let the meatballs simmer at all. Just get the broth to a simmer, carefully drop in the meatballs, cover the pot and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. The meatballs will cook gently, will not fall apart and will remain tender.
Serve these with boiled or mashed potatoes or a good German bread.
Serves 4 to 6.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
- 1 cup minced onion
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 pounds ground boar, bear, veal or pork
- 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 teaspoons anchovy paste or 5 anchovies, mashed
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Zest of a lemon
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1 quart duck, beef or veggie broth
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons parsley
- 2-4 tablespoons sour cream
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat the 2 tablespoons butter in a small frying pan and cook the cup of onions over medium heat until they are soft. Do not brown them. Sprinkle a little salt over the onions as they cook. When they are translucent and soft, remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
- Once the onions are cool, mix all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl. Form into small meatballs with a teaspoon. You can make them bigger, but a heaping teaspoon makes a nice size.
- Heat the broth in pot large enough to fit all your meatballs. A wide, deep saute pan with a lid is a good choice. Once the broth is simmering, turn the heat down to as low as it will go and add the meatballs carefully. If they’re not all submerged in the broth it will be OK. Cover the pot and let the meatballs cook gently for 25 minutes. Carefully remove them and set them aside.
- Pour out the broth and save it. Wipe the pan with a paper towel and set it back on the heat. Add the 3 tablespoons butter and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook the onions until they’re translucent. Don’t brown them. Add the flour and mix well. Cook this over medium heat, stirring often, until everything is the color or coffee-with-cream. Add the hot broth a little at a time, stirring constantly. Keep adding it until you have a sauce the consistency of thin gravy — not as thick as Thanksgiving gravy, not thin like soup. You probably will not need the whole quart.
- Return the meatballs to the sauce and add the capers. Heat through on low heat, then add the parsley.
- Serve with the sour cream at the table. Have people mix it in when they eat. This will prevent the cream from curdling and will let people make the dish as creamy as they want. Grind black pepper over everything and eat!