Swedish meatballs, using jackrabbit or venison

My kids favorite meal is Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy. I cannot blame them as it is one of my own favorites. It is one of those great dishes that you can freeze and thaw later. Just give it a quick fry on the stove and it will be as good as freshly made.

Through the year I make the meatballs different. The Christmas type meatballs traditionally is made with different seasoning than meatballs I would make in Easter or in the summer. The meat choice plays a part too. Beef works but I tend to avoid it if I have moose, deer or jackrabbit meat at home. Depending on type of meat you would also make them slightly different.

Meatballs are excellent to experiment with. Once you have made mixed the meat I recommend splitting it and trying out smaller batches with some common Swedish spices for meatballs like: juniper berries, allspice, caraway seeds, a little bit of brown sugar or 1 tbsp of brandy. After trying these out you will find your version of meatballs - make it your own tradition and enjoy at Christmas, Holidays or when the kids are just starving for a treat.

My traditional 1-day-after-elk-season rabbit hunt, which after 1 hour had given me jackrabbit for Swedish meatballs and some cottontail rabbits that are still waiting in the freezer. After vacuum packing the rabbits they aged for 40°C day grades (which in my fridge equals roughly about 10 days).


The past weekend I made Jackrabbit Swedish Meatballs. The result was amazing!

I used 3 jackrabbit saddles, aged for 40°C day grades. The rabbit was mixed with 10% pork. This gave me close to 2 lbs worth of meat - plenty for making meatballs.

Swedish Meatballs (venison or jackrabbit)


  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) ground jackrabbit

  • 100g (3.5 oz) ground pork fat or pork

  • 2 eggs

  • 1.5 dl ( ~ 3/4 cup) breadcrumbs (alternatively quick oats)

  • 1.5 dl ( ~ 3/4 cup) meat broth for the breadcrumb mixture

  • ½ tsp salt (optional - depends on the saltiness of the broth)

  • ½ tsp ground black peppar

  • 1 tbsp thyme

  • 2-3 liter (2-3 quarts) of meat broth in a pot.


  • Use Italian breadcrumbs instead of plain breadcrumbs for more flavoring.

  • Use milk or cream instead of broth

  • Add 1 tsp ground allspice - this is common for the Christmas version of meatballs.

  • 2 juniper berries. Slightly crushed. Mix the juniper with the broth that will be used for the breadcrumbs.

  • ½ tsp ground white pepper.

  • 1 tbsp course mustard to mix with the meat.

  • ½ yellow onion very finely chopped and fried until soft and golden but not browned. To be mixed in with the meat.

  • 1 garlic clove: press it and fry it together with the onion.

3 jackrabbit saddles. Remove the silver skin with a sharp knife and grind the meat.

The leftover bones can be used to create an excellent broth that will be used later. Start with meat broth with extra amounts of water, cook the bones for 1 hour at least and let the broth reduce until the flavor is prominent.


  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) ground venison

  • 2 eggs

  • 1.5 dl ( ~ 3/4 cup) breadcrumbs (alternatively quick oats)

  • 1.5 dl ( ~ 3/4 cup) broth

  • ½ tsp salt (optional - depends on the saltiness of the broth)

  • ½ tsp ground black peppar

  • 1 tbsp thyme

  • 2 – 3 liter (2-3 quarts) of meat broth in a pot.

Making meatballs

  • Grind the spices in a mortar. Mix the spices and the breadcrumbs. Add the broth (or milk/cream). Let sit for 15-20 minutes to thicken up and to remove the "bread" flavor. The mix should have thickened up substantially before you add it to the meat.

  • Mix the eggs (the optional salt) and the meat well. Add and mix the bread-broth mixture with the meat. Continue to mix for several minutes until the meat starts to form a sticky film on the sides of your mixing bowl. Let it stand in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

  • In the meantime: Fry a test meatball to see that the spicing is as you want it. Adjust as needed.

  • Bring the pot with the broth to a boil. It should be more than simmer but not a roaring boil. Set the oven to 350°F.

  • Have a bowl on the side with ice cold water. Adding a few ice cubes to it is a good idea. Wet you hands with the ice-cold water. Shape the meatballs with your hands, about ¾” - 1” big.

  • Technically all you have to do is to shape the meatballs and then fry them in the pan until done. OR Alternatively, shape them with wet hands and bake in the oven at 375F for 15 minutes. Please ignore the broth and oven stage described below if you do this. I have found that dropping them into boiling broth will keep the meatballs together more easily and make them juicy.

  • Drop the meatballs into the boiling broth. Do not add too many. When making meatballs you make a few at a time. When they float up remove them from the broth with a slotted spoon. Let them drain for a minute before you put them in a well oiled, hot, frying pan.

  • Brown the meatballs, moving them so they get to color all around. It should take 3-4 minutes.

  • Once all the meatballs are browned move them to an oven form. Bake them in the 350°F heated oven for 10-15 minutes. This will ensure that they are all cooked through and makes it easy to serve them at once. As they are baking you can prepare the gravy.

Dip your hands in the ice water to get them wet and colder. With the wet hands form the meatballs. They should be fairly small - say 1" in diameter.


Make a roux with flour in the frying pan and the remaining grease. Stir the roux over medium heat until it has changed color. It should turn golden brown. Add some of the beef stock to the frying pan and dissolve the roux. Pour the mix back into the broth pot. Simmer it on medium heat.

If you need to thicken up the gravy use some potato starch or potato flour. I am a big fan of using potato starch as this nicely thickens up the gravy without affecting the flavor. An alternative to potato starch is to make more roux.

Great options to add a little more character to the gravy are to add some Worcestershire sauce, a tbsp of soy, and a little bit of yellow mustard.

Adjust the gravy until you have the consistency and flavor that you want. If you need more saltiness then add a tsp of soy.

What if?

Mistakes do happen - this is how you deal with the most common metballs mistakes

Mistakes happen. Thankfully mistakes when making meatballs can easily be remedied. Below you will find some common mistakes and how to correct them.

  • The meat is too finely ground, or too wet after adding the broth-bread mixture, so that the meatballs are hard to shape.
    Add flour to a plate. Put enough meat for a meatball in the flour. Cover the meat with flour. Pick it up and brush off the flour. It should now have enough coating to be shaped into a ball. It does not have to be perfect. When you drop it into the boiling broth the ball with quickly form.

  • The test meatball taste too gamey?
    Try adding a tablespoon of heavy cream to the meatballs. You can carefully add more but continue to make more test meatballs until you are happy. Too much cream can make the mixed meat too liquid (see fix 1. above)
    Also: Remember to take better care next time you process the animal. Gamey taste is the fault of the hunter or the one who processed the meat.

  • The meatballs fall apart too easily.
    Depending on the meat this can happen. Pork, venison, rabbit and moose all differ in how moist the raw meat is and how it stays together. After some practice you will get a feel for how the consistency of the mixed meat should be. Here are some advice in the meantime:
    Fix 1: Try next time to decrease the breadcrumb/broth mix or even skip breadcrumbs altogether.
    Fix 2: Adding some potato flour or potato starch to the mix will bind it without affecting the flavor.
    Fix 3: Cook them only in the oven. Once they have color turn them gently with a spoon once. Once the other side have color too it should be ready. Estimated time in 350F is 20+ minutes. Try one meatball and make sure it is cooked through.

  • The meatballs are too dry:
    Fix 1:
    This is usually related to 3. above. Adding some bread/liquid (broth, cream, milk) to the mixed meat will help.
    Fix 2: Add some ground pork or pork fat to it. Be careful to not add too much. The pork can easily overpower the gentle flavor of moose, venison and jackrabbit.