Königsberger Klopse from Germany

A lot of what I know about German food I learned in cafeterias. That might sound scary to some people, but mostly the food was pretty good, especially once you knew what to order.

Germans, like lots of other Europeans, still generally have their largest meal at midday, rather than in the evening. That means that universities and work places often have cafeterias that provide a range of hot meals at a pretty decent price.

I first ate Koenigsberger Klopse at the student cafeteria at the University of Hamburg, after I'd been living in Germany for about six months. After a morning of German classes I would meet my friends there for lunch, before we headed to the library to study. I was nervous that the people working at the cafeteria would ask me for a student ID or somehow figure out that I still couldn't speak German well enough to even pronounce "Koenigsberger Klopse." But somehow I blended right in and a few euros later I had a big plate of boiled potatoes and meatballs covered in this silky sauce with lemon notes and bursts of salty capers.

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Koenigsberger Klopse is not a pretty dish! Usually the sauce is a whiter than mine turned out, but I used a vegetable broth that was quite orange. I made my meatballs with a mix of ground beef and ground pork. The two meats are often mixed for preparations like this and the Germans I've asked about it have told me they think it makes a more flavorful meatball. The interesting thing about this recipe is that the meatballs are not browned in the pan but poached in the broth instead.

The name of this dish would indicate that it's from Königsberg, now known as Kaliningrad and part of Russia but once the capital of East Prussia. This author says her recipe is based on one her grandmother, who was born near Königsberg, used to make. But other sources seem less sure about the history of the dish.

There are hundreds of recipes for the dish online and many of them include ground veal and anchovies, which I'm sure would make some tasty meatballs. I used a recipe from a very fancy cookbook I have called German Cooking Today and put out by the Dr. Oetker brand. Dr. Oetker is the Betty Crocker of Germany (I highly recommend the Dr. Oetker brownie mix for a lazy treat) and this cookbook covers most of the German classics. It describes Königsberger Klopse as a "good value."

Königsberger Klopse
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 stale bread roll (or chunk of baguette)
1 onion
1/2 pound ground beed
1/2 pound ground pork
2 eggs
2 teaspoons mustard
3 1/2 cups stock (Dr. Oetker calls for vegetable stock, but I think you could use chicken or beef)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
4 teaspoons milk
3 tablespoons capers, drained
lemon juice
salt and pepper

Soak your piece of bread in cold water for about 10 minutes. While the bread softens, peel and chop your onion. I was lazy when I made these, but the smaller your onion pieces the better.

Put the ground meat into a large bowl with the chopped onion, one of the eggs and the mustard. Squeeze out the water from the bread and tear into pieces into the bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper and use your hands to mix everything together. Again, when I made these I didn't salt them enough. I recommend cooking up a little bit of your meat mixture in the frying pan to see if it tastes good.

Put your stock into a large pot and turn the heat up. While the stock comes to a boil, form the meat into 10 meatballs. Then add each meatball to the stock and simmer uncovered over low to medium heat for 15 minutes.

A few minutes before the meatballs are done start the sauce. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the flour and whisk it into a yellow paste. Letting it cook for a minute or two will keep your sauce from tasting flour-y. Keep the heat low. Strain 2 1/4 cups of the hot stock from the pot into your pan, whisking the whole time until there are no lumps.

Bring the sauce to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Mix the egg into the milk and then turn off the heat and move the pan off the burner. Whisk the sauce steadily while very slowly adding the milk and egg mixture. Add the capers along with some of the salty liquid from the jar, as well as some salt, pepper and lemon juice. Taste the sauce and see if it needs more flavor.

Move the meatballs from the pot to the frying pan and roll them around a bit so they get nice and covered in the sauce. Then serve with boiled potatoes or rice. Dr. Oetker suggests pickled beetroot as a vegetable accompaniment.