When I was young my grandmother used to make sweet and sour meatballs. They were occasionally called BBQ meatballs but make no mistake they were exactly the same. The meatballs luxuriated in a sweet and tangy sauce brought to you by the condiment aisle of your local grocery store. A heady concoction of grape jelly, Heinz chili sauce, and sometimes a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce. I think it was a party food hangover from the 70s. And naturally, because they were loaded with sodium and sugar – I loved them. Fast forward to today and my palette is a little less tolerant of copious amounts of sodium and sugar but my heart still wants those meatballs. Today’s Cranberry Marmalade Meatballs are my solution to this conundrum.
These Cranberry Marmalade Meatballs feature simple all-beef meatballs coated in a tangy fresh cranberry sauce spiked with bitter/sweet marmalade. I served mine with my favorite basic mashed potatoes. And don’t worry, I have included the recipe below. My grandmother used to serve her meatballs with buttered brown rice. Both are delicious, so this is a pick-your-poison situation.
The tart from the fresh cranberry and the marmalade’s slight bitterness help temper the sauce’s sweetness. And truly, there is far less sugar in this sauce than there was in the original. I also added a little funkiness to the proceedings by adding fish sauce to balance. If you can’t find fish sauce or you just don’t like it, you can swap it for soy sauce or regular old salt. But I strongly recommend the fish sauce. It really has so much more going on flavor-wise than the other salty ingredients I mentioned.
But enough about what this dish is, let’s make it. We’re going to start with an onion. Just a regular old yellow onion to be precise. Cut it in half and give one half a fine dice. You could also shred the onion using a cheese grater – it’s up to you. Take the remaining half and cut it into half moons. The half moons will go in the sauce, while the fine dice will go in the meatballs. So add the diced onion to 2 pounds of lean or regular ground beef. Don’t bother using extra lean beef here. Ground beef is the main event and if meatballs are short fat they can be horribly dry. So it’s really not worth substituting here.
To the beef and onions, we’re going to add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic and a little grated ginger. Now for the slightly unusual part. Pour some breadcrumbs into a bowl and soak them with a little beef broth. You can do this with any breadcrumb and liquid. Another option would be to tear some stale bread into small bits and soak them in cranberry juice. There are so many potential combos it would be impossible to name them all here. This helps moisten and bind the meatball. It does result in a looser meat mixture, so it may make the meatballs a little trickier to form. But what they lack in structural integrity, they make up for in mouthfeel. If the mixture is giving you too much trouble, try popping it in the fridge for an hour to firm up, then start shaping your meatballs.
Add salt and an egg to the meatball mixture and mix everything together using a pair of clean hands. Mix just long enough to form something cohesive. Try not to over-mix – it will result in tough meatballs. From here, we’re ready to bring heat into the mix. Start by heating roughly a quarter cup of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet. It sounds like a lot of oil but I promise you’ll need it. We have a lot of meatballs to brown and there’s nothing sadder than a stuck and subsequently torn meatball. And further to that point, don’t try to flip the meatballs until they readily release from the pan. Again, there is nothing sadder than a torn meatball.
Once the meatballs are brown on all sides, transfer them to a plate and set them aside. Don’t worry if they are not quite cooked through. They will simmer in the sauce for a bit and I promise that will cook them the rest of the way through.
With the meatballs out of the pan, it’s time to build the sauce. Add the half-moon onions to the pan and sauté until just translucent. Add some ginger and garlic and sauté for a minute more before introducing the cranberries. Pour in the juice of an orange and get to work deglazing the pan. We want to integrate all those glorious browned bits from the meatballs into the sauce. Stir in a little sugar, and fish sauce. Cook until the cranberries begin to split and break down. Once they become jammy, stir in the marmalade.
Once the cranberry sauce is done, pour in a cup of beef stock and reintroduce the meatballs. Leave the meatballs to simmer in the sauce for 15 minutes, rotating them every so often. Spoon the finished meatballs and plenty of sauce over your carb of choice. As I mentioned, I went with mashed potatoes. You can find the recipe below.
And that’s everything you need to know about these Cranberry Marmalade Meatballs. Tart, tangy, sweet, and just a little bitter, these meatballs are a sweet-and-sour delight.
Cranberry Marmalade Meatballs with Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes
- 1 Large Cast Iron Skillet
- 1 citrus reamer
- 1 Large pot
- 1 large steaming basket
- ⅔ cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup beef stock
- 900g (2 lbs) lean or medium ground beef
- ½ yellow onion finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger grated
- 1 egg
- 2½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
Cranberry Marmalade Meatballs
- ½ onion sliced into half-moons
- 1 (1-inch) knob ginger julienned
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 340g (12oz) fresh cranberries
- 1 blood orange **** juiced
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- ¼ cup marmalade heaping
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 batch Meatballs browned, see above
Sour Cream and Chives Mashed Potatoes
- 2 russet potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ⅓ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup fresh chives finely chopped
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp kosher salt
For the Meatballs
- Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl and pour the stock over top. Stir until the breadcrumbs are fully hydrated.⅔ cup Panko breadcrumbs, ⅓ cup beef stock
- Place the beef in a large bowl. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, breadcrumbs, egg, and salt. Using clean hands or a rubber spatula, mix to combine. **900g (2 lbs) lean or medium ground beef, ½ yellow onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp fresh ginger, 1 egg, 2½ tsp kosher salt
- Using a tablespoon as a guide, measure out and form the mixture into meatballs. Pour the olive oil into a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, brown the meatballs on all sides. *** Transfer them to a plate and set them aside.¼ cup olive oil
For the Cranberry Marmalade Meatballs
- Place the onion in the skillet you used to brown the meatballs. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and sauté until just translucent. Stir in the ginger and garlic and sauté for a minute more.½ onion, 1 (1-inch) knob ginger, 3 cloves garlic
- Pour the cranberries into the skillet and add the orange juice, sugar, fish sauce, and marmalade. Simmer until the cranberries start to break down and become jammy.340g (12oz) fresh cranberries, 1 blood orange ****, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 3 tbsp fish sauce, ¼ cup marmalade
- Pour in the beef stock and return the meatballs to the skillet. Simmer for 15 minutes over medium-low, rotating the meatballs every so often. Keep warm until ready to serve.1 cup beef stock, 1 batch Meatballs
For the Mashed Potatoes
- Place the potatoes in a steaming basket and place it over a pot filled halfway with water. Bring the water to a boil and leave the potatoes to steam for 15 minutes or until fork-tender.2 russet potatoes
- Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and add the garlic, sour cream, chives, butter, and salt. Mash until the ingredients are fully integrated and the potatoes are smooth.2 cloves garlic, ⅓ cup sour cream, ¼ cup fresh chives, 2 tbsp butter, 1 tsp kosher salt
- Spoon the mashed potatoes into bowls and ladle in the meatballs along with plenty of sauce. Garnish with additional chives and citrus wheel if desired. Serve immediately.