Turkey Meatballs with Apple Butter Gravy (aka Sweet-ish Meatballs)

I’m a fan of food on a stick, so I generally like anything that can be served on a toothpick. That’s how my quest for a great cocktail meatball started. Years ago I played around with several recipes and couldn’t find one that I really liked, so I made up a recipe instead. It’s similar to Swedish meatballs, but with my own twist. When my kids first asked what it was and I said “it’s kinda like Swedish meatballs” they had no idea what Swedish meatballs were and one of them said “sweet-ish meatballs?” That’s what we’ve called them ever since. It’s fitting because it sounds like Swedish but it’s not…and they’re kinda sweet, but not overly so. Whatever you call them they’re yummy—equally good served over buttered noodles for a winter entrée or on toothpicks for an anytime hors d’oeuvre. They can be kept warm in a crockpot or chafing tray for parties too. Whenever you make them and however you serve them, I hope you like them!

Turkey Meatballs with Apple Butter Gravy (aka Sweet-ish Meatballs)

1 lb ground turkey (I use the 93/7 lean plain ground turkey—NOT seasoned, NOT the all white meat—for some reason the packages are usually 1.25 or 1.33 lbs, that’s fine, don’t adjust the recipe)
1 egg
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups plain bread crumbs
All-purpose flour (for coating)
2 cups chicken stock
½ – 1 cup of apple butter (I always use Musselman’s, but your favorite will work)
2 tablespoon butter (more as needed)
2 tablespoons oil (more as needed)

Place egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, pepper, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Mix in the ground turkey (use your hands, it yields a much better texture for the meatballs than stirring with a fork). Add in the bread crumbs (again, hands only). Once combined, form the mixture into meatballs around the size of ping pong balls.

Place a heaping scoop of flour on a plate and season it a little (a few dashes of pepper and salt and a dash of nutmeg will do just fine). Roll each of the meatballs in flour to give them a nice coating. They should look like powdered sugar donut holes when you’re done.

In a large, heavy bottomed frying pan (aim for one that’s the right size to hold all the meatballs in a single layer) melt the butter and oil until they’re bubbly (tilt the pan around to incorporate the butter and oil). Brown the meatballs on all sides.

As you do this you’ll notice that the flour is browning on the bottom of the pan—that’s good—you’re making a roux while you brown the meatballs—this will thicken the sauce as they finish cooking. BE CAREFUL not to burn/scorch the flour. If you see things getting too dark, lower your heat and add a pat of butter or a small amount of oil. (Also, if your meatballs aren’t browned on all sides and the bottom of the pan looks too dry/crusty add a little more butter or oil just to keep things going.) As soon as the meatballs are browned all around add your 2 cups of chicken stock right to the pan (I usually heat the stock in the microwave so it’s warm).

Ideally the meatballs should be about 2/3 submerged in liquid. Cover the frying pan and simmer (it should be bubbling but not a full rolling boil). Stir the meatballs every 5 minutes or so, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. You’ll see that the sauce is thickening as this happens. When the sauce gets to a good gravy consistency (fairly thick and coating all the meatballs), you should be done. This should take anywhere from 35-50 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and how high you had the heat.

Remove the meatballs to a serving bowl and tent with foil to keep warm.

Stir ½ – 1 cup of apple butter into the gravy (I like a lot of apple butter flavor, so I use a cup, if you prefer a less-sweet gravy, use ½ cup—taste as you go to determine your preference). Stir the gravy until heated through then pour it over the meatballs and toss gently to coat.

These can be served immediately or kept warm in a chafing tray. They can be made a day or two ahead and reheated, but the gravy will be much thicker upon reheating.

Let me know if you make them! Enjoy!

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