'Hazel Hen' Meatballs: A Holiday Tradition | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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‘Hazel Hen’ Meatballs: A Holiday Tradition 

Published December 21, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. | Updated December 21, 2021 at 3:35 p.m.

click to enlarge ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • Andy Brumbaugh
Hazel hen balls are an integral part of our family’s Christmas Smörgåsbord. The hazel hen is a small wild grouse found in northern Europe, but the first thing to know about my family’s recipe is that it doesn’t actually use hazel hen. The second thing to know? It’s not exactly a traditional dish; the only reference to it I have ever found is in an obscure Swedish cookbook my father got from his Swedish mother.

The first time my father made them, with a mixture of pork and turkey to stand in for the absent hazel hen, my sister joyfully dubbed them “porky turkey balls,” a nickname that stuck, much to my father’s dismay.

These meatballs differ from their more popular cousin — the “Swedish” meatball — in that they’re spiced with ground juniper berries, and served with a cream sauce that has just a tiny bit of gin or vermouth in it, to play on the juniper flavor. Our hazel hen balls are small, like the traditional Swedish meatball, but they are oblong instead of round. They are simple to put together, and they also freeze extremely well, so you can easily make them ahead of time.

When served as part of the Smörgåsbord, they are just part of the growing pile of food on a plate — but they make a delicious dinner with noodles just on their own. Consider going beyond the standard, and try something new this holiday season (or anytime really!) and enjoy some hazel hen meatballs. Minus the hazel hen.
click to enlarge ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • Andy Brumbaugh

‘Hazel hen’ Meatballs

Makes about 80 small meatballs


  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups fine breadcrumbs
  • ½ teaspoon ground juniper berries
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • water to cover the meatballs after broiling

For the sauce

  • 1 ½ cups cream or evaporated milk
  • 2 cups water reserved from cooking meatballs
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground juniper berries (You can find juniper berries from Penzey’s Spices online if you can’t find them locally.)
  • ¼ cup gin or dry vermouth
  • 2 teaspoons ground pepper


  1. Mix ingredients for meatballs together thoroughly by hand, being careful not to overmix them, as they could get tough.

  2. Shape into oblong balls about the size of a walnut, but skinnier (about 1 ½” x 1”).

  3. Preheat the broiler, and put the meatballs on racks on top of rimmed baking pans. You may need more than one pan.

  4. Broil about 5 minutes, or until browned, then carefully flip the meatballs over with a pair of tongs and broil on the other side for an additional 5 minutes or so.

  5. Remove the meatballs from the broiler pan and place in a large saucepan or small stock pot. Rinse the broiler pan with about ½ cup of water and put the water plus any pan drippings in the pot with the meatballs.

  6. Repeat the broiling step with any additional pans.

  7. Once all meatballs are in the pot, add enough water to just cover them, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.

  8. When the meatballs are cooked through, remove 2 cups of liquid from the pot and mix together with the cream or evaporated milk. Whisk in the flour until thoroughly incorporated.

  9. Whisking constantly, heat the milk/water/flour mixture together in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add the spices and the gin or vermouth. Stir until thickened.

  10. Drain the meatballs from any remaining broth and serve with the gravy.
* Note: If you are making these ahead of time, freeze the drained meatballs on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, then transfer them to freezer bags once they are completely frozen. You can freeze the pan dripping/water/broth separately to make the gravy when you are ready to serve them. They will keep, frozen, for at least 4 months.
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