Métis Boulettes: A nourishing meatball soup perfect for this time of year
Chef David Wolfman and Marlene Finn's recipe and story behind this Métis New Year's Day tradition
We were instantly drawn to Chef David Wolfman and Marlene Finn’s new cookbook Cooking with the Wolfman: Indigenous Fusion, which blends modern elements with Indigenous cuisine. This traditional Métis meatball soup is no different. Enjoyed during Métis New Year’s Day celebrations, it’s sure to become an instant favourite in your family as well throughout the cold winter months.
By David Wolfman and Marlene Finn
Marlene’s grandparents used to enjoy this soup on New Year’s Day back in the 1930s and ’40s, when it was customary for Métis to hold open houses so that friends and relatives could just drop in to wish a happy new year. In the Métis tradition, the young would bend down on one knee before their male elders, bow their heads and ask for a blessing. Marlene’s grandpa went to get his father’s blessing on New Year’s Day each year, even as an adult, but that Métis tradition is long gone now.
The Métis living on the outskirts of Saskatoon didn’t often have much food in those days, so their soups were very simple, even on special occasions. They used whatever meat they could get, and beef was the most common after the buffalo were nearly wiped out. Marlene’s grandmother kept this traditional Métis soup hot in a chodro (cauldron) that was set inside the back burner (hole) in the top of her black woodstove. The word boulettes is French and refers to the meatballs in the soup. To this day my mother-in-law, Marge, doesn’t know which words are French and which are Cree when she says things in the Michif language of her childhood.
Although Métis normally used water to make this soup, you could definitely use Brown Stock instead, and I recommend some rosemary for the meatballs and a bay leaf for the broth. Our niece Jenna Johnson made this and her 18-month-old baby got both hands in the bowl to enjoy every last drop!
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- ½ cup small-diced onion
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1½ tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary (optional)
- 12 cups water, divided (or combination of water and Brown Stock; see recipe below)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chopped peeled potatoes
- 1 dried bay leaf (optional)
- Salt and pepper for seasoning at end
Brown Stock (for 16 cups worth):
- 6.6 lbs bones
- 2 cups large-diced onion
- 1 cup large-diced carrot
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 gallons cold water, plus extra if needed
- 5 crushed juniper berries
- 3 sprigs fresh parsley stems
- 2 dried or 4 fresh bay leaves
- ½ tsp crushed black peppercorns
- ½ tsp dried rosemary
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 1 cup large-diced celery
For Brown Stock:
Preheat oven to 400F (205C). Spread bones out on a roasting pan. Roast in oven for one hour. Turn bones over and continue roasting for 30 minutes. Drain off some of the excess oil from the pan (and discard), add the onion and carrot to the bones and continue roasting for another 30 to 45 minutes. Stir the bone and vegetable mixture. Brush bones with tomato paste using a pastry brush. Place the pan back in the oven. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns brown.
Place the bones, onion and carrot in a large stockpot, discarding excess oil. Place the hot roasting pan on the stovetop over one or two burners. Turn heat to medium and add just enough cold water to cover the bottom of the pan. Scrape off any ingredients stuck on the pan. Then pour the watery mixture into the stockpot. Fill the pot with the remaining cold water and bring to a simmer. As it simmers, remove impurities (scum) with a skimmer.
Prepare a spice bag (or a metal loose tea infuser) using the juniper berries, parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns, rosemary and thyme, and add to the pot. Add the celery and bring the mixture back to a slow simmer. Turn down the heat to very low and let the stock simmer uncovered for at least four hours, simmering so slowly that only the occasional bubble rises to the surface. If you want very flavourful stock, add more cold water to raise the level to the top of the pot, and let it continue to simmer an additional six hours.
Line a mesh strainer with a wet cheesecloth or coffee filter and place over a large pot. Slowly strain the stock into the new pot, avoiding the gritty parts at the very bottom. Then place the newly filled pot into a sink of ice water to chill before refrigerating or freezing for later use. You can refrigerate this stock for up to three days or store it frozen for up to two months.
Note: If you use all poultry bones to make Brown Stock, then reduce the cooking time by half because the bones are smaller and will cook more quickly than beef or large game bones.
Mix beef, onion, pepper, half the salt and the optional rosemary (if using) in a bowl. Add up to ¼ cup (60 mL) water—just enough to get the meat to hold together — and mix well. Divide mixture into thirds, then divide each third in two, and then divide those in two to get 12 evenly sized meatballs.
Boil 9 cups of the water/Brown Stock in a stockpot. Dust meatballs in flour, shaking off excess. Drop them into the pot of hot water. Simmer for 40 minutes over medium-low heat with a lid partially on. Add potatoes, the rest of the salt and water and the bay leaf (if using). Raise the temperature so that the soup returns to the boiling point, and then lower heat again and simmer the potatoes for 20 minutes or until they are soft.
Salt and pepper the soup to taste. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
Excerpted from Cooking with the Wolfman: Indigenous Fusion by David Wolfman and Marlene Finn. Copyright © 2017 David Wolfman and Marlene Finn. Published by Douglas and McIntyre Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.