This recipe is everything you love about French onion soup but with meatballs! Creamy caramelized onion gravy surrounds tender elk meatballs, topped on a piece of cheesy sourdough toast. What's not to love?
Why This Recipe Works:
This recipe uses classic French onion soup flavors: caramelized onions, thyme, sherry, homemade stock, gruyere cheese, and more. The gravy is like a thickened version of the classic soup and is packed with flavor. The elk meatballs have a hint of French onion soup flavor with thyme and gruyere cheese.
The meatballs come together with the gravy as a delicious topper for toasted sourdough with gooey melted gruyere cheese. It's a fantastic wild game twist on a classic recipe!
- Ground Elk: Any ground meat will work in place of the elk. Venison, moose, antelope, beef, turkey, etc. will all work!
- Sourdough Bread: If you don't have sourdough, you can use any bread that will hold up to melted cheese and gravy like a baguette or other rustic loaf.
- Gruyere Cheese: Several cheese alternatives can be used in place of the gruyere. Jarslberg, emmentaler, gouda, or regular old Swiss cheese will work.
- Cast Iron Skillet: Cast iron pans work great for caramelizing onions because they evenly distribute the heat well. This recipe calls for a deep 12" cast iron skillet to hold all of the meatballs and gravy. You can also use a regular deep skillet for this recipe.
Step by Step Instructions:
How To Make Elk Meatballs:
These elk meatballs are so tender and flavorful. The mixture of milk and breadcrumbs provides moisture to the meatballs and keeps them tender. The fresh herbs, shallots, and gruyere cheese give them their delicious flavor. Follow the simple instructions below!
Pro Tip: If your meatball mixture is too sticky to handle, stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling it into meatballs.
How to Make Caramelized Onion Gravy:
This caramelized onion gravy is like a thickened version of French onion soup. It's packed with caramelized onion flavor and delicious homemade wild game stock. It does take some time to caramelize the onions, but it is so worth the effort!
Pro Tip: Cutting the onions from root to tip (instead of slicing) helps keep the fibers of the onion intact when you caramelize them. Sliced onions can turn into mush after long cooking times.
Putting it All Together:
Once you have your meatballs and caramelized onion gravy, all that's left to do is broil some cheesy bread and eat! You can serve the meatballs on top of the bread or serve the bread on the side for dipping. The flavors in this dish are quite rich so something light like a simple green salad with homemade honey mustard dressing pairs well with this meal. Enjoy!
What do you put in meatballs so they don't fall apart?
A combination of egg, milk, and breadcrumbs forms a "glue" that helps bind the meat and other ingredients and keeps meatballs from falling apart.
Moisture from a mixture of breadcrumbs and milk helps keep meatballs tender. Handling the meat mixture gently and not over-mixing can also help keep the meatballs tender.
Baking meatballs results in more uniform cooking than pan-frying them. It also helps ensure your meatballs don't fall apart while they're cooking because you don't have to move them around as much.
Other Recipes to Try:
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Elk French Onion Meatballs
- 1 lb ground elk (or venison, moose, antelope, etc.)
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- ½ cup Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1.5 oz)
- ¼ cup shallots, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper
Caramelized Onion Gravy:
- 3 yellow onions, cut into ½" strips, root to tip (julienned)
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- ½ cup dry sherry
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups stock (wild game, beef, etc.)
- ¼ cup half and half
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 12 small slices of sourdough bread
- 3 cups Gruyere cheese, grated (about 9 oz)
- ¾ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped (optional, for serving)
Caramelized Onion Gravy:
- Heat cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Melt butter and swirl to coat the pan.
- Add onions, garlic, and thyme to pan. Stir to coat in butter. Cook for approximately 1 hour, stirring every 3-5 minutes or until onions are soft and golden brown. Keep a close eye on them or they will burn.
- Add sherry to the pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer until onions have absorbed most of the liquid, about 10 minutes.
- Add in 1 tablespoon butter and let the butter melt into the onions. Sprinkle flour over onions. Stir to coat. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until bubbly and browned.
- Add stock and half and half. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until thickened. Taste and add salt and pepper.
- While onions are caramelizing, make meatballs.
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- To a medium bowl add egg, milk, bread crumbs, and olive oil. Mix together with a whisk. Let mixture sit while you prepare other ingredients (shallots, garlic, parsley, etc.), about 5 minutes.
- Add remaining meatball ingredients. Mix together with your hands until well combined.
- Roll mixture into 24 meatballs, about 2 tablespoons each. Place on parchment paper-lined pan, evenly spaced. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165°F.
- Once gravy is thickened and meatballs are baked, place the meatballs into the pan with the gravy. Spoon the gravy over the meatballs and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
- Preheat broiler to low. Top each bread slice with approximately ¼ cup grated cheese. Broil for 3-4 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and bread is lightly toasted.
- Top each slice of bread with 2 meatballs. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired. Serve and enjoy!
- Cutting the onions from root to tip (instead of slicing) helps keep the fibers of the onion intact when you caramelize them. Sliced onions can turn into mush after long cooking times.
- If your meatball mixture is too sticky to handle, stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling it into meatballs.
- Any ground meat will work in place of the elk. Venison, moose, antelope, beef, turkey, etc. will all work!
- If you don't have sourdough, you can use any bread that will hold up to melted cheese and gravy like a baguette or other rustic loaf.
- Several cheese alternatives can be used in place of the gruyere. Jarslberg, emmentaler, gouda, or regular old Swiss cheese will work.