Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Meat!
By golly I think I’ve got it. Finally, a meatball recipe that suits my taste perfectly – in texture and flavour. And to think, it all began innocently with me buying a packet of beef patties with no thoughts of meatballs.
I’ve always liked the idea of meatballs but never really warmed to them because each time I’d go somewhere and be served meatballs, I found that in order for them to have any taste, I’d have to lavishly douse them in their accompanying sauce. And rather than compliment, the sauce would overpower the meatball. I wanted to taste the meatball itself and savour the flavour. The other thing was that the meatballs I had always had generally seemed dry, never tender or moist, except those served in a braised sauce such as meatballs in tomato sauce. Given that I am the kind of person that likes sauce served judiciously, meatballs cooked in sauce is not my first choice when it comes to eating meatballs. My first choice always is the meatball by itself and then, as an option, a little sauce on the side that compliments. I firmly believe that the meatball should be able to stand alone and not have to rely on an accompaniment to make it shine through.
Like I said at the beginning, I did not set out to make meatballs. The packet of beef patties was just so fresh and enticing; I picked up a packet not quite knowing what I was going to do with it. No, not throw them in my grill pan to make burgers. I just thought it would come in handy to make something and indeed it did! I had no high hopes for these meatballs. The last set of meatballs I made two years ago with a recipe from the New York Times, read so well on paper, but proved to be anything but in the final product. Armed with just my instincts and a little know-how (no recipe), a few meatball making tips I had read about and seen over the years, I embarked on making meatballs.
Tip # 1 – Meat to fat ratio. You don’t want to work with all-lean meat. There must be some fat to give moisture and self-baste the meatball. My meat had an 80:20 ratio – 80 percent meat, 20 percent fat.
Tip # 2 – Use fresh breadcrumbs and only the white part of the bread. This provides tenderness. However, I know that breadcrumbs are highly absorbent and as such, when added just as is, they can absorb all the moisture. So, what I did was to soak my breadcrumbs with just enough milk so that once absorbed and added to the mixture, it could be incorporated evenly throughout the meatball mixture.
Tip # 3 – Mix lightly with your fingers and preferably only once. Do no squish, squeeze or overwork the mixture. The more the mixture is worked, the tougher the meatball will become. The more you squeeze the more compact it will become when cooked, void of the moisture needed for tenderness.
The other thing about mixing is to add all the ingredients to the bowl and then mix everything together. In other words, don’t mix the meat with the breadcrumbs first, and then add the aromatics and mix. Put the meat in the bowl along with all the other ingredients and mix one time.
Tip # 4 – When rolling the mixture into balls, do so gently, you do not want to press down on the meat and make it too compact.
Tip # 5 – Always make a little meat ball first, fry it and taste it for seasoning (salt and pepper), if it suits your taste, then go ahead and start making the rest of the mixture into balls and cooking them. If when you taste the little meatball and it needs more salt and or pepper, add to the mixture, mix lightly and continue to form into balls to be cooked.
I used all-beef for my meatballs and for aromatics, I added onions, one whole head of roasted garlic, a mixture of fresh chopped herbs, eggs, and a little bit of ground all spice. The meatballs were pan-fried. When the meatballs emerged all moist, tender and flavourful, my taster and I went to town on them. We ate them just as is and then later with the pumpkin rice pilaf I made. They were so good, that is why I wanted to share them with you.
Have a go at my meatball recipe and let me know what you think.
Yield: 20 medium balls
(10 large, 40 small)
1 + ¾ pounds minced beef (80:20 ratio)
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs or fresh white breadcrumbs), sodden with milk
4 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (thyme, basil, mint, cilantro, tarragon)
1 head roasted garlic pulp
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ cup minced onions
2 eggs, room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for shallow frying
1 large bowl
1 large baking sheet/pan, lightly oiled
1 shallow frying pan
1 slotted spoon
1 large plate
1. Add all the ingredients to large bowl and mix lightly and gently with your fingers until incorporated
2. Heat oil in pan over medium heat (the oil should be no more than ¼-inch deep in the pan)
3. Take about 2 teaspoons full of mixture and form into ball. Fry ball and taste for seasoning. Adjust if necessary, if not form mixture into balls, rolling lightly between your hands. Assemble on oiled baking sheet
4. Fry in batches turning meatballs on both sides and side ways if possible. Total cooking time 5 – 6 minutes
5. Serve as is or with an accompanying sauce of your choice
● The meat to fat ratio should be 80- percent meat, 20 percent fat
● A combination of meats can be used