How to make meatballs
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Meatballs are easy to make, versatile and a great all-round crowd-pleaser. Here, we show you how to make them.
They’re perfect in homemade tomato sauce, served with spaghetti, rice, mashed potatoes, polenta or a nice chunk of crusty bread. They’re easy to freeze, too – why not whip up a double batch and pop the leftovers in the freezer, ready to add straight to the pan for a quick weeknight dinner?
Meatballs are at their best when you use a mixture of meat, such as beef or veal and pork, to really maximise the flavour and texture. Combine with breadcrumbs, egg yolk and your preferred herbs and spices and you’ll have the makings of a nutritious, firm family favourite.
These meatballs with a sweet, chilli-spiked tomato sauce serve four people. Get your shopping list here, then follow the simple steps below. A little tip to make your life much easier; wet your hands before you start rolling your meatballs to stop the meat sticking to them.
HOW TO MAKE MEGA MEATBALLS EVERY TIME
- To make the tomato sauce, peel and finely chop 1 small onion. Place in a pan over a low heat with a splash of olive oil, cover and cook until really soft. Increase the heat, bash and add 1 small fresh chilli, then pour in 1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes and 1 wineglass of water
- Season lightly and cook gently for 30 minutes, then break up the tomatoes
- Whiz 2 stale slices of bread (crusts removed) in a food processor. Place in a large bowl with 250g each of quality minced beef or veal and higher-welfare minced pork. Separate and add 1 egg yolk
- Finely chop and add the leaves from 1 sprig of fresh rosemary and a few fresh sage leaves. Finely grate in the lemon zest and ½ teaspoon of fresh nutmeg, then scrunch and mix with wet hands
- Season and shape into little balls – roughly the size of gobstoppers
- Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil to a hot pan. Brown the meatballs all over, but be careful not to break them up
- Add them to the pan with the tomato sauce, stir carefully, cover, and braise gently for 45 minutes or until cooked
- Serve each portion with rice or crusty bread, scattered with a few raw peas, pecorino shavings and fresh marjoram leaves, if you like.
Follow this basic principle and you’ll be whipping up meatballs in no time at all. When you get the hang of it, tweak the flavours to what you like best – try adding parsley, garlic and even grated Parmesan for an indulgent twist or swap out the meat altogether and use fish instead.
If you want to see how Jamie does it, watch him rustle up some delicious meatballs here:
7 Secrets for Making the Most Delicious Meatballs
Even if you cook from a favorite age-old recipe, you can tweak and upgrade your approach.
Recipes for high-quality, delicious meatballs vary between cultures, between neighboring towns in single countries, and between just about every cook. There are many paths to tasty meatballs. Most people stick to one common path, or one meatball style, often working through the well-practiced motions of a treasured recipe.
Your meatball can get better, even if it’s already very good. And if you’re afraid to mess with a good thing, know that there are ways to upgrade meatballs without altering your recipe. On the other hand, other upgrades do probably require a change. These pointers fall into both groups, all of them roads to a better meatball. For meatball recipe inspiration, find our collection of delicious ideas here.
We can prepare meatballs in our homes very easily and with our own hands because it is a very simple recipe.
The meat used for it is usually beef or pork, although chicken and fish can also be used.
Egg, breadcrumbs or flour are also used to give it a strong consistency so it can maintain its spherical shape while it cooks.
What recipes can be prepared with homemade meatballs?
The best thing about meatballs is that they are versatile and we can prepare many delicious recipes with them.
Among the most popular we can find meatballs in sauce, meatballs soup or simply fry them in oil. We assure you all of these recipes are delicious and simple.
You can also prepare spaghetti or any other pasta with them, have them as a snack or even use them in recipes when you bake something.
Let’s learn how to prepare these easy, homemade and Cuban-style meatballs.
Sear the meatballs
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!
Pan sear the meatballs on a skillet. When they are brown on both sides, place them on a clean plate. Continue to do this until all of the meatballs are cooked. Cooking the meatballs before putting them in the sauce ensures that the meatballs will hold their shape when cooking in the sauce.
Avoid Overworking the Meat
Another trick to tender meatballs is not overworking the meat — mix the meat with the binder and other ingredients just until they’re combined. I also recommend using your hands for this step since you can actually feel when things are mixed, you’re less likely to overwork the meat.
This said, I understand why the idea of squishing meat with your fingers might be a little disconcerting. If you prefer, you can use a stiff spatula or spoon instead.
A Tester Patty Is Never a Bad Idea
You can’t eat a scoop of raw meat to see if it’s properly seasoned. We would certainly not advise that. So to make sure you’ve added enough kosher salt to the mix, pinch off a little piece of your meatball mixture, form it into a patty, and crisp it in a hot pan. It will cook quickly, and you’ll be able to give it a taste before you form all those meatballs. If it’s tasting right, send the whole batch in. A little under-seasoned? Add a pinch or two more salt.
Okay, on to mixing it all together. Here's the challenge: The panade (that soaked-bread mixture) is essential for light and moist meatballs, but it's very difficult to mix it in thoroughly without over-beating the meat. For my Swedish meatballs, that wasn't an issue, since I wanted the meat to be heavily mixed, but here I don't—springy, emulsified Italian-American meatballs just aren't what we're going for.
But minimally mixing the meat almost always guarantees that you'll get little bits of unincorporated bread in the meatball. This is one advantage of dry bread crumbs, since their granular size means they disappear into the mixture without too much effort. But, as I mentioned above, I didn't want to use dried bread crumbs, since they make meatballs that are denser than I want.
To solve this problem, I came up with a technique I've been calling "the temper," which is very loosely inspired by the tempering of eggs into a custard (that is, gradually introducing the eggs into hot cream or milk to prevent scrambling).
Here, I start by blending the panade with all of the flavoring and moisture ingredients, whipping them until they're completely blended.
Then I add a portion of the beef and pork—about a third of each—and whip the hell out of that, until the meat is completely blended with the bread and seasonings.
All by itself, this amount of beating would produce meatballs with a tight, sausage-like texture.
To avoid that, I then work the remainder of the meat into the mixture by hand, being careful to distribute it thoroughly, but not over-mix it. Those little bits of ground meat are going to deliver a meatball that still has the texture of ground meat: not quite as loose as a hamburger, but not as tight as a sausage, either.
Now they're ready to be formed.
I go for big, handball-sized balls.
The Formula for Meatball Magic
Create your own meatless meatball recipe by following this formula, adapted from Matt Frazier’s excellent veggie burger formula at NoMeatAthlete.com.3
Tools needed: food processor
- 1 1/2 cups base ingredient (equivalent to one can of beans, drained)
- 2 cups diced vegetables
- 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups dry ingredient (the amount needed depends on the consistency of the other ingredients)
- 1/2 cup texture ingredient
- 2 tablespoons oil for sautéing the onions and garlic
- 3 tablespoons liquid flavorings
- 4 teaspoons seasoning, such as an herb and spice blend
- Cooked flavorings: 1/2 cup diced onion and 1 to 3 cloves garlic
- Salt to taste (the amount needed depends on the saltiness of other ingredients)
- 1 to 2 eggs (or an equivalent amount of an alternative binding ingredient)
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the minced onion, diced vegetables, and seasoning. Sauté until the onions are soft and golden.
2. Add the minced garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes.
3. Transfer the cooked ingredients to the food processor. Add the base and liquid flavorings, and pulse just until everything is combined, but not pur. Most people prefer chunkier meatballs.
4. Add the texture ingredient. Pulse until just combined.
5. Add 1 cup of the dry ingredient. Pulse until just combined.
6. Taste the batter add salt as needed, probably 1/2 to 1 teaspoon, depending on the saltiness of the other ingredients. Pulse until just combined.
7. Lightly coat your hands in oil to keep the batter from sticking. Try to form a meatball. The consistency will vary slightly depending on the ingredients, and some adjustment may be necessary.
8. If the batter is too wet to mold, add more of the dry ingredient. If the batter is too dry, add a little water or oil. If the meatball doesn’t hold together, add one or two eggs or an equivalent amount of an alternative binding ingredient. (Eggs make meatballs more dense and spongy. Since most people prefer light, airy meatballs, it’s best to use the least number of eggs needed to bind everything together.4)
9. Form the meatballs. The size comes down to preference. Consider how you will serve them. For soups or curries, bite-size balls are usually best. For spaghetti and appetizer skewers, larger golf ball-size balls are often preferred.
Select Your Meatball Ingredients
- Ground Meat: Choose from ground beef, veal, pork, Italian sausage, lamb, bison, turkey, and/or chicken. Some recipes call for a mix of two or more ground meats. Lean ground meat works well and makes the meatballs more healthful. Assume 1 pound of ground meat will make about 24 meatballs, or four to six servings.
- Binders: Eggs, bread crumbs (fine dry or soft), crushed crackers, cooked rice, and/or shredded cheese help hold the ground meat together. Plus, they lighten and flavor the meat mixture. Meatballs made with only ground meat tend to be harder to shape and more dense when cooked. Binders also stretch the meat so you get more meatballs per pound.
- Seasonings: Salt, black pepper, minced garlic, and dried or fresh herbs are traditional seasonings for meatballs. For herbs, consider 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup snipped fresh basil or Italian parsley or 2 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme, rosemary, or oregano per pound of ground meat. Or add 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, oregano, or fennel seeds, crushed. A pinch of cayenne pepper adds heat.
- Flavor Boosters: This is your chance to get creative. Some favorite additions include finely chopped onion, toasted pine nuts, chopped peanuts or cashews, dried currants, red wine, finely shredded lemon peel, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained. Add just enough of these ingredients to flavor the meatballs without changing the consistency too much.
Combine the Meatball Ingredients
In a large bowl stir together all of the ingredients except the ground meat. Stir in the ground meat and mix well until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed.
14 Healthy Meatball Recipes
You might think meatballs rank high on the scale of unhealthy food options, but these recipes will make you think again. Fortified with healthy swaps and add-ins, these meatball recipes will fill you up with protein and nutrients while you satisfy your comfort food craving.
Click through for new-and-improved classic spaghetti and meatball recipes, as well as innovative dishes that give meatballs a whole new meaning, such as Mediterranean Meatballs and Turkey Meatballs in Pitas. If you love a meatball hero but don&rsquot want to deal with unhealthy fats, we have a skinny Italian Meatball Sandwich that you&rsquoll love without the inevitable guilt you&rsquod feel after eating other versions.
Even on a busy night, you&rsquoll be amazed by how quick and easy it is to whip up the simpler meals on this hot list. If you&rsquore looking to jazz it up in the kitchen with a truly gourmet experience, our meatball-making game plan here has got you covered, too.
Pick your favorite recipe and give it a go to get the delicious results that you&rsquoll want to share with others and go back to again and again. Toss these meatballs into your favorite pasta and make sure you serve them up warm &ndash there&rsquos nothing like slicing into a steaming-good helping of meatballs.
New meatballs from Sohla! Which will you make first?
By Sohla El-Waylly
Published June 12, 2021 4:29PM (EDT)/> Prop stylist: Ali Slagle. Food stylist: Pearl Jones. (Julia Gartland / Food52)
This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!
Every month, in Off-Script With Sohla, pro chef and flavor whisperer Sohla El-Waylly will introduce you to a must-know cooking technique — and then teach you how to detour toward new adventures.
I didn't grow up with the meatballs I saw on TV. You know, the kind that are perfectly round and covered in red sauce on a plate of spaghetti. Instead, I ate charred lamb kofta with saffron rice or pollock balls stewed in a creamy korma. That's why I think outside the beef. With my riffable technique, any minced meat or fish can transform into flavorful, tender, and moist meatballs.
The secret to better, juicier meatballs is a panade, aka a mixture of starch and liquid that gets kneaded into minced meat. No, starch isn't added just to stretch the meat — it sneaks in moisture, too, Trojan horse–style. Make sure to mix your panade until the liquid is totally incorporated, with no dry spots. Then allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes, so the starch is fully hydrated.
Depending on the meat, I like to change it up using various combinations of liquids and starches. Start with torn bread, dried bread crumbs, or stale crackers. Then cover with milk, yogurt, or even juice. In the mood for some sweet-and-savory meatballs with tropical flair? Use Hawaiian-roll crumbs and pineapple juice! Need to add fat to lean ground chicken? Try heavy cream and buttery Ritz cracker crumbs!
What's more: You can adjust the panade quantity to fine-tune the meatballs' texture. If you want ultra-tender, pillowy meatballs, use more. If you like meatier, denser meatballs, use less.
Sure, you could mix meat with a panade and salt and call it a day. But the bonus ingredients are where you can really play around and have fun. Do it! Have fun! Bring brightness with tender herbs (like dill or cilantro), minced ginger, ground pecorino, or grated citrus zest. Play up meaty depth with deeply caramelized vegetables, like long-cooked onions, garlic, or carrots. Add dimension with toasted and ground spices — from garam masala to Old Bay Seasoning to furikake. Whatever you pick, keep the mix-ins chopped fine, so they evenly incorporate into the meat. And be sure to cook any aromatics you'd rather not bite into raw.
Meatballs are essentially hand-formed sausages, so you want to mix enthusiastically to ensure the ingredients are emulsified. This means the mixture will hold on to moisture and fat when cooked, staying juicy as can be, without you worrying about going over a precise internal temperature.
To achieve this, knead your meatball mixture like bread dough. You can mix it by hand or using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer. The mixture might start out looking wet and loose, but it will become springy and sticky, easily holding together.
Don't be scared to pick it up and slam it back into your bowl to knock out excess air pockets. Meatballs are the perfect dish to make when surrounded by things that are getting on your nerves.
The secret to 99% of my recipes is time. Meatballs are no different. While some people like to mix, then immediately shape and cook meatballs (and many recipes will tell you to do just that), hang on a second. Actually, hang on . . . a day.
Resting the mixture for at least 24 hours (or up to 3 days) will send your dinner to infinity and beyond! The rest allows everything to hydrate and chill out, making the mixture easier to shape and roll. The salt denatures proteins, improving tenderness. The aromatics and seasonings will meld, and the flavors will deepen. No wrong can come from a good rest for both you and your meatballs.
Once that the meatballs have been panade-ed, seasoned, kneaded, rested, and formed (phew), they're ready to cook. You did it!
The panade allows a great deal of wiggle room, so I don't worry about overcooking them. Focus instead on getting as much deep color as possible. Whether you grill, fry, or broil them, keep cooking and turning until crusty and browned all around. That's the final step to really taking the flavor over the edge.
Now that you've graduated from Meatball University, get creative and come up with your own dream meatballs. Here are a few combinations to get you started, inspired by some of my favorite dishes: