Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Serious Business

Lurking about Facebook and Twitter the other day I came across this tweet from @Plated:

6 must-know tips for making the *perfect* meatball: plated.me/1GUkrpp

When I saw tip number 4, I knew I had to write about it and set the record straight. It's just wrong.

You're doing it wrong.

Meatballs are serious business in my house. I'm not of Italian decent. But my mother after divorcing my father when I was 6, remarried a first generation Italian. My wife is half Italian, her father a second generation Italian. So I'm no stranger to Italian culture, and while the meatball is not really an Italian creation, you'd never know that by my step-father's and father-in-law's devotion to them.

I'm a fan of just about any kind of ground meat dish. Burgers, gyros, bolognese, shepherd's pie. And of course meatballs are no exception. I started making my own about 10 years ago. And I think I make a good one. Perfect? Perhaps not. But darn good nonetheless. I've spent years perfecting them.

Most meatballs you get in restaurants, especially in old school red sauce joints are terrible. They're too big, and they're dense, heavy, and bland. A great meatball is light and tender and flavorful. It should almost melt in your mouth. My meatballs are so tender, sometimes they fall apart in the sauce if I stir it too vigorously. And who cares if they're perfectly round? I actually prefer them not to be. It's more rustic when they're oddly shaped.

Plated suggests you roll the meatballs in such a way as to not overwork the meat. I say, don't roll them at all! Rather, gently press the meat into a ball, just until it comes together. Rolling them makes them denser and heavier. Also, they shouldn't be too big. I make mine a little bigger than a golf ball. The bigger they are, the longer you have to cook them and overcooked meatballs are not good.

I also like to use meatloaf or meatball mix. I buy Catelli Bros., and it makes fantastic meatballs. See in the picture how loosely packed it is. That really helps to make the meatballs more tender. Meatloaf mix has a lighter flavor than using all beef and a lighter texture too. My recipe works for ground chicken or turkey too, but meatloaf mix works best.

I do like to cook my meatballs in tomato sauce. It flavors both the sauce and the meatballs. I also fry them for just a minute before finishing them in the sauce. Frying adds a little caramelization which adds flavor and it helps hold them together better. Because as I said, using my method they are very tender and can fall apart in the sauce if you're not careful.

Steve's Italian Style Meatballs:

1 1/3 lbs. meatloaf mix
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg beaten
1 clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press or very finely minced
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
My meatballs. Take note of the texture.
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all the ingredients into a bowl and using a light hand, mix just until incorporated.
To form the meatballs, take about a golf ball size of meat and press the meat into a ball just enough so it holds together.

Fry the meatballs in about a 1/2 inch vegetable oil over medium high heat until they just start to brown, about a minute or so per side. Do not over brown them. I flip them once, you don't need to turn them to cook all sides. Just fry two sides like you would a burger. They'll still be mostly raw.

Drain briefly on a paper towel and add to a lightly simmering, already finished tomato sauce. Let them cook in the sauce for 10 minutes then remove the sauce from the heat.

I'll put my meatballs up against almost anyone's. I'm that confident of how good they are. I don't take them lightly. Meatballs are serious business.


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