Happy Meatball Day!

How to make meatballs
Spaghetti and meatballs, full fledged comfort food.
March 9, 2014 is National Meatball Day! What better way to celebrate than making a batch yourself? Meaty, juicy, comforting, meatballs are relatively easy to make and can be modified and flavored to match anyone's tastes.

First, and perhaps most importantly, meatballs are not the same as meatloaf. When I started cooking, I tried taking meatloaf mix and frying it into little balls and I ended up with a mess. For meatballs to hold their shape, you need a mixture that isn't as wet as your standard meatloaf mix.

So what do you need? I think of meatballs as a sort of master recipe, starting with basic proportions of meat, eggs and panade (milk mixed with breadcrumbs) that gets modified, flavored, and shaped differently depending on what you are making. The same base can be turned into large Italian style meatballs, small swedish meatballs, or even those little cocktail meatballs.

Your first decision is going to be the meat of choice. Beef gives you flavorful meatballs, but they can get dry. If I'm using all beef, I tend to up the cheese or dairy in the recipe. My favorite meat for meatballs is a mix of beef, pork and veal. I stick with whole or 2% milk and enjoy changing up the breadcrumbs by recipe as well.

For every pound of meat, you need 1 whole egg, 1/8 cup of milk and 1/8 cup of breadcrumbs. And don't forget to season with salt and pepper. There is nothing worse than a bland meatball. I always start by soaking the breadcrumbs in the milk, then mixing in the egg and the seasonings, then lastly mixing in the meat. Then, just shape your meatballs and cook. Meatballs can be fried or baked in the oven. I like the flavor of both, but for ease of cooking and cleaning, I almost always bake my meatballs. Just place your meatballs in a lightly oiled pan or baking vessel, and bake at 375 until they are cooked through and nicely browned.

In all cases, I make my meatballs separately first, then add them to their corresponding sauce.

Want Italian-style meatballs? Then you definitely want to add fresh herbs (parsely, oregano, thyme and basil are all nice) parmesan and/or romano cheese, and garlic. I like finely minced fresh garlic, but garlic powder works well too. Dried breadcrumbs or panko work well and I aim for golf-ball sized (using an ice cream scoop to make sure they're all uniform). Serve with red sauce and you've got classic Italian-American fare.

Swedish meatballs? I use finely minced onion (or onion powder), a tblsp of heavy cream or creme fraiche, ground allspice and nutmeg (ground caraway is nice too.) For these, fresh breadcrumbs out of basic white sandwich bread gives you a nice soft texture. I also like to go smaller, more like a ping-pong ball. Serve with a creamy beef broth gravy and you are all set.

Sweet and sour cocktail meatballs? Keep the meatballs simple with worcestershire, salt, and pepper, and again I use plain dry breadcrumbs. I go smallest for these, they cook pretty quickly and serve coated in a 50/50 mixture of grape jelly and chili sauce. Old school and classic.

Try playing yourself. Meatballs are easy and versatile. Get in that kitchen and cook up a batch. And if you've got questions or need guidance, just shoot me an email.

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