Eating meatballs while drinking red wine instantly makes you feel like all is right with the world. Something about meatballs–rich, luscious meatballs–makes you feel warm and cozy to your core (not to overdramatize it or anything:). Luckily, Faith Durand, the executive editor of The Kitchn, agreed to reveal the two secrets to making the world’s best meatballs. “My husband was quite thrilled that I made these last night,” she says. Here goes…
The Best Meatballs You’ll Ever Have
By Faith Durand, executive editor of The Kitchn and author of Bakeless Sweets, a forthcoming book about pudding, panna cotta, fruit jellies and icebox desserts.
What makes a great meatball? To me, a great meatball is one that an Italian nonna would be proud of, a juicy and aromatic meatball so tender it falls apart in your mouth. Superb meatballs like these are not difficult to make, but there are two secrets: One, the mix of meat. Two, your hands.
A really great meatball, in my opinion, must contain three meats, starting with veal. Veal is what gives a meatball that luscious, melt-in-your-mouth quality. Beef gives it depth of flavor and some heft, and pork bridges the two with another dimension of taste. I know that some people don’t prefer to eat veal, so if that’s the case for you, I recommend substituting an equal amount of ground chicken thigh meat. But veal gives a meatball that true Old World taste and texture; an all-beef meatball just won’t be as good.
One more note on the meat: This is the time to get great meat. When you’re buying ground meats, it’s best to buy them from a good butcher you trust and respect. I buy my ground meats from a butcher at a local market, where I know they raise and butcher the animals themselves. This way I pay a little more, but I know the meat is of high quality and has been ground fresh that day.
The second key is your hands. Good meatball mix needs to be truly mixed. There are all sorts of things in this recipe: Salt, pepper, finely grated onion and garlic, spices, herbs, eggs, breadcrumbs. It’s important that your meatball mix is completely smushed together; you don’t want pockets of salt or garlic. You’re going to get your hands dirty anyway, shaping the meatballs, so use them as the great tools they are. Get in there and smush and mix and pretend your hand is a dough hook! (Then wash your hands really well, of course!)
This recipe makes a huge amount. Personally, I feel that if you’re going to the trouble of making meatballs, you should make a lot and freeze whatever meat you don’t eat right away. It’s a great backup meal for your freezer, a little gift to your future self.
1 1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef, such as ground chuck
1 pound ground veal
2 1/2 teaspoons chunky kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
3/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
About 4 tbsps finely chopped fresh sage, from 2 small herb bunches
1 1/2 cups finely diced or grated yellow onion, from about 2 small yellow onions
4 large garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs, beaten
Pour the milk over the breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Stir them together and set them aside for at least 10 minutes for the crumbs to soften.
Mix the pork, beef and veal together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the salt and a generous amount of black pepper, then add the cayenne and smoked paprika.
Stir in the chopped parsley, sage, onion, garlic and Parmesan. Mix with your hands until these are very thoroughly distributed through the meat.
Stir in the breadcrumbs and milk, as well as the eggs, and mix thoroughly.
Shape and cook the meatballs immediately, or refrigerate the meat for up to 24 hours. You can also freeze the meat (in one big lump or as shaped meatballs) in a sealed container for up to 3 months.
To cook the meatballs, you can go a few different routes:
1. Bake: To bake the meatballs, heat the oven to 350°F and form them into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until they are just barely cooked through and no longer pink inside. To keep them tender, do not overbake. At this point you can add them to a pot of tomato sauce and simmer just for a few moments or until they are soaked in sauce — or just eat them as they are.
2. Broil: The baked meatballs above are very smooth and not crispy. If you like a more rustic meatball with a crisped-up exterior, broil your meatballs for 18 to 20 minutes, turning once halfway through. This will give you a meatball with a crunchier exterior and little dark bits all over.
3. Simmer: You can also cook meatballs directly in your pasta sauce. (I like Marcella Hazan’s famous 4-ingredient tomato sauce — pictured above and below!) To do this, carefully place raw meatballs into a pot of gently simmering tomato sauce, making sure they are fully covered. Cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are fully cooked through and no longer pink inside. This makes for a very smooth, very tender meatball. If you want a little bit of crispiness to the meatballs in the sauce, you can sear them or broil them briefly and then finish cooking them in the sauce.
Thank you so much, Faith! How delicious for a Sunday dinner party with friends, don’t you think? xoxo