5@5 - Tips for great meatballs
August 17th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Tonight's forecast: cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

Spiced ground meat, shaped into balls, before being braised, baked or fried is well-rounded comfort food at its finest.

But if you're not quite sure how to get the ball rolling, Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow of The Meatball Shop and The Meatball Shop Cookbook can give you a little nudge in the right direction.

Five Tips for Great Meatballs: Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow

1. Pay attention to what you’re putting in the balls
"We weigh everything in a recipe: the right measure is the best way to ensure a consistent product. If you don't want to be that much of a dork about it, then at least pay attention to what you're putting in - that way if you stumble onto something great you can make it again.

Chances are you'll want to adjust something the next time you make it so it’s really nice to know what you did, and not make the same mistakes again.

And don't be afraid to season the balls, the flavors tend to mellow as the meatballs sit and absorb the ingredients. For recipes that call for braising, always add a little extra salt as the braising process tends to leach out some of the flavor."

2. Make sure you use top-quality ingredients
"Meatballs are an inexpensive food by their nature, so there is no need to skimp on quality. Buy inexpensive cuts of top-quality meat rather than expensive cuts like filet and loin. Once it's ground, almost any cut will render a tender meatball - so go for flavorful cuts such as pork butt, beef chuck or lamb shoulder."

3. Cook off a tester ball and taste it before rolling all the balls out
"Last thing you want to do is spend all day rolling, roasting, frying and braising your balls only to find out you needed a pinch more salt. Make a small patty and fry it in a little oil, and give it a try. It will make for a tasty snack while you’re cooking - and will save you if you forgot something."

4. Grind your own meat
"We grind all of our meat in-house which allows to choose what size grind to use. For tougher meat like lamb, wild game and goat, we like to use a small (5mm) die to help tenderize. For inherently tender animals and cuts like chicken, rabbit and pork, we prefer a larger grind size (6, 8 or even 10mm).

For some of our meatballs, we use multiple grind sizes which allows us to add interesting texture and differentiate ingredients. Grinding the meat yourself will allow you to mix the ingredients before you grind which saves time on chopping and helps to incorporate everything without over-mixing. When a recipe calls for fresh bread, we just grind it right in."

5. Choose your crumbs wisely
"Panko is all the rage for its crispy texture but it doesn't necessarily make the best meatballs. We like to use plain Italian-style breadcrumbs - that way we can add whatever spices we like to the mix.

Using fresh bread generally translates to a lighter, fluffier texture which is welcome in meatballs with heavier base ingredients like beef and pork."

Beef Meatballs
Makes about 24 golf ball-sized meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds 80% lean beef, ground
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flake
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, ground
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Cooking Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients except for the olive oil in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.
  3. Drizzle the olive oil into a large baking dish (9 x 12) making sure to evenly coat the entire surface (use your hand to help spread the oil).
  4. Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-sized meatballs, making sure to pack the meat firmly.
  5. Place the balls into the oiled baking dish such that all of the meatballs are lined up evenly in rows and are touching each of their four neighbors in a grid.
  6. Roast until firm and cooked through - about 20 minutes.
  7. While the meatballs are roasting, heat four cups of tomato sauce in a small pot over a medium-high flame, stirring constantly.
  8. When the meatballs are firm and fully cooked, drain the excess grease from the pan. Pour the tomato sauce over them and continue roasting for another 14 minutes.

Classic Tomato Sauce

Makes 7 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 yellow onion, small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dry)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 28-ounce cans of canned tomatoes, chopped (preferably San Marzano)

Cooking Directions

  1. Cook the onions with the olive oil, oregano, bay, garlic and salt over medium heat in a large pot (12-quart), stirring constantly until soft and translucent (about 15 minutes).
  2. Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for five minutes.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes and stir constantly until the sauce begins to boil.
  4. Continue cooking for 1 hour, stirring ever four or five minutes so that the sauce does not burn.
  5. Season with extra salt to taste.

Recipe formatting optimized by the nice folks at RecipeSEO.com

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Cuisines • Italian • Make • Recipes • Think


soundoff (155 Responses)
  1. burgerdogboy

    I have changed two things in my method that I think make ALL the difference. 1) A couple of tablespoons of milk in the meat mixture, and 2) I never cook them in the oven anymore, but right in the sauce. To me, these elements make a nearly perfect meatball!

    August 19, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
    • Hmmm

      I don't think either two pictured in the photo have any meatballs personally.

      August 19, 2011 at 11:27 am | Reply
      • Nelson

        If you "think" then you would not have posted such a stupid comment.

        August 19, 2011 at 11:31 am | Reply
      • Slamajama

        Even if the dude with the tats was a eunuch, I'd still do him!

        August 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Reply
      • luis Morales

        These picture look good and never tasty meatball can give me recipe please thank you :Luis morales

        August 25, 2011 at 1:04 am | Reply
    • Overlord

      @Luis Morales: You can't read or speak english. No meatball for you!

      August 26, 2011 at 10:22 am | Reply
  2. Celestial1

    I made meatballs and spaghettini tonight, somehow I just can't get into spaghetti. I grated a lil nutmeg, which gave it an earthy flavour. I like to keep a few back so I can make as sweet and sour or teriyaki in a different dish. Meatballs are very versatile and not just subjected to pasta dishes. As for the person up top who mentioned saffron and curry..I was actually going to add some turmeric when I was seasoning the meat, but opted out . You have to get creative in the kitchen if you want to keep things interesting.

    August 19, 2011 at 12:52 am | Reply
  3. Who got all dat gold?

    u can have the meatballz cuz I got all dat gold!

    August 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Reply
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      Win

      August 19, 2011 at 11:39 am | Reply
  4. ItalianChef

    The perfect meatball from two guys that don't appear to be italian. You don't put oregano in tomato sauce (gravy) unless you intend to put it on pizza. I don't see bazil in either recipe. Non italians cooking Italian....it's like asking a plumber to fix your car.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • Snotty Much

      I don't see bazil in the dictionary so why would either of these two guys put it in their recipes?

      August 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Reply
      • ItalianChef

        oooh...good one....you caught the misspelling of basil. You should enter the national spelling bee.

        August 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
      • jellybean@ItalianChef

        so what you think now, dummy?

        August 18, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Reply
    • Yesh

      Real Italians don't call tomato sauce "gravy" either.

      August 18, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Reply
      • Snotty Much

        Yahahahaha!

        August 19, 2011 at 11:38 am | Reply
  5. PugLuv

    Guy with the tats is hot. I would sample his meat balls any day!

    August 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply
    • Schlonga gonga

      I'm wid you on dat!

      August 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  6. Darrel

    Drop the chili, that's just yuk in a meatball. Add a little more garlic and some raisins and fry in Olive Oil then finish in sauce. Been doing this for 45 years and no complaints, tho I do leave out raisins for those who don't like them. Gives a sweet flavor to the pork or beef.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:57 am | Reply
    • Darrel

      Oh yeah, in the sauce some diced green pepper.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:58 am | Reply
    • Patronus

      Raisins? Really? I never would have thought to put raisins in meatballs.

      August 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  7. Vegan

    Meat will kill you.

    August 18, 2011 at 10:25 am | Reply
    • News Flash

      Everyone will die of something, its the only guarantee we all have.

      August 18, 2011 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • dadouche

      you're an idiot.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:44 am | Reply
    • Darrel

      Not if you kill and cook it first. Out here we call vegans-lunch

      August 18, 2011 at 11:59 am | Reply
    • muarypovich

      It will actually have the opposite effect and will keep you alive, try going 2 weeks without any food and 2 weeks with just meat, the results will be very interesting

      August 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Reply
    • lee

      meat...mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

      August 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  8. MT Miner

    Another trick for meatballs is to boil them, drop them in pot of boiling water, when they float, about 3 minutes usually, they are cooked through. I mix up about 10 lbs of meatballs a couple times of year and boil them this way, then put them in quart ziplocks and freeze for fast afterwork meals, easy camping meals, etc.

    August 18, 2011 at 10:21 am | Reply
    • Jerv@MTM

      Great idea, thanks! I love boiled chicken so why not meatballs? Gonna try that the next time I make them.

      August 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Reply
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