Oct 27 , 2017
Meatballs are the most adaptable, make-ahead-friendly way to turn any ground meat into dinner. And with this simple ratio, you can make them exactly the way you want.
1. PUT 1 POUND GROUND MEAT IN A BOWL
Meatballs can be made with ground beef, pork, veal, lamb, chicken, or turkey. You can mix two or three together for your own personal blend, or stick with just one meat. A bit of finely chopped bacon or pancetta can also be added to any of these for richer, smokier meatballs. And any raw sausage (removed from its casing) counts as ground meat, too.
A pound of meat is enough to make meatballs for 4. But while my meatball ratio scales up to serve more people, I don’t recommend scaling down. Instead, make the full 1 pound batch of meatballs and freeze whatever you don’t want to eat. (Freeze the meatballs raw.
2. ADD 1 HANDFUL BREADCRUMBS
For every pound of meat, you want to add about one handful (or about 1/4 cup) of breadcrumbs, which also help hold everything together. I like to use fresh breadcrumbs made by blitzing a piece of stale bread in the food processor—they’re softer and mushier and more absorbent that way. (You can use any kind of bread for this, including gluten-free bread.) If you don’t want to make your own breadcrumbs, go for panko rather than traditional dried breadcrumbs; panko has better texture.
3. ADD 1 HANDFUL CHOPPED ALLIUMS (ONIONS, SHALLOTS, ETC)
For both flavor and textural variety, you want to add the same amount of finely chopped alliums (onions, shallot, and/or garlic) as breadcrumbs: one handful (or 1/4 cup) per pound of meat you use. If you can’t stand alliums (or maybe you’re allergic?) you can totally skip them, or add less. But don’t add more—too much will compromise the structure of your meatballs.
No need to mix the ground meat, breadcrumbs, and alliums together yet. Just get all of it into the same bowl and start seasoning. Begin with a good sprinkle of salt. From there, it’s up to you. I like a lot of fresh herbs (try lamb meatballs loaded with chopped mint, dill, parsley, cumin and red pepper flakes). For classic Italian flavoring, add a generous dose of grated parm, some oregano (dried or fresh) and some parsley and freshly ground black pepper. Add a dollop of tomato paste if that’s your thing. Or consider curry, paprika, miso, ginger or chipotle. Play, but don’t go crazy: it’s better to add too little than too much. How do you know how it’ll taste? We’ll get to that in a second, but first…
5. ADD AN EGG AND MIX IT ALL UP
For every pound of meat you use, you need one egg to help hold it all together. Whisk the egg in a bowl, then pour it over your the meat, breadcrumbs, alliums, and seasonings. (Using two pounds of meat? Use two eggs. A pound and a half of meat? Whisk one egg, discard half of it, then add a second egg.) Now use your hands—yes, your hands—to mash and squish and combine everything together until well combined.
6. DO A TASTE TEST
Once you cook a meatball, there’s really no way to change its flavour. So you have to taste the meatballs before you cook them.
Of course, you don’t want to put a mixture of raw meat and eggs into your mouth. Instead, heat a small amount of oil in a skillet, add a little spoonful of meatball mixture and cook, turning once, until it’s cooked through. Now eat it, and adjust the seasoning of your mixture according to your taste. You can also adjust the texture. To make your meatballs softer, add a little liquid such as milk or applesauce or tomato sauce. To make your meatballs firmer, add more breadcrumbs. Run another taste test after each adjustment. Once the meatballs are how you want them, you’re ready to start shaping.
7. SHAPE THE MEATBALLS
It’s up to you what size your meatballs are; just try and make them all match so they all cook at the same rate. Line them up on a plate or baking sheet and stick them in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them—you can make them up to two days before cooking. Or, if you only want to cook some of the balls, put the rest on a baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, then transfer to a resealable plastic bag or container and store in your freezer for up to four months.
8. SEAR, BAKE, OR SIMMER!
You have a few options for how to cook meatballs. You can sear them in a bit of oil (put the skillet over medium-high heat) and finish cooking them in a pot of simmering sauce. You can also finish them in the oven, or cook them entirely on the stove. You could bake them on a baking sheet in a 400°F oven. Or you could drop them into the simmering soup and let them poach. To know when they’re fully cooked, simply slice one open: if it’s still pink or red inside, it’s not done yet. However you cook them, meatballs are best if you have something to dip them in—a thick, minty yoghurt sauce, say. You can make that without a recipe, too.