They are a labour of love for certain.
Once you’ve mixed up the meat and the eggs and the milk and bread crumbs and whatever else you like, you could just press it into a loaf pan, call it meatloaf, and be done with it. But you won’t do that, because you want meatballs. Even though they’re awkward, and they roll around on your plate, and don’t quite fit into a submarine sandwich, you want them, because they’re fun.
And so you take the time to shape each one. To do it well is time consuming, because you have to roll them so they don’t have any seams that will come apart when they’re cooked. Some cooks roll them between their palms like they’re hatching a plan. Some nonnas smack them back and forth between their hands, left and right and left again. Regardless of the details, they must be uniform and smooth on the surface.
While the size of the meatball should be tailored to the circumstance, I think the perfect size for most applications is roughly that of a golf ball, that is to say, a fairly awkward size for most people’s mouths.
And now that the meatballs are shaped the real dilemma reveals itself: how to evenly sear a sphere. You might ask yourself if the meatball really needs to be seared. Why not just drop the rosy balls into marinara and simmer them til they’re cooked? Because meatballs, though made of leftover ground meat and a handful of common pantry items, are not a convenient, peasant dish: they are an idea.
If you want to eat ground meat with pasta, and you want to taste meat with every bite of pasta, you make a bolognese But now think about spaghetti and meatballs. Two more different shapes can hardly be imagined, and the twirling and wrapping required for the spaghetti are hardly compatible with the cutting and stabbing required to eat the meatball.
Likewise if you wanted a sandwich with ground meat in each bite you would shape the meat into a patty. But sometimes you really want a meatball sub, which alternates from bite to bite between more meat than you can handle, to almost no meat at all.
So you’ll sear all the meatballs. If you’re lucky enough to have a convection oven, they will brown easily on a high setting. If not, you’ll pan fry them, rotating them often so they’re seared as evenly as possible. Or you can hack it and line them all on a tray and put them at the very bottom of your oven, near the heating element, which is red hot, turning them every few minutes.
- 1.1 kg ground pork shoulder (see note)
- 1.1 kg ground beef brisket (see note)
- 5 large eggs
- 240 g whole milk
- 60 g pecorino or other hard, aged cheese – aged gouda works well, too
- 21 g minced garlic
- 11 g curly parsley, chopped
- 30 g kosher salt
- 3 g coarse ground black pepper
- 310 g bread crumbs
- oil for frying
Note on Pork Shoulder: For grinding, use a ratio of 3:1 lean meat to fat. Bulk with fatback if shoulder is too lean. Grind once through 1/4″ plate.
Note on Beef Brisket: Before grinding, separate flat and point and trim all fat to 1/4″. Add pork fatback to approximate a ratio of 3:1 lean meat to fat. Grind once through 1/4″ plate.
- Add all ingredients to a very large bowl and mix until just combined.
- Shape into 75 g balls, passing quickly between your hands to make the balls cohesive and the surface uniform and tacky.
- Brown heavily over medium-high heat. Turns balls frequently to preserve round shape. Finish cooking in a 400°F oven. Cool.
Yield: 48 x 75 g (raw) meatballs
Addendum: Spaghetti and Meatballs
By now I think we all know that spaghetti and meatballs is about as Italian as macaroni and cheese, which is to say not even remotely. This is North American comfort.
When I was young there were some households in which the sauce was tossed with the noodles before plating, and others in which the sauce was ladled over the bare noodles. I prefer the latter for the added interactive element.
Tastes like childhood.