I’ve had meatballs hard enough to be banned as cricket balls. I’ve had them so mushy, they qualified as seriously deconstructed in current parlance de cuisine. I’ve had them so bready, they were meat-sandwich balls. And then there are those industrial cocktail types that taste like the meat we ate in the college mess-hall — but only if one was really, really, really hungry (you know, the kind with mysterious bits and a green sheen). None of the above were made by Janet.
So here are some observations (not rules) for the making of balls of meat.
Warning: This comment is about basic meatballs, not regional or traditional specialties that require mixtures for their essential characteristics. Generally, don’t mix meats unless generic mess-hall meat flavor is what is wanted, though beef and veal do work. If the spicing is going to make the meat source ambiguous anyway, mix away. Finally, if the meat involved has a strong flavor you want to soften, mix meats with similar cooking behavior/needs (eg., red-red, fowl-fowl, light-light).
Spice the meat with a fraction of the spice mix for the sauce. The use of common spicing shortens cooking time since it takes forever for the meat to take up the spice oils from simmering in the sauce only. Since it will be hard to taste these before done, and adjusting spices will be difficult, be careful with any strong spice such as cayenne, sriracha, etc. — you can’t do much about it if it is too much.
When adding starch and/or egg and forming the balls, don’t manipulate the meat any more than necessary. Too much handling and the tender stuff you bought/hunted will be tough. Whisking the eggs ahead of adding them to the meat reduces the amount of manipulation required.
Considering the next steps, select a starch binder that will readily absorb meat juices without creating lumpiness. We haven’t found flour works all that well, and rice needs to be partially cooked first. Crumbs of some sort seem to be the winner, and less is more. No more than ~3 tbsp (45 gm) per pound (454 gm) seems to work ~ 10%. Blend the starch binder into the meat before adding any eggs.
Once binder, etc. is mixed in, pat the completed mixture out flat to about a third of an inch (10mm) on non-stick foil and then spread and pat the spices uniformly across the meat. Roll this layer into a long tube and chill for 30 min to 2 hours. Based on the total weight of meat, slice the tube like cookie dough to create 1 to 2 oz disks (30-60 gm). Roll these by hand — only until ball shaped.
Heat light oil to 325°F in a saute pan, and fry the balls until browned — ~3 min for 2oz (30 gm). Then flip and repeat. Drain. The frying locks in the meat juices and further blooms the spices.
Finish cooking them in a pot or slow-cooker in the desired sauce until done in center (use a meat thermometer). Completing the cooking in sauce keeps them tender.
The pic is the results. Try making any stew-like dish using this approach instead of using stew meat. It’s a pleasant surprise.
Written while waiting for the wind to drop so the water would come back into the boatyard basin deep enough we could get to the travel lift without plowing a groove. [We plowed anyway.]