I have a habit (that you may share) of cutting recipes and articles from magazines, confident that in the not too distant future I’ll put them into practice. Often I do. But every few months I end up with a stack of messy clippings – most of which end up in the rubbish bin – if I haven’t cooked them by then my theory is I never will.
Anyway on a rainy day last week I was sorting through a stash of messy recipe clippings when I came across a handy article on meatballs – from a regular newspaper column by Matt Preston, a food writer well-known for his cravat (and for his long-standing spot as a Masterchef Australia judge).
Matt Preston talked about how too often, in the quest for ever shorter recipes, the really useful tips and tricks often get culled. That’s so true I thought, and could explain why some of my dishes never end up looking as good as the recipe. Perhaps this extra recipe wisdom never makes it beyond the chef’s head for fear of losing the reader’s attention or making things sound overly complex.
Anyway Matt Preston’s article elaborated in great detail on 10 secrets for great meatballs. Of course there are so many different, and equally tasty, twists on a standard meatball – the good thing is that regardless of your meatball go-to recipe this short summary of Matt’s tips should help you improve your technique.
1. Meatballs should be light not dense – this is all about achieving the right balance of meat and breadcrumbs (or ricotta in place of bread). A 60/40 ratio of meat to bread is a good guide.
2. Extra flavour brings character – meat and bread alone will produce a meatball that you’ll soon forget. Flavour comes from the extras – think ricotta, basil and Parmesan for Italian meatballs or spices like cumin, coriander and chilli for Indian meatballs.
3. Too salt or not to salt? Salt added to the mince mixture can remove much needed moisture. Matt reckons it’s best to add salt at the end once the meatballs are ready to serve. And you can always salt the accompanying sauce too.
4. Add eggs with precision – eggs are important in binding the meatballs but be cautious about adding too much egg. Beat the amount of egg called for in a recipe, add it gradually and stop when the mixture is holding together.
5. Gently does it – when it comes to bringing together the mince and other ingredients don’t overwork the mixture. Use your hands and lightly bring together the mixture – don’t be heavy handed. The same applies when turning the mixture into balls – roll them gently so they aren’t tightly packed.
7. Oil your hands with olive oil before rolling the meatballs – this will avoid the mince meat sticking to your fingers.
8. Adapt the size of the meatballs to the dish – Matt recommends making golf ball sized meatballs as a general guide, but adapt this to the recipe. I’ve played around with both mini meatballs and giant meatballs – with big meatballs you can add a cube of cheese in the middle.
9. Brown the meatballs – heat a pan and use plenty of oil to avoid the meatballs sticking. Allow plenty of space between the meatballs so they can brown on all sides.
10. Finish in the oven (or a sauce) – although you can finish cooking the meatballs in the pan Matt recommends finishing in the oven (180C for 5 minutes) or in the accompanying sauce.
If you have any other meatball tops to add to this list I’d love to hear from you!
By Laura (Feast Wisely)
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