How to make juicy, tender meatballs

Every nationality has their own take on how they prepare and cook meatballs. One of the most popular ways of course is the Italian inspired ‘spaghetti and meatballs’. In fact the secret to incredibly juicy and tender meatballs is to cook them as the Italians do, by incorporating a little moistened bread into the minced meat mixture.

Choose ingredients for tenderness and moisture

Rather than using dry breadcrumbs in a meatball mixture (which can make dry meatballs) use coarse Italian bread (or even white sliced bread) with the crusts removed. Tear the bread into pieces and thoroughly moisten with a good splash or two of milk and a small dash of olive oil. Let the bread stand for a few minutes to absorb the milk and oil. Use your hand or a fork to mash the bread into a smooth mixture.

Meatballs made with this style of bread mix will be soft and tender. Take care when shaping and cooking them, they need gentle handling. Stand for 15-30 minutes in the fridge after shaping to help firm them before cooking. They are best cooked by carefully spooning into a gently simmering sauce.

If you prefer to fry them, dredge with flour before cooking so they don’t spatter or stick to the pan.

Making tender meatballs (like the Italians do)

  • Tear 2 slices thick white Italian-style bread (crusts removed) into small pieces, place in a bowl, and pour over about 1/3-1/2 cup milk and 1 tbsp olive oil. Set aside until bread absorbs most of the liquid. Mix to a rough paste with a fork.
  • Place 500g beef mince, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 cup grated parmesan and a little chopped basil in a large bowl, add the bread mixture, season with salt and pepper. Using your hands bring the mixture together and mix until just combined.
  • Shape small spoonfuls of mixture into small meatballs. Allow the rolled meatballs to set in the fridge for about 15minutes before cooking. Cook meatballs in tomato sauce for pasta (see below) or roll lightly in plain flour and shallow-fry in batches over a medium high heat until golden and cooked through.

Makes about 26 meatballs.

Essential tip

Shaping the meatballs with wet hands makes it easier to roll them. Mould them gently by rolling the mix between your moistened palms, rather than your fingers. Use a light touch. Aim for a loosely formed shape that holds together but is not too compressed.

Cooking meatballs in tomato sauce

There’s no need to brown meatballs before placing them in the sauce.

  • Once meatballs have set in the fridge, carefully spoon the meatballs into the simmering tomato sauce and cook uncovered for about 10–12 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked.
  • Depending on the size of the pan, the meatballs may need to be gently turned while cooking.

Pan-frying meatballs

  • Brush them with oil or easier still use a spray can of oil. This ensures the meatballs do not stick to the pan allowing them to brown well.
  • Preheat a non-stick pan over a moderately high heat. The meatballs should sizzle when you add them to the pan, lower the heat to moderate.
  • Cook the meatballs in batches, reheat the pan after each batch.
  • Shake the pan as they cook, so they roll and keep their shape whilst browning. If they brown well in the first few minutes of cooking, they’ll be golden and juicy.
  • Ensure meatballs are cooked right through. It is a good idea to check the internal temperature of minced meat dishes during cooking with a meat thermometer – aim for a temperature of 75°C. There should be no pink meat visible and juices should run clear.

Freezer standby…meatballs make everyone happy!

  • Cool cooked meatballs as quickly as possible by placing into a shallow container and then into the freezer in small containers.
  • Defrost overnight in the fridge.
  • Reheat them in a moderate oven until thoroughly hot.
  • Alternatively, place them in a simmering tomato pasta sauce to heat through. Make sure they are hot.
  • Always reheat to steaming hot (above 75°C). When reheating in the microwave, make sure that food is steaming throughout by periodically stirring.

Delicious ways to enjoys meatballs

  • Serve the meatballs in a minestrone style soup.
  • Roll them up in flatbreads with salad and dips, like hummus.
  • Team them with tomato sauce, mashed potato, and a green veggie like beans.
  • Present them with a dipping sauce of soy or tomato sauce, and a dunking dip of sour cream and chives.

Meatballs make great nibbles for parties, try Garlicky meatballs– tapas style

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