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Meatballs


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#1 Emily_R

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 07:32 AM

Hi folks --

I searched but was surprised that I couldn't find a topic on this already started... I'm planning on making spaghetti and meatballs tonight, and bought extra meat... Do you freeze your meatballs? How do you do it? Raw/Cooked? Plain/In Sauce? And how do you cook them -- raw dropped into the sauce, browned in a pan and then sauced, baked in the oven on a rack...

Looking forward to hearing all your meatball making expertise...

Emily

#2 HungryC

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 07:41 AM

I freeze 'em raw. After years of browning, then cooking in the sauce, I now skip the browning. Cooking directly in the sauce makes for a more tender meatball.

#3 abooja

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 08:35 AM

I brown them, cook them in the sauce, vacuum seal them with a little bit of sauce in each bag, then freeze them.

#4 Toliver

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 09:02 AM

If convenience is a factor, then cooking them before freezing would make more sense. Then all you would have to do is thaw them and they're ready to heat and eat.

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#5 Chris Amirault

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 09:05 AM

Until now, I've roasted them and then frozen them after they cooled. Some interesting twists here to consider, though.
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#6 IndyRob

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 09:40 AM

I freeze them raw and roast them from frozen. This seemed to be the best of the ways I tried to maintain nice round balls (if that's important to anyone besides me). It's also quick and easy (but also easy to overcook).

Alton Brown suggests roasting in mini muffin tins, but I don't think I saw much of an improvement when I tried it.

#7 HungryC

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 10:53 AM

Alton Brown suggests roasting in mini muffin tins, but I don't think I saw much of an improvement when I tried it.

Spoken like a guy who doesn't have to scrub those browned meat drippings out of the mini-muffin cups.

#8 snowangel

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 12:04 PM

There's a whole topic right here about freezing meatballs!
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#9 Emily_R

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 01:28 PM

Thanks Susan - I swear I searched! I don't know how I missed it...

Hungry C and Chris -- I'm intrigued about cooking them raw / roasting, but I use the browned bits in the pan to get flavor in the tomato sauce that they eventually cook in. What do you do for your sauce?

#10 Doodad

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 01:48 PM

We do them in the oven so all the fat does not make it into the sauce. We do freeze them both raw and cooked. I like them cooked so we can snack on them (in the case of Asian style) or combine with also frozen sauce while noodles are cooking for a 15 minute dinner.

#11 Emily_R

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 07:55 PM

Well I made the meatballs tonight in the oven, and that was a success! Flipped them once, and so they got lightly browned on two sides... Then put them into the sauce, and put the pot of sauce in the oven to simmer gently. The texture was really nice -- tender, but they held together well. Froze batches in the sauce, in freezer bags with the air frozen out. Thanks everyone!

#12 MaxH

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 11:56 AM

I make, cook, and freeze meatballs pretty routinely. Learned a few things over the years (and a possible recipe innovation, described below).

I normally roast them (as discussed in a previous meatball thread) until just cooked -- like pink inside; make far more than immediately needed; freeze the extras (tightly sealed and with all possible air squeezed out) for later very convenient use with pasta or meatball sandwiches.

Why roasting vs frying: No fat added; cooking effort is almost the same for six meatballs or 60. All juices, caramelized exterior, etc., are still there (on or in the m'ball) and available for flavoring sauces etc. I'd certainly consider pan-frying on a hot day, to avoid running an oven, especially with a small batch.

Why cook separately from sauce: Keep in mind one batch of my meatballs usually serves multiple meals. I noticed long ago that slowly cooking meatballs in a tomato sauce (like cooking any other meat in a sauce) leaches out flavor, gelatins, etc. This is fine if your objective (like mine, sometimes) is a more intense tomato sauce and less intensely flavored meatballs. But with the meatballs (barely) cooked separately, I can still slow-simmer them like that, or I can choose to more briefly heat them or use them for other things with all their flavor preserved.

Recipe tricks: Like many people I often mix meats (lean ground pork, in moderation, certainly adds flavor to beef meatballs) and long ago noticed what some cook books point out (such as the Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles), that meatballs of basically pure meat cook up comparatively hard and dense -- some sort of grain lightens nicely and controllably. One trick from the same Pasta cookbook: A little buttermilk or yogurt to moisten the added grain also perks up the meatball flavor subtly, inconspicuously, like a little cheese. I keep dried buttermilk powder handy. Another trick and recent discovery: First, eggs have never been fundamentally necessary (some authors add them by reflex to any ground-meat dish) because ground meats themselves already contain albuminous material that hardens on cooking -- eggs enhance this and are most helpful if the meat is greatly diluted with starches. But! Working with Spelt flour as described in "The fresh pasta topic" thread here, I noticed that it seems to include some different type of starch or vegetable gum with a similar property (might contribute to the supple texture Spelt noodles have) so in a recent meatball batch, I used a little whole Spelt flour where some recipes call for breadcrumbs etc. No eggs. Outstanding! The Spelt, absorbing moisture from the buttermilk, both lightened the meatballs (like breadcrumbs) and contributed to the binding power of the meats when cooked (like eggs) Both effects in one ingredient.


Upshot: 3 parts lean beef, 1 part lean pork, buttermilk, Spelt flour, fresh parsley, fresh garlic, salt and pepper (about 3/4 teaspoon salt per pound of meat, slightly less than most recipes suggest, leaves them well but not excessively seasoned -- the buttermilk's acid may help this). Let the mixture sit a while for the flavors to develop before cooking. Result: Delicious, tender, coherent. Some of the best I've made.

#13 Darienne

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 12:43 PM

Great post, MaxH. I learned a lot. :smile:
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#14 dans

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 05:37 PM

I generally make meatballs from about 10 pounds of meat each time. I use a mix of beef, veal and pork and test teh seasoning by sauteing about a teaspoon of the mixture. Once I'm happy with it, I make up the meatballs then roast them, cool them and freeze a meals worth (generally about 6 per package) without sauce.

Dan

#15 Shalmanese

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 05:52 PM

long ago noticed what some cook books point out (such as the Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles), that meatballs of basically pure meat cook up comparatively hard and dense -- some sort of grain lightens nicely and controllably.


I once heard that grated zucchini lightens up meatballs and, once I tried it, I've never gone back. You can't pick out the flavor in the finished meatball but it lends an ethereal, cloud like lightness to it.
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#16 Emily_R

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 08:07 PM

I generally make meatballs from about 10 pounds of meat each time. I use a mix of beef, veal and pork and test teh seasoning by sauteing about a teaspoon of the mixture. Once I'm happy with it, I make up the meatballs then roast them, cool them and freeze a meals worth (generally about 6 per package) without sauce.

Dan


Holy moly Dan! How long does it take you to go through 10 pounds of meatballs six at a time?

Also, Shalmanese -- the zucchini sounds like a fantastic idea. (Roughly) how much do you typically add to your batches?

#17 MaxH

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 10:05 AM

I once heard that grated zucchini lightens up meatballs and, once I tried it, I've never gone back. You can't pick out the flavor in the finished meatball but it lends an ethereal, cloud like lightness to it.

Thanks for what looks like a valuable tip, Shalmanese, I'll try it. This is the kind of direct information exchange I find so worthwhile on food discussion fora. Also as Dan testifies well, meatballs are ideal for making in quantity and freezing, and if you freeze them well wrapped and sealed from air, they can stay good a very long time. (Never fully tested in my household because they always disappear too soon.)

Another meatball spinoff angle: I like to cook Pacific-Asian as well as European dishes. (My location has many very good Pacific-Asian restaurants of every nationality -- even Macanese, which fans love to cite online, because it's very distinctive, like the related Goanese; maybe also just because it's rare, and sends curious readers scurrying to look it up if they don't know the region.) An old entry in my combined freezer-cooking log (begun long ago in preference to opening and pawing through a full freezer just to see what's there) wonders about a "flexible" meatball good for East-Asian soups, as well as things like spaghetti. This rules out Italianoid green herbs that I sometimes season meatballs with, and such a meatball could also be made from meats like ground poultry, or poultry and pork. Conceivably, even flavored with the fresh ginger so common in Pacific-Asian cooking; it sometimes works also in European meat dishes.* One idea among many in the queue for cooking experiments. Shalmanese's suggestion might fit there too. (Grated squash is itself a prized ingredient in certain East-Asian specialties like the famous appetizer and main-course vegetable pancakes of Korea and Japan.)

*Extreme food-history trivia: Besides its use elsewhere on the continent, ginger was a signature spice, among several favorite seasoning spices there, in Hungary before the rapid invasion of paprika around the 1850s -- from the East, actually -- overshadowed existing traditions and soon came to epitomize Hungarian cooking in foreign eyes.


#18 Toliver

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 09:29 AM

The Spelt, absorbing moisture from the buttermilk, both lightened the meatballs (like breadcrumbs) and contributed to the binding power of the meats when cooked (like eggs) Both effects in one ingredient.

The combination of bread crumbs and milk is called a panade (I learned that from Cooks Illustrated). When the two are combined and then added to a ground meat mixture, it will soften the final cooked product. My mom always added milk-soaked shredded bread to her meatloaf. I always thought the bread was a filler to make the meat loaf feed more people but there's an actual chain reaction that goes on with the milk and bread starch that causes the end product to be less dense.

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#19 prairiegirl

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 11:19 AM

I am going to visit my bed ridden father next week and I want to cook a bunch of meals for him. He is diabetic but I would love to do a large batch of meatballs (to freeze) for him. Does anyone have a favourite recipe to share? Thank you for your contribution!

#20 MaxH

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 11:33 AM

The combination of bread crumbs and milk is called a panade (I learned that from Cooks Illustrated). When the two are combined and then added to a ground meat mixture, it will soften the final cooked product.

Yes, that's the approach used conventionally in most cookbooks I've seen, it is the context of my remarks. Cooks Illus. in its collected Pasta book went further with the buttermilk point mentioned upthread. When I discovered that Spelt (a natural hybrid of wheat and wild rice, chosen by some people for its lack of wheat-allergy reaction, high fiber, etc.), used in leavened pancake batter, would let the pancakes maintain their height without the usual eggs, I tried it in meatballs instead of bread crumbs, and without eggs. The panade, so to speak, becomes spelt flour with buttermilk. This softens the meatballs like a conventional panade, but also adds a little binding power; moreover it has fiber and lacks some of the junk, such as sweeteners and hydrogenated fats, added to breads nowadays.

Then Shalmanese mentioned the shredded zucchini as analternative and subtle meatball lightener.

We are collecting some useful, tested meatball tricks here, beyond even Cooks Illustrated.

#21 dans

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Posted 07 August 2010 - 06:51 AM


I generally make meatballs from about 10 pounds of meat each time....


Holy moly Dan! How long does it take you to go through 10 pounds of meatballs six at a time?


Not as long as you might expect. My wife loves pasta, so we have it once a week or so. Given that we have a stash of meatballs, it's a quick dinner. Then you have meatball sandwiches...

Dan

#22 nakji

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 03:45 AM

I'm making some koftas for a curry later in the week, following a Madhur Jaffrey recipe. I'd like to fry up the meatballs tonight, but then make the rest of the curry later this week. When I go to make the curry, should I add the meatballs from frozen, or let them thaw in the fridge during the day before making up the curry for dinner?

#23 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 04:51 AM

If you add them frozen, you are risking cooking the exterior of the meatballs for far longer than the interior -- risking, that is to say, cooking the outside to mush before the interior is done. I'd thaw them first.
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#24 MaxH

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 12:26 PM

should I add the meatballs from frozen, or let them thaw in the fridge during the day before making up the curry for dinner?

I've been reheating various homemade meatballs ("Italian," "East-Asian," "Swedish") in all kinds of sauces since about 1975 and never had any problem proceeding directly from frozen, nor noticed any tendency for them to cook to mush. (Any more than I've noticed any tendency for cheap tough meats to tenderize in stews or braises in less than 2-3 hours; a recent pot roast took six). Maybe that reflects on the quality of my meatballs. But I'll mention the venerable US tradition (which I've also practiced at home) of keeping meatballs hot in sauces for buffet service, where they may simmer for a couple of hours over a spirit burner. It's always worked out well for me.

I'll add wryly that in my region with its many Vietnamese restaurants featuring "pho" soups [not actually an O in "pho" nor pronounced like one; the soup is French pot-au-feu evolved in Vietnam with local ingredients] you can encounter little meat or fish balls of hard-rubber consistency, resembling the hard little toy "Superballs" that bounce so effectively. Some of these meatballs recall a long-ago dining critic's phrase "USDA Steel-Belted Radial" and defy softening if cooked in anything less than boiling lye. (Use lye, not acid -- acid hardens albumins, alkali softens them -- if you want to try that.)

#25 MaxH

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 12:29 PM

By the way, nakji, your koftas in curry sound delightful. I'd be interested in your comments after you try the dish.

#26 nakji

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 03:48 PM

Thanks, I'll report back. The book is Madhur Jaffrey's Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail, and if I recall correctly, it's a Pakistani Kofta curry. I'm looking forward to it.

I'll add wryly that in my region with its many Vietnamese restaurants featuring "pho" soups [not actually an O in "pho" nor pronounced like one; the soup is French pot-au-feu evolved in Vietnam with local ingredients] you can encounter little meat or fish balls of hard-rubber consistency, resembling the hard little toy "Superballs" that bounce so effectively. Some of these meatballs recall a long-ago dining critic's phrase "USDA Steel-Belted Radial" and defy softening if cooked in anything less than boiling lye. (Use lye, not acid -- acid hardens albumins, alkali softens them -- if you want to try that.)


They also put these same meatballs into Chinese hotpot - although since the pot is usually going at temperatures to melt lead, the broth seems overall to be unaffected by their addition.

#27 IndyRob

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 04:05 PM

I'll take the middle ground and say that while heating from frozen would work fine, if you have the luxury of being able to thaw them in fridge overnight, take advantage of it. Reheating will go very quickly.

I've baked uncooked frozen meatballs in a toaster oven in around 15-20 minutes. They get up to temperature very quickly because they're so small.

If it were it me, and if it was important, I might add a few extra sacrificial meatballs that I could pull out and test prior to committing to the batch.

#28 Blether

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 05:47 PM

Thanks, I'll report back. The book is Madhur Jaffrey's Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail, and if I recall correctly, it's a Pakistani Kofta curry. I'm looking forward to it...


These kinds of dish - koftas, lamb kebabs - are of course common in North India and Pakistan, along the line of the mountains, aren't they ? I'm interested to compare your kofta experience with my own (mixed fresh and cooked straight away, in the case photographed).

Edited by Blether, 05 September 2010 - 05:48 PM.


#29 judiu

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 06:33 PM

Have never tried the zucchini trick, but I usually add a can of drained, food processor chopped water chestnuts to a meatloaf, for a little lightness. Works great!
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#30 MaxH

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 11:53 AM

... koftas ... are of course common in North India and Pakistan, along the line of the mountains, aren't they ?


Not to mention "C. Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans and N. Africa" (Davidson, OCF).

Not unlike the practice of cooking spiced ground meats and rice rolled up in grape or cabbage leaves, done with variations throughout the Mediterranean basin, Turkey and the Balkan peninsula, North Africa, even the Caucasus. People from all those places have sworn to me that their native country was the first. (One learns to expect such claims when talking to people from different countries that share regional cooking traditions!)