Meatballs - Spicing Up and Old Favourite

Fall 2011 CSANews Issue 80  |  Posted date : Sep 02, 2011.Back to list

I love to look for ways to please my family and friends at dinner parties, all the while keeping within a reasonable budget. For cocktail-style events, I always include meatballs. Ground meat is so economical, versatile and flavourful. It can also be healthy, if you invest in lean ground versions.

It's true, meatballs are one of the most common foods made from a variety of ground meats. But even so, they can be appetizing and made in such a variety of ways that they will always please guests, whether served as an hors d'oeuvre or in pasta, soups or sauces.

When we think of ground meat, Italian and Swedish meatballs spring to mind. But other cultures utilize the ball made from flesh, as well. In Afghanistan, meatballs are added to tomato sauce and served over rice. Chinese meatballs are usually made from pork and are steamed or boiled. I've included a deep-fried version below! Asian meatballs can also be made of fish and seafood and are known as fish balls. Frikadeller is the name of the Danish pork fried meatball, usually slightly flattened. Indonesian meatballs are known as 'bakso' and are served in noodle soup with tofu and crispy wontons. As most Indonesians are Muslim, the meatballs are generally produced from beef and/or mixed with chicken.

There are secrets to producing and perfecting the meatball. The first tip is to be extra careful when working with any ground meat, fish or seafood. Watch for cross-contamination. Work with one food item at a time – such as the ground meat – then scrub your cutting board with extremely hot water, strong detergent and a good brush. I also like to spray my board with a mixture of peroxide and water. Then, wash your hands before moving onto another food item.

Older cutting boards, especially plastic ones, often have deep and shallow scratches and grooves from past use. Franklin says that these grooves act as a breeding ground for bacteria. If your guests get sick from your meatballs, they are hardly perfect. So, cleanliness and diligence are important techniques to utilize.

Another secret to making meatballs which hold together and don't crumble is to make sure that all of the air is removed from the raw flesh. In other words, abuse your meat. I know that this is contrary to what you normally hear, but I got this tip from a friend of mine who is a chef de cuisine, the highest rank which one can obtain in Canada in the culinary industry.

To ensure that your meatballs cook evenly, use a small ice-cream scoop or melon baller to make them all the same size.

Wet your hands with cool water when shaping the meatballs, to help prevent sticking.

One of my other secrets is to boil the meatballs before baking or grilling them. Boil the balls until they float. This helps to keep the meatballs in one piece and ensure that they are cooked.

Make your meatballs in different shapes. This gives them a more homemade feel and adds variety to the eyes. Try flattening them slightly or making them oblong.

The most important secret to making a great meatball is to think outside the box and explore all of the various cultural cuisines available to us.

The wine served with your meatball dish will depend on the sauce and the flesh used.

Here is a tasty and easy 'go to' meatball recipe for spaghetti:

Traditional Italian Meatballs
Serves 6
  • 1 lb. ground veal
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup dried bread crumbs
Place all ingredients into a bowl. Mix well with your hands. Squeeze air out of mixture, throwing it back onto the bowl. Refrigerate for one hour, to let mixture rest and let flavours come together. Make balls, about one ounce of meat, by rolling tightly to remove any air. Line baking tray with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 F. In large pot of boiling water, par-cook meatballs until they float, about two minutes. Transfer meatballs to baking tray. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until brown. Serve with fresh pasta in favourite tomato sauce.

I love to prepare crispy pork balls with pineapple dipping sauce for cocktail-style parties. They are easy to make and offer a sweet flavour and crunchy texture.

Crispy Pork Balls with Pineapple Dipping Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

Sauce:
  • ½ cup pineapple jam
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ tsp. chili paste
Pork Balls:
  • 1 cup dried egg noodles
  • 1 lb. minced pork
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated 
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. chili paste
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • Corn oil (for deep frying)
  • Toothpicks
Combine the pineapple jam, lime juice and chili paste in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed. 

Put the dried egg noodles into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft. Drain and set aside.

Mix the remaining pork ball ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the drained noodles. Mix together well. Roll about 1 tsp of the pork mixture into a bite-sized meatball. Repeat until all of the pork mixture is used.
In a large pot or skillet over high heat, heat the oil to 375 F. Deep-fry the pork balls in batches for 7 to 10 minutes, turning frequently until all sides are golden. 

Drain on paper towels. Arrange on a platter and serve the pork balls hot or at room temperature with toothpicks and the dipping sauce.

Suggested wine: Sweetness is the predominant taste sensation of this hors d'oeuvre and so requires a partner with equal sweetness. Pair your pork balls with an off-dry rosé or sweet, white Zinfandel.