Okay, so they won’t literally melt in your mouth like an ice cube would, you do still need to chew them, but I can promise you that they will be tender, moist, and absolutely packed with flavor all while being coated in a smoky tomato sauce. Ideal as an appetizer, snack, served with spaghetti or even in a sub-sandwich, this is my coveted meatball recipe that I’m sharing with you today and in it I will be giving you all my secret tips and tricks to make what I consider to be the perfect meatball.
Here’s what you won’t find here: chewy or rubbery pucks of bland meat, no grey looking balls of sadness in a too acidic tomato sauce that you know is going to give you reflux. Instead, I’ll show you how to make these rounded, bite-sized balls of meat that are succulent, tender, and melts in your mouth to impart a rich burst of well-seasoned and wonderfully herbed flavor. Better yet, the accompanying tomato-based sauce is just the right amount of smoky and sweet, rich with addictive umami flavor. Doesn’t that sound good?
So, with all that in mind, read on and I’ll show you how to make them or if you prefer you can skip to the recipe card for a short video on how to make them.
I’ll start off with my first tip: use fresh herbs.
Seriously, nothing beats fresh and for this recipe we’ll be using a lot of fresh herbs including: onion, garlic, thyme, basil, oregano, and chives. As well as some other seasonings such as salt, pepper, smoked paprika and dried Italian seasoning.
In addition to our herbs and spices, you’ll need some ground beef (you can also use ground chicken, turkey, lamb, pork or even a combination of meats), whole milk, whole wheat breadcrumbs, freshly shredded cheese (you’ll want to opt for a hard, salty cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino) and an egg.
My second tip to you is to make a panade. In the most simple terms, a panade is a blend of starch (breadcrumbs in our case) with a liquid (we’ll be using milk).
This will help your meatballs be moist and tender. Have you ever cooked a homemade burger and it shrinks up on you into this firm almost rubbery little puck? I bet you didn’t use a panade. You see, meat fibers tend to shrink up and release moisture when introduced to heat, the use of a panade helps to minimize this which allows your meat to retain both its moisture and enables it to have a moist texture vs one that is dry or crumbly.
To your milk and breadcrumbs, add in your fresh herbs (onion, garlic, basil, chives, thyme, oregano).
Then add in your other seasonings (salt, pepper, smoked paprika and Italian Seasoning). Mix everything together so that all the milk is fully absorbed by the breadcrumbs.
Next, add your meat. This is where my third tip comes into play: do not overwork your meat mixture. Overhandling your beef leads to it being tough and rubbery. You want to mix until things are just incorporated.
Add your egg to your meat mixture and fold it in to incorporate it. You can add it whole or crack it into a separate bowl and whisk it before adding it.
Finally, fold in your shredded cheese. You’ll want to be sure to use a hard cheese such as a Parmesan or Pecorino Romano for this, and to be honest, it really is optional but lends to a superb flavor as well as acts in part as a binder (which since you already have the egg and panade, you can afford to forgo the cheese if you so choose).
My fourth tip is to avoid over rolling your meatballs or tightly squeezing/compacting them between your hands to shape them. If you do so your meatballs will be tight and tough. You want to just shape and form them to that they can hold their shape when you cook them, but not to the point where they’re a rubbery little ball.
The fifth and more important tip I can offer you is to pan fry your meatballs. Sure, you can bake them off, it’s easier and doesn’t require you to keep an active eye on them and turn each one to brown on the other sides, but the flavor of both your meatballs and your sauce will suffer.
Don’t do it, trust me on this. You want to…NEED TO… place them into a hot skillet (preferably cast iron if you happen to have one) and sear them off. Yes it’s more work because you have to turn them over and to sear them on all sides, but through the wonderful, wonderful Maillard Reaction, your meatballs will develop a phenomenal crust on them and the fat that renders out (if you’ve used your panade it will be much less than if you don’t) will have an almost smoky, meatiness to it…
Which brings us to the next step: creating a delicious tomato sauce for your meatballs.
When your meatballs are on their last turn of browning, prepare your sauce by combining some tomato sauce with seasoning (salt, pepper and dried oregano) and don’t skip over the touch of honey (or raw cane sugar) to take the acidic edge off.
So for my sixth and final tip: Add your sauce to the pan your meatballs are cooking in and watch how it transforms from this bland tomato puree into a rich sauce with tons of depth and flavor from the rendered fat of the meatballs and from the bits of everything in the pan. You might never bake another meatball again. Let your meatballs simmer and rest in your sauce a few minutes before serving them.
If using a cast iron, don’t let the tomato sauce sit in it too long since the acid in it will eat through your seasoning and can encourage your pan to rust.
There you have it, my recipe for amazing little bites of meatball heaven. Rich, smoky, herbed, salted, with just the right amount of sweetness and umami to keep you coming back for bite after bite.
So here is a summary of all my tips and tricks for the perfect meatball:
- Use fresh herbs 🌿🌿🌿
- Make a panade 🍞 + 🥛
- Do not overwork your meat 🚫 ✋
- Do not shape your meatballs too tightly by squeezing or compacting them 🚫 ✊
- Pan-fry your meatballs in a skillet 🍳
- Use the flavor developed in the pan you seared off your meatballs in to flavor your tomato sauce 🍅
Did you try this recipe? What did you think of it? Let us know by leaving a comment and rating below or by connecting with us (@kitrusycleaneat and #kitrusy) and don’t forget to show off your pics and tag us so we can celebrate your delectable creations together!
- ⅓ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup Whole Milk
- 2 tbsp onion (finely diced)
- 1 clove garlic fresh (finely diced or grated)
- 1 tbsp basil fresh (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp thyme fresh (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp oregano fresh (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp chives fresh (finely chopped)
- ½ tsp Himalayan salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp Smoked Paprika
- ¼ tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 lb ground beef (or chicken, pork, lamb, or turkey or a mix of meats)
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese or Pecorino (finely shredded)
To serve: Whole Wheat Pasta, Shredded Cheese (Parmesan or Pecorino), Fresh Parsley or Oregano to garnish
- Make your Panade: In a large bowl add your breadcrumbs and milk along with your fresh herbs (onion, garlic, chives, basil, oregano, thyme) and your dry seasonings (salt, pepper, smoked paprika and Italian seasoning).
- Make your Meatballs: Mix in your ground beef, egg and shredded cheese.
- Shape your Meatballs: Using a tablespoon, measure and divide your meat mixture into approximately 24 meatballs and roll them gently between your palms to form them into balls.
- Pan-Fry your Meatballs: Heat a skillet on med-high heat and gently place your meatballs in one at a time, being sure to space them apart so that they aren't touching each other. Cook your meatballs until the undersides are browned and they release from the pan and can be easily turned. Then, turn them and cook on the other side. Continue until all sides are cooked and your meatballs are nicely browned.Note: If using a lean meat or stainless steel skillet, add a touch of oil to lightly coat the bottom of your pan. If you're using a well-seasoned cast iron or non-stick skillet no extra oil is needed.
- Make and add your Sauce: Just before your meatballs finish browning, combine your plain tomato sauce together with your salt, pepper, dried oregano and honey together in a bowl. Add your sauce to your pan with the meatballs and allow it to simmer for 3-4 minutes before turning off the heat.
- Rest and Serve: Let your meatballs rest for 5-10 minutes before serving and enjoying.
- Storage: Bring any leftover meatballs to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days, or in the freezer for up to three months