Tips For Making The Best Meatballs Ever With Julian Barsotti

Categories: Whimsy

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With a few tips and tricks, you can make your own meatballs like a pro.
As a home cook, I've never been happy with my meatballs. I've always made a great tomato sauce, adapted from a recipe in The French Laundry Cookbook, but my meatballs were always bland, dense and rubbery. I'm well aware my biggest problem was that I never used a recipe, opting instead to dump meat, herbs, eggs and breadcrumbs into a bowl and hoping for the best. I thought meatballs were so pedestrian they didn't require care. I was wrong.

To improve my technique I talked to Julian Barsotti, whose spaghetti and meatball dish impressed me when I reviewed his restaurant Carbone's this summer. Instead of asking him for a recipe, I asked him about tips that could be applied to any meatball recipe to make them better. If you have a favorite meatball recipe you've been using for ages, get ready. It's about to get a whole lot better.

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Start with high quality pork and grind it yourself.
Use the best ingredients you can.
Like most chefs, Barsotti considers the quality of his ingredients to be among the most important factors. "You are more than half of the way there if you start with great ingredients," he said, recommending you have your butcher freshly grind your meat. I'm taking that one step further and recommending you grind your own. Meat grinders are relatively inexpensive, and if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer you can buy an attachment that takes hand-cranking out of the equation. In addition to making for better meatballs, your burgers and other recipes that make use of ground meat will get a lot better too.

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If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, the meat grinder attachment will elevate any of your dishes that call for ground meat.

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Meat ground at home is lighter and more aerated, and you can grind to your desired coarseness depending on the recipe you're using.

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Use a blender to make your own bread crumbs or buy panko.
The same goes for your breadcrumbs. If you're using those dry, sandy, flavorless breadcrumbs that come in a cardboard can, stop now. You can easily grind your own up in a blender using stale, day-old bread. If you still want to buy them, opt for panko breadcrumbs, which are lighter and have better texture.

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Sautee your aromatics to add more depth of flavor.
Saute your aromatics.
Raw onions taste OK, but onions sauteed in bacon fat taste great. Herbs and other seasonings can be cooked with the onions to lend more flavor to your meatballs. Make sure you cool the mixture completely before you add it to the meat.
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Meatball steroids

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Keep your mixture as light and fluffy as possible
Don't over-work your mixture and keep things cold.
Just like with burgers, over-mixing the meat will cause a dense and undesirable texture. If you decide to make use of a meat grinder you can grind the meat, salt and aromatics together for seriously smooth and consistent meat balls. Use a fork or gently use your hands when you fold bread, eggs or other binders into the mix.

Store everything in your refrigerator when you're not working to keep things cool and prevent the fat from breaking down. Cold hands (use an ice bath) and tools will help to keep the mixture from getting too warm.

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I like the sautee aromatics suggestion.....will do, next time.  


Use your food processor to grind meat. Works just fine. Cut it into chunks and freeze it for 10-15 minutes first.


I would always use a panade myself.


And use a mini-muffin tin instead of a sheet pan--the fat will drain into the cups and allow for better browning in the oven.



Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

These meatballs sound great, but they're a far stretch from a good old-fashioned Italian meatball made with beef and veal, milk-soaked bread, fresh minced garlic and parsley, and a generous amount of grated parmigiano.  I agree with the baking rather than frying, and the simmering in the gravy part, though.


"my meatballs were always bland, dense and rubbery"


What the hell, you are making meatballs, not building a SUPER CONDUCTING SUPERCOLLIDOR! 


Now, in the interest of "bidness" and COPY, I understand your premise. 


Meatballs are only ("ahhh, and quite very frankly today, here"-like Jerra Jones):


-ground beef


-onion powder


-bread crumb


The key is to brown said product in a large pan, no grease or oil needed.   The problem is, you have so stay "dedicated to the meatball ,and continuously turn and brown-so, as not to over cook.  In today's society this is nearly impossible with such soul robbing tasks as texting, and playing video games. 



ps-You don't need beaters and processors, you think when Nana Kregon was pouring over the product in Sicily, she had these products?  No.......she had a freakin' hearth, product, and a couple of rocks-that's it. 


#technology is making life harder+sshole


Go over to Jimmy's,  get some of Aunt Rose's,   lie your ass off.




Gotta say, I must fully endorse cooking the meatballs in the pot beforehand. Only adds flavor and provides some great flavor to the base of the sauce. I don't find much splashing, nor uneven cooking. It's not a leg of lamb we're talking here. Meatballs are peasant food, made up of random bits in order to safeguard against uneven cooking. I par-cook them a bit, then let them finish at the end with the sauce. Besides, a big pot of red sauce, noodles the whole operation typically will leave your cooktop a bit messy anyways.


That parchment paper, those bits and browning...I'd eat it.


I love my Kitchen Aid mixer; but grinding meat with it is a pain, especially when compared to going to your butcher and saying "I want that piece of meat ground coarse/medium/fine"

scott.reitz moderator

 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz These meatballs had all those things except the meat blend. This isn't a recipe. It's a list of tips. Use one or all of them the next time you make your "beef and veal, milk-soaked bread, fresh minced garlic and parsley, and a generous amount of grated parmigiano" and see if you notice a difference.

scott.reitz moderator

 @JohnNeelyBryan I had the same problem with my first few batches. Dice into small cubes the size of that picture and let it sit in the freezer for 30 minutes before you get to grinding. Freeze the attachment too. It should go more smoothly and you can grind up any cut you like.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

 @scott.reitz I dunno.  How much time did your meatballs take to do from beginning to end?  I heard a tip that you can replace the veal with a gelatin made from Knox and you'll get the same consistency that the veal lends to the balls.  Bacon, I can't imagine in a meatball.


Are you retarded? Bacon makes everything better!

scott.reitz moderator

 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz  @scott.reitz I think it was seven days or so. Really the only additional time incurred was spent on sauteing the aromatics and grinding the meat.  You can ditch the bacon and use olive oil, but I used pancetta which is pretty mild.

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