Meatballs are easy to make providing you have the tricks of the trade at your fingertips.
I’m a stickler for freshness when it comes to mince. Minced meat does not keep as well as joints of meat or sliced meat because more parts of it have been handled and exposed to the air. Use it the day of purchase if possible, or within two days (or freeze it), and always check the ‘packed on’ date, not the ‘best before’ date. You don’t want to keep mince that was packed two or three days ago for another two or three days – it will not be fresh. Beef mince will keep freshest the longest, and chicken mince for the shortest time.
Meat with some fat makes better mince for meatballs than 95% fat free mince – the fat helps keep the meatballs tender. If you want to cut out as much animal fat as possible, and you prefer fat-free mince, add some extra virgin olive oil to the meatball mixture to ensure the meatballs aren’t dry and like sawdust (extra virgin olive oil lowers cholesterol and is a monounsaturated fat).
To keep the mixture light, add breadcrumbs soaked in milk or water to the mince and give a vigorous beat once you’ve added all the ingredients. Breadcrumbs loosen the mince and beating adds air which helps keep the balls light. If the mixture feels heavy once you’ve added everything, don’t try to lighten it with more egg, as that will make the meatballs firm. Instead, beat in a little water. The mixture should feel soft and a little sticky, and hold together when rolld into balls.
Rolling the balls can be a bit of a pain because they stick to the hands. To stop this happening, have a saucer of water by the bowl and wet the palms of your hands every two or three balls. It works a treat.
Once the balls are rolled, put them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (and up to several hours in advance, or overnight, providing the mince was very fresh). This makes them firmer and they lose their stickiness – they are then much easier to fry.
Meatballs must be cooked through – they should not be served rare or medium-rare, but take care not to overcook them because that will make them dry. Heat the pan, heat the oil, then add the meatballs. Butter will help form a more highly coloured exterior but it’s not essential. If using butter, add it to the pan once the oil is heated and quickly add the balls while it is sizzling but before it has time to darken. If the balls are going to be added to a sauce for further cooking, ensure they are not overcooked during browning.
The perfect meatball need not be round. If the mixture is light it will invariably flatten a little after rolling. I don’t worry about that because a light odd-shaped meatball is much more enjoyable to eat than a heavy perfectly formed one.
All of the above makes it sound much more complicated than what it is – they’re just meatballs after all – but if you get them right, you’ll have everyone coming back for seconds. Easy Meatballs
For something different, arrange meatballs and sauce in an ovenproof dish and top with sliced mozzarella (I used buffalo mozzarella in the picture below). Grill just until it melts, then drizzle with your favourite hot sauce and a handful of basil leaves. Serve immediately.