Servings: 12 Prep: 20 mins Cook: 15 min Total: 40 mins
Anyone who has taken a look inside my freezer knows I love sausages. Sausages come in a seemingly infinite variety of flavors, including seafood and vegetables. They’re as varied as there are a huge number of uses for them. They’re great alone, in sandwiches, in salads, in soups, coated in sauce, etc.; such an interesting and versatile creation. I them and I love that I can just walk into the store and have everything from Hot Italian to Curried Duck with Raisins.
Meatballs are another very similar concoction. In fact, I could argue they’re the same beast, but without the casing (I won’t, though). It almost seems silly to have a recipe for meatballs, in that there are billions around the internet, but I thought including one was a great way to spell out some interesting ideas.
Firstly, meatballs are essentially just raw meat with stuff added to it. The meat is divided into small portions, rolled into nice little balls, and is then often pan-fried! From there, some bake them, some freeze them, some toss them into a soup or sauce base and simmer them, etc. This is where variety can continue to play a part. Moroccan meatball and tomato stew, with a side of Eggplant Hash, perhaps? Sure!
Secondly, and as mentioned before, meatballs contain “stuff”. I’m a huge fan of meat. I also tend to like stuff, but I often like my stuff sneakily hidden inside meat. Any parent that has pureed spinach or vegetables and added it to a kids hamburger meat knows this trick. It’s a good way to boost one’s nutrient intake! Beyond that, it’s also a great way to add things like extra fat, moisture, flavors and aromatics! You can even change the meat around. It doesn’t need to be “just” beef or “just” turkey. Combine ‘em for different tastes! Or, grind up some of that venison or pheasant trim from a recent hunt, add some stuff and ball ‘em up!
Above and beyond the flavors that can be added, the stuff also adds bulk to the meatballs. One can take a lb. (454 g) of ground meat and mix in raw bacon, ground mushrooms, onions, zucchini, pureed spinach, peppers, grated carrots, tomato paste, garlic, herbs, exotic spices, and more. Much much more!
I recommend an egg per 1/2 lb. of meat. It helps to bind it all. I wouldn’t ever have more stuff than meat, as the balls will just fall apart and disintegrate without starch to hold them together, but you can quickly extend the volume of your meat by adding your various stuff.
Third, meatballs are essentially mini-meatloaf balls. Anyone who has made a meatloaf, or any number of any of a myriad of traditional western style meatballs knows that they’re full of breadcrumbs and/or occasionally rice. These starchy additions perform a few duties: they add inexpensive bulk, they add moisture and they help bind it all together. See, breadcrumbs and rice are full of starch. This starch will swell in a hot wet environment and absorb any moisture that comes into contact with it. This moisture being held by the starch is what keeps meatballs from being dry and crumbly. Also, the starch and gluten, in combination with the eggs help serve as a glue to hold the whole thing together.
Without the starch, it gets a bit tough. I know a lot of people who use pork rinds for this, but I don’t know that this is doing much. At its core, it’s really just more ground meat. It’ll swell as it hydrates and pick up a bit of moisture, but what we really want is something thirsy … HUNGRY. We want something that picks up moisture and holds it there.
One common hungry ingredient is coconut flour. Coconut flour holds about 4 times its weight in fat and water. However, I’d only use coconut flour in some kind of exotic or tropical meatball (which does sound divine!). For the most part, I typically tilt towards ground chia or flaxseed. THESE two ingredients will swell to about 10 times their size, holding loads of moisture!
If I see a good sale on ground meat, it’s not uncommon for me to grab a bunch, come home and whip up a batch of meatballs. These, I’ll pan fry, but leave a good medium-rare on the inside. Then, I chill, then vacuum pack them in batches of about 12 balls and freeze for a later day.
The recipe below is a very tasty, but a largely basic and generic western style meatball. It’s intentionally neutral as it allows me to plop a few balls into a far wider variety of dishes. Don’t let its basic nature deter you, though. Whip ‘em up and throw a few into a big creamy tomato-bacon-parmesan soup for lunch. YUM!
Serving Size: Recipe will make 12 roughly 6-ounce (168 g) portions.
Grinding Note: If you have a meat grinder, or plan to grind your own meat, a quick way to chop the mushrooms is to run a coarse grind through the grinder. Follow this up by coarsely grinding your raw bacon, which adds fat, salt and smoky flavor. I wouldn’t recommend this with the other vegetables, though, as it’ll damage them causing rapid oxidation. Graters work well for this (and on the mushrooms, too!)
Photo Note: The photos show the meatballs in and out of vacuum packing. Also, I tossed them in a quick homemade tomato sauce and some fresh basil and plopped it on top of some squaghetti that I’d warmed up from the freezer. Some grated parmesan from CostCo and I’m good to go!
Super Versatile Freezer MeatballsPrint Rate
- 1/4 cup butter lard or bacon fat
- 1 small onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lb cremini or button mushrooms grated or chopped fine
- 2 small red bell peppers seeded and finely diced
- 2 lbs ground beef (80 lean/20 fat)
- 1/2 lb raw bacon ground or very finely chopped
- 4 large whole eggs
- 1/4 cup ground chia seeds (I used white)
- 1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large skillet or sauté pan, melt half of the fat (2 tbsp [30 mL]) over medium-low heat.
- Add the diced onion and garlic, along with a bit of salt and pepper. Stir and cook until onion is translucent and the mixture is aromatic, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan with a small amount of salt and pepper. Stir and cook with the onions. This will release a lot of water and may look a bit soupy. This is fine. Continue cooking and allow the mushroom water to evaporate, about 10 minutes.
- Once the mushroom mixture starts to resemble a loose paste, add the bell peppers with a bit more salt and pepper. Stir and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. We just want to soften the bell peppers.
- Once the bell peppers are soft, spread the mixture evenly on a large plate or cookie tray. Spread it thin, so that it cools quickly. Place in the refrigerator, to cool. (It doesn’t need to be cold. If you touch it and it’s warm, this is fine. If it’s hot enough to cook the meat, give it a few more minutes. It shouldn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes to cool)
- While the mushroom mixture cools, add ground beef, raw bacon and eggs to a large mixing bowl.
- Once the mushroom mixture cools to a warm temperature, add it to the bowl with the beef. Evenly sprinkle the ground chia over the top of the beef. Season with a small amount of chili flake (optional), salt and pepper.
- Mix the ingredients well, so that everything is evenly mixed and there are no lumps.
- I always use an ice cream scoop for the initial portioning of my meatballs. It keeps them consistent, while also helping to form the round shape. Portion each ball into roughly an ounce (28 g), each (Note: smaller meatballs are a bit easier to sear in a pan). Scoop them into the very plate or tray you used to cool the mushrooms. Then, roll them between your palms, until they are smooth and perfect little orbs.
- Heat a pan to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp (30 mL) fat to the pan and spread it around. Quickly spread a single sparse layer of meatballs around the bottom of the pan. The goal is to sear all sides to get a nice color and a bit of extra charisma in taste, but without overcooking the meatballs. We’re looking for a rare to medium-rare meatball. Toss the pan or move the meatballs around the pan to try and brown all sides. Once browned, place on a separate clean tray lined with parchment or wax paper. Add more raw meatballs to the pan and similarly brown. Once all the meatballs are browned and on the clean tray, place the tray in the refrigerator to chill.
- Once the meatballs are completely chilled through... portion, vacuum pack, and freeze them. Or, place the uncovered tray in the coldest spot in the freezer and allow the meatballs to freeze. Once frozen solid, place in a labeled plastic zipper bag. Squeeze or suck out as much air as possible, then freeze for a later date.
- When ready to use, place in the refrigerator the day before. Or, submerge the airtight bag in a pool of cool water. Once they’re defrosted, cook them up! You can bake them in an oven and serve with sauce, or cook IN the sauce, or within a soup base. Cook to desired doneness and enjoy!
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