I never knew that IKEA sells frozen meatballs until my office mate told me few years ago. As soon as I find out about it, I went to IKEA and got myself 1 bag of frozen meatballs. I find it very convenient to have something stocked in the freezer for days that I don’t have time to make my own meals. It was sort of emergency food for me. I like the taste of it, it’s reasonably priced and the quantity is quite huge. I had been buying it since then until I decided to make my own meatballs at home. Bake, not fried is what I aimed for.
A perfect meatballs for me is something that is tender, juicy, flavourful and bake. Yes, it has to be baked, that’s the challenge I put on to myself. If I am going to make it homemade, might as well do it the way I like it. But if you prefer it fried, then do so. Four characteristics, it doesn’t sound that hard, that’s what I thought. I started making it, some came out dry, some came out hard and some came out bland. I had to try several times to get all those 3 characteristic perfect, and now that I finally got it spot on, I want to share the secrets of tender and juicy meatballs.
Secret 1: Lamb or a mix of beef and pork for more flavorful taste, 80% lean. The pork will give the moisture and tender texture to the meatballs and the beef will give a nice taste texture when mixed with the ground pork. For the lamb it works great even on it’s own, no need to mix it with beef or pork. I used this most of the time because it produces a tender and juicy meatballs on it’s own.
Secret 2: Season generously, nothing’s worst than eating a bland meat balls. The challenge with making meatballs is that you cannot taste it once you mixed it, that’s a big no for the obvious reason its raw meat. I like to saute the spices along with onion and garlic before adding it to the meatballs. This helps extract the flavor of the seasonings better thus giving a more flavorful meatballs. My trick is to fry 1 piece just to get the taste of it and then I can adjust the seasonings accordingly.
Secret 3: Crumbled white bread or panko bread crumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs), to give the soft texture to meatballs. I like using either of these two, but most of the time I used panko bread crumbs. This kind of bread crumb has a lighter flakey texture as compared to regular bread crumbs. The lighter texture gave the meatballs the tender texture, at the same time it acts like a binder when mixed with milk. I did not use any egg in this recipe to bind the ingredients, the combination of panko bread crumbs and milk is what acts as a binder, and it worked.
Secret 4: I find that chiling the mixture in the fridge before shaping it to balls hold better and more stable. I tested both shaping without chiling and chiling before shaping and I find that the later works best. You only need at least 1 hour, or you can even leave it overnight in the refrigerator just make sure to store it a covered container.
Once all the ingredients are mixed together, the mixture should be shapeable and not too sticky in the palm. This is a good sign that you are on a right track when it comes to texture. A sticky meatballs is loose, which means that it is missing a binder and it could easily fall apart and will not hold its shape. If this happens, just a little bit more bread crumbs and gently mix until combined. Do not over worked the meat as it could get tough.
I stuffed these meatballs with cheese but it can be made without it. Although optional, I suggest try it at least once to see the difference. You might not even want to go back to the regular meatballs. The melted cheese never failed to give the “wow” moment when you sliced the meatballs, plus it taste great with it. It’s cheese after all, cheese always makes food better. Now, let’s put this tips in action. Let’s get started!
- 1/2 kg ground meat – combination of 50% beef and 50% pork (you can play with the ratio and you can also use all beef or all lamb)
- 1 small onion finely chopped (about 145g)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp panko or tempura bread crumbs
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/4 tbsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3 medium size jalapeno pepper – seeded and chopped into small pieces – optional
- 1/2 tbsp. dried parsley or 1 tsp fresh minced parsley
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 5 tbsp milk
- 2 oz cube or shredded mozarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray.
- Spices Mixture: Heat pan, add oil and saute onion and garlic until fragrant. Add salt, peppers and parsley and cook for another minute.
- Milk and bread crumbs mixture: In a small bowl, mix milk and bread crumbs. Set aside.
- Add onion and garlic mixture into the ground meat, then add milk and bread crumbs mixture. Mix until well combined. Do not overwork. Ste aside and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, can also be left overnight in the refrigerator just make sure to have it in a covered container.
- Scoop 1/3 cup portion and divide into 2. Create a hollow in one of the portion and stuff it with cheese then cover with the other half. Roll into your palm and shape into a ball. Arrange in a baking sheet with high side (not the flat cookie sheet). The oil and water will come out of the meatballs as it bakes and having something to block it from dripping is less messy.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 – 30 minutes, or until meatballs are browned and cooked through. Alternatively, you can also deep dry the meat balls for about 2-3 minutes.
- For freezing: I like to pre-bake only the meatballs when I am going to freeze it. Just enough for the meat to discolor, about 20-30 minutes. I do this so that when I use it for my pasta, or other dish, it will not dry out when cook or bake again. When ready to use, bake at 350F for another 10-25 minutes.
- For immediate use: Bake 30-40 minutes or until the meatballs turns brown.
Make the meatballs and bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until just browned but not too brown. Let cool completely then transfer in a ziplock bag. Store in the freezer until ready to use. Meatballs can be kept frozen for 1-2 months. When ready to use, thaw in refrigerator then bake again at 350F for 20 minutes.