“Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear.” —Lemony Snicket, The Carnivorous Carnival
With all due respect to Lemony Snicket, we disagree. While meatballs are indeed miraculous, there is nothing remotely mysterious about them.
Just ask Garret Martindale, a meatball aficionado who earns his keep as executive chef at Sequoyah Country Club, in Oakland, Calif. Martindale knows exactly what’s in his meatballs, and he’s certain they should appear as frequently as possible.
Here’s his six-point meatball-making guide.
1. The Meat of the Matter
Yes, there are such things as vegetarian meatballs. But let’s be literal here and stick to meat. Options abound. You can go with all-beef meatballs, or mix and match your meats, using beef, pork and veal in any combination. Duck meatballs? Absolutely. Martindale is particularly fond of chicken meatballs, which he mixes with food-processor blended chicken skin for fattiness and flavor.
2. Cook for a Crowd
As long as you’re making meatballs, Martindale says, “don’t skimp on quantity.” They tend to go quickly. And you can always freeze the extras.
3. Use Fresh Add-Ins
When it comes to the other ingredients, the fresher the better, Martindale says. Fresh herbs instead of dried herbs. Fresh breadcrumbs and fresh parmesan, too. If you can’t find fresh parmesan, other hard cheeses work nicely, such as asiago and Pecorino romano. You can also use soft cheeses, like fresh ricotta. Just be mindful of moisture content. You want your mixture to be damp, not sopping. If it feels too wet, add more breadcrumbs. Use Kosher salt (no iodized flavor) and fresh ground pepper for additional seasoning. And whatever you do, Martindale says, “please don’t use the fake parmesan from a can.”
4. Don’t Over Mix
Mix with your hands, not a machine, until the ingredients are well-incorporated, but not beyond that. If you work the mixture too hard, your meatballs won’t turn out as tender as they should.
5. Shaping Meatballs
Make sure your mixture is cold. It will be easier to work with. Before you get started, set a small bowl of olive oil on the counter and dip your fingers in it, just enough to thinly coat your palms. As you shape each meatball, toss it gently from one hand to the other, as if you’re playing a game of catch with yourself, with your hands about 10 inches apart. The gentle impact will help bind the meat and remove any air bubbles. Aim for meatballs of uniform size for even cooking. They should be roundish in shape but loosely formed. If you pack them densely, you’ll risk getting a rubbery result.
6. Baking, Browning, Braising
Martindale likes to bake his meatballs, placing them on a greased sheet pan and cooking them in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees (cooking times may vary slightly, depending on the size of your meatballs). But air frying is an acceptable alternative. Another option is to brown your meatballs on the stovetop in a sauté pan until they’re about 3/4-cooked, and then finish them in the oven. If you’ve made marinara sauce, place your warmed sauce in a casserole dish, then add the meatballs and bake for another 20 minutes. You can also simmer your meatballs in sauce on the stovetop. This can be a messy process, but it yields mouthwatering results.