Whether they are beef, lamb, chicken, pork or veal, meatballs can be found in most of the cuisines of the world.
While they are generally economical to make, their appeal is way broader than budget and much more to do with wonderful flavour combinations and texture.
Although we are not necessarily going to embrace the Lady and her Tramps idea of romance over a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, they do have their place in the kitchen.
Meatballs around the world
Minced (ground) meat is essential for meatballs, the type of meat used varies from culture to culture and is also recipe dependent.
Italian meatballs are generally made from minced beef, veal or pork, either singularly or a combination.
Combining spaghetti with meatballs is much more likely to be found in the USA instead of Italy where meatballs don’t usually accompany pasta but could be found in soup or with an accompanying salad.
Middle Eastern koftas usually contain lamb or beef, they are eaten in pita bread with hummus and other accompaniments.
Chinese meatballs are usually made from pork and range from small flavoursome morsels floating in a soup to the super large lion’s head meatballs.
Spanish albóndigas are made of beef and are usually served as tapas with a gutsy flavoured dipping sauce.
In the UK faggots are popular, these are made from pork and use the heart, liver and bacon as well as fatty belly meat.
The Swedes are famous for their Köttbullar (meatballs) of which a popular version are found in Ikea cafes, fondly visited by Virgil Evetts on his travels.
Choosing your meat
In this minimum fat content world, when choosing meat for meatballs forgo the lean minced meat for something a little fattier. Fat is pretty much essential in meatballs as this helps to bind them together. For this reason buy regular mince as opposed to the predominantly fat free when making meatballs.
Finely chopped onion and herbs are usual additions to meatballs. some cook their onions first but if they are very finely chopped then it isn’t really necessary.
A common issue with meatballs is falling apart – meat crumbles as opposed to meatballs, while some fat is beneficial, egg is good at binding meatballs but it will make your mixture sloppier so you may need to balance the egg with breadcrumbs which will then also help to lighten the mix.
Grated cheese is also good for binding, it is a personal preference as to whether you like your cheese in or on your meatballs – or even both.
Ingredients such as fresh breadcrumbs or rolled oats can lighten meatballs significantly, meat on its own is very dense. Breadcrumbs soaked in milk makes meatballs even lighter and many swear by this including Frankie Valli’s not so secret meatball recipe of which he was well known for.
Meatballs are usually pan fried in a film of oil until well coloured and cooked through. They can be oven baked but this generally doesn’t give as good a crust on the outside and the meatballs do have tendency to dry out.
Meatballs can be frozen before cooking or once cooked.
As they are small they are prone to drying out in the freezer so ensure they are in an airtight container and use within a few months.
Some of our favourite recipes are;
Lamb Koftas with Garlic Yoghurt
Bulgar wheat combines with lamb mice,spices and herbs in these tasty aromatic meatballs. Serve with garlic and mint yoghurt, hummus, salad and warm pita pockets.
Chicken Ginger and Coriander Cocktail Meatballs
Tasty cocktail party fare, the zingy little meatballs are ideal served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.
Dill, parsley, nutmeg and allspice combine with beef mince in these meatballs that are then immersed into a sauce of stock, cranberry and sour cream. Rich and indulgent they are perfect on a chilly night.
Thai Chicken Meatballs
Serve these meatballs with noodles and vegetables or as cocktail fare.
Family Style Spaghetti and Meatballs
These meatballs are a staple in our house, they are perfect for hungry kids.
What are your favourite meatballs and do you have one that you like from a cuisine that we have failed to mention?