"Les Trois Grâces" Meatballs, by Alex
Liberal interpretation of everything I learnt from Italian American, Swedish and Turkish meatballs. Not a literal mash up.
My goal is to make Meatballs shine. Give Meatballs the attention they deserve.
I must say I am not the best at writing recipes (even though I outperform myself here ) so, if you miss something below, let me know and I'll try to correct it.
I am going beef only.
Yes I know about pork and veal and lamb. I wanted something easy to identify. The richness of pork is somehow brought in by beef short ribs, and the intensity of lamb is replaced by dry aged beef. Dry aged beef fat adds a another level. Crucial : Buy whole cuts and grind them yourself using a fine plate/die. The total amount of meat is : 2 pounds ~ 1 kg total. Because meat only is 2/3 of the mix in the end, don't go for soft flavoured cuts. Beef would become invisible. We can't afford that.
( 60% dry aged ribeye cap or any beefy/musky muscle ) OR ( 50% dry aged beef + 10% dry aged beef fat )
40% short ribs.
There is no other way : You have to grind your own meat.
Freshness, flavours, control : It is the move that has made the greatest difference in this recipe.
Place the grinder in the freezer a few hours before you start. Cut the meats in pieces and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes before you start. Having everything cold prevents fat from melting, and so your grinder from clogging. Once everything has been ground, pop them back ion the fridge until you need them. I would perform that operation in a human sized fridge if I could.
Total Non meats = 1 lb ~450g.
Remember Meats should be about two thirds of the overall mass of the meatball mix, Fillers are about one third of it. Visual reference.
Another visual reference to check if you're on tracks : 2/3 of the fillers should be soaked breadcrumbs, 1/3 be onion flesh. Maths.
Blitz 2 onions in a food processor. Sweet onions both work great here, as we'll get the punch from the side condiment anyway. Get the juices out, we only need the flesh here. ( Marinate meats for making kebabs with these juices but NOT my meatballs)
Now to the dairy filler : Mix 1/2 - 3/4 cup breadcrumbs with 1/2 - 3/4 cup Greek yogurt. I used brioche breadcrumbs I had laying around. Important bit is to let them soak the dairy in for 30 minutes. A splash buttermilk will help a lot here. Buttermilk is only here to loosen the texture, as the yogurt I used was super thick. Remember that in the end the dairy-breadcrumbs combo should look thick, but still be able to fall out of a tablespoon. Supple.
Season with salt and pepper. Taste, Adjust.
A few notes :
- Cumin. Easy on this one. Very powerful. Remember what Jamie Oliver said ? Add some but be on the brim of almost not being able to tell there's cumin in the recipe. It's more like a beef flavour enhancer.
- Cinnamon. The mandatory spice. Present in Swedish and Turkish meatballs. Again, don't make cinnamon meatballs, use it to help not to mask.
- Garlic powder. Deep, Pungent. Feeling naughty ? Use 1 big garlic clove instead.
- Nutmeg. Fresh, Tangy.
- Thyme. I used dry thyme here, fresh is fine too.
The ratio is : 1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder, 1.5 tsp of cinnamon powder, 1 tsp of garlic powder, 3/4 tsp of nutmeg, 2 tsp thyme, 1 tsp ground pepper (black).
Now you take some of that mix and you add it to the non-meat bowl. Mix. Taste. Too subtle ? Add more. Mix. Taste. You should tell it's there, but it should not be BIG.
THE BIG MIX
Make sure meat is seasoned with salt before mixing with non-meats. We're not making burger patties here.
Since I saw Niklas in Sweden whisking the shoot out of Köttbullar, and Refika in Turkey pounding the hell out of Köfte, I no longer go easy on them. Go for it solid. I often use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on it. It needs to come together.
Place the mix back in the fridge to firm up before shaping.
SHAPING AND PAR-FRYING
Gold sized meatballs using your hands.
Wet hands, not oily hands. Hydrophobic meatballs, remember ? Get them smooth, and par fry them in oil for 30s each, at 180°C 360°F.
To fry them without damaging the roundness : Use the gentle slope of a wok, like Chef Wang did. Helps a lot. Makes it safer than using a Meatball gun. (I still have it on display in the studio) Dropping canon balls from a height into hot oil is meh.
Par frying is not only OCD driven. It also creates a real barrier to keep the juices in.
It really works.
Oven has to be preheated at 450°F or 220°C.
Meatballs can be roasted without a mould, but they will flatten a bit.
I used a "half sphere" silicon mould. You can also make your own by pressing a billiard ball into some aluminium foil.
17 minutes if you did not par fry them first. ~14 minutes otherwise.
Slightly pink centre is good. Red is not. Grey is ok, as they will still be very moist anyway.
SAUCE (make it in advance)
Sauce is kept minimal on purpose. There's no need for a real thick gravy with this type of meatballs. Sauce is there to provide a bit of moisture, and also because without sauce, life is annoying. It supports for the flavours, underlines them.
When roasting these meatballs produce the absolute best juices in the world. Gather these juices, pour them in a bowl and add a splash of good quality soy sauce, just for saltiness and umami. The ratios are 3/4 meatball juices to 1/4 soy sauce. Mix it up.
Drizzle on top of the meatball.
COUNTER BALANCE (make it in advance)
Without this, the dish falls asleep.
Finely chop flat leaf parsley 2/3 with 1/3 basil leaves and 1/2 onion.
1/2 Lemon Squeeze on it. Flaky Salt and coarsely ground pepper.
Add on top of the meatball or on the side.
Have a beer or a glass of wine or a non alcoholic beverage, and think about the series.
Think how much you learnt. Think what you'll change next time in this recipe.
Ok, stop thinking. Enjoy.