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Sep 18, 2007 01:33 PM

Meatballs - Bread Crumbs vs Stale Bread

I'm looking at some various meatball recipes and some call for bread crumbs and some call for stale bread which is then soaked in water or milk. Some of the bread crumb recipes also call for water to be added at the end of the mixing process.

Does anyone have any feedback on each method and how the meatballs turn out?


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  1. The recipe I use for Swedish meatballs calls for soaking bread crumbs in light cream, and I think this contributes to their being v. tender.

    1. I've tried them several ways. The recipe I use now calls for Italian bread that has been soaked in milk, and then you squeeze the milk out. The bread is fresh when you soak it,the milk makes a huge difference in how the meatballs turn out. My only problem is standing by the stove to turn the meatballs as they cook in a frying pan. Sometimes I end up cooking them too long and they get hard. Next time I am going to try a trick a friend told me: Bake them in the oven with a bit of chicken broth in the bottom of the dish to keep them moist and tender.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mschow

        If you are going to cook them in tomato sauce, you can skip the browning step altogether for the most tender meatballs of all. The trick is to use meat that does not have a high fat content or it will render and leave you with a lot of fat to skim from the top of the pot. Up to about 12% or even 15% fat will be okay. Just bring your saucepot to the right temperature, and drop the meatballs in without touching each other, one layer at a time. Depending upon their size, they may take from a few minutes up to about fifteen to completely "sear" in the hot tomato sauce. Once they do, you can give them a gentle stir and add another layer of meatballs. Saw my old grandma do this once, and have been doing it ever since. Although I love the texture of browned meatballs,and I especially like eating them right from the pan without tomato sauce, I can tell you that when cooked directly over sauce, they are never dry. BTW, I add tomato sauce (cooled) directly to my meatball mix for extra flavor.

        I make my own breadcrumbs from stale bread, and don't soak them. Instead, I add the tomato sauce and even some milk with egg, grated cheese, and spices.

      2. I like to make my own fresh bread crumbs in a food processor from stale bread or ends of hearty sliced bread. I only use store bought crumbs if my mixture is too gloppy.

        6 Replies
        1. re: ginnyhw

          Yes, you have to make your own bread crumbs! At least that is what the chef from whom I obtained my meatball recipe says! I save up good, hearty leftover bread in the freezer and then whirl it around in the food processor when I need bread crumbs. For the meatballs, I use 2# of meat....a mixture of ground lean beef, ground veal, and ground pork. Two large eggs and a cup of grated Pecorino Romano go in, along with a little garlic, chopped Italian parsley, salt and pepper, and the bread crumbs. Now, the secret ingrediant is water! At least 1 cup to 2 cups of water. This is what makes the meatballs tender. The mixture should be quite moist. You'll learn the right amount of water from the "feel" of the mixture. Shape the mixture gently into balls and fry in hot oil until nicely browned on all sides. Drain, and now they're ready to add to your simmering marinara sauce, where they will finish cooking. Often, I freeze a batch of them (before frying), so I'll have them handy. Mine always hold together, fry up nice and crisp, tender, and delicious!

          1. re: cookingschool

            I essentially do the same thing but I've never soaked the bread with water or milk. If the mixtures seemed dry, I guess I might add some but the eggs always seem to do the trick. One other big exception is I never fry the meatballs. I just let them cook all day in tomato sauce. They come out tender and soft. One time a few years ago I fried them to save time and no one said anything but I could tell they hated the texture.

            1. re: cookingschool

              That's almost exactly how I made them and I sort of borrowed from two different recipes. I had about a pound and a quarter of ground beef, pork, and veal. I mixed together 1/4 cup of parsley, 3 cloves of minced garlic, 2 eggs, salt, pepper, and a cup of grated cheese. I then added that to the meat and tossed in about a cup of bread crumbs (I make my own too). I fried them up and simmered them in my sauce and my wife and I thought they came out pretty darn good for a first attempt. When I was frying them, they smelled a lot like my Mom's, so I figured I was on the right track.

              Another recipe I saw mentioned adding water. I would guess they come out more tender because the inside steams as they cook?

              I might try the bread/milk soaking thing next time just to see, but based on tonight's outcome I won't be doing too much tweaking.

              1. re: Philly Ray

                But I don't fry them! I just simmer for a few hours.

                1. re: southernitalian

                  My comparison was to cookingschool's recipe. But I think I would prefer to fry them anyway since I like the crust you get from that. But I know people who do it both ways, so no complaints here.

              2. re: cookingschool

                Wait, do you put frozen bread in the food processor for bread crumbs? I have to wait a week, or else toast, my bread to make bread crumbs.

            2. day old bread is best. never use stale bread because it's, well, stale and not tasty.

              canned bread crumbs, whether seasoned or unseasoned, are for coatings, not mixing into meatballs. they can't absorb sufficient moisture.

              take your day old bread and soak in water for a bit. take it out, squeeze it tight in your hand and add it to your meat mixture. try a 75% meat/25% bread mixture at first. this will make your meatballs light and moist. substitute milk for the water to add flavor. bump up your meat/bread ratio a little if you want more moist meatballs. also, consider a beef, veal, pork mix instead of just ground beef. fat is good so don't insist on lean ground beef. minimum of 20% fat is good. more is better. fresh herbs are key.

              last thought, meatballs made this way are great in leftovers, meatball grinders, whatever. make more than you think you'll need.

              1 Reply
              1. re: steve h.

                The Swedish meatballs we made had left over boiled potatoes as an option, with cream (sometimes heavy cream) -- Swedes eat a lot of boiled potatoes. . Lots of freshly grated onions went into the mix as well. Don't overwork -- that's the secret. And the smaller the better for that kind -- keep your skillet moving with a back and forth motion as you fry which mitigates the need to turn them and keeps them round.

                For those Italian ones ... follow suggestions posted above..

              2. Never use dried. I use whatever bread I have around; usually that is some sort of handmade French or Italian, but sometimes it means an English muffin. Don't bother to make crumbs: just put in milk and squeeze. And use as little as possible: whatever your recipe calls for, cut it in half.