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A Meatball question

I was thinking of using a variation of Suzanne Goin's Pork, Chorizo and Applewood Smoked Bacon Burgers to make cocktail meatballs. I do not make meatballs very often but I have noticed that most meatball recipes contain breadcrumbs whereas most burger recipes do not. Does anyone know why you would add breadcrumbs to meatballs but not burgers...what exactly do the breadcrumbs add in terms of flavor/texture? Does it really matter if I add breadcrumbs?

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  1. Typically, the breadcrumbs are part of a panade (bread soaked in milk), which helps keep the meatballs moist as they tend to be cooked well done. Burgers, which are typically cooked from rare to medium, don't need that (at least if they are made from fattier cuts of meat), though I've seen panades employed in some burger recipes.

    Anyway, the only way you can tell if it will make a difference is to make the recipe as written the first time, and then with breadcrumbs the second time and compare the results. Taste is subjective that way.

    1. Bread crumbs also add tenderness as well as moistness and were probably used because breadcrumbs helped extend the meat mixture volume. Less meat meant less money. Mario Batali explained it on one of his shows and answered the question he often gets about why "my meatballs aren't as tender as my grandmother's" kind of thing. The answer was because some of the more recent generations of people who have more money just used all meat simply because they could afford it, omitting the breadcrumbs. The result was often tough, dry meatballs. Grandma had it right.

      So long story short, I would suggest using breadcrumbs.

      1. Well, I suspect that breadcrumbs have been used for a lot of reasons, but mostly due to being both a filler to extend how far the meat can go and a texturizer. I've heard (on an old Molto Mario show) that panades make meatballs more tender than they would otherwise be without the breadcrumbs. I've forgotten to put breadcrumbs in meatloaves before and the texture was definately heavier and chewier that way. I think your recipe is a phenomenal idea; the only issue that I see is that you're going to want to increase your seasonings a bit to adjust for the additional ingredients.

        1. Beating my usual drum, add some coleslaw (since these are small bites, the finely-chopped cabbage type, not long shreds) to your meatball mix. Freeze, then thaw the slaw before adding to the meat. This breaks down cell walls so that the cabbage disappears into the mixture, making it more tender, moist, and slightly sweet without being identifiable. About a half cup of slaw per pound of meat.

          I have not done this, but here's a tip for making bite-size meatballs that Lidia Bastianich demonstrated on her show: shape the meat mixture into long narrow logs. maybe an inch in diameter, rolling the log in dry breadcrumbs to coat. Cut the log into inch-long pieces, then put a couple dozen of the pieces in a large sieve or colander and sprinkle with more crumbs. Shake and swirl the sieve - the pieces will form into balls. Shake off excess crumbs and proceed to fry (or bake) the meatballs. She demonstrated this as a faster way to make uniform-size cocktail meatballs.

          7 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            Cabbage? In meatballs? That is just crazy enough to try. I sometimes add finely grated carrot to my meatloaf, but cabbage to meatballs? Hmmm...

            1. re: PattiCakes

              If you search "fricadellen" on this board you'll find the whole story of the cabbage thing. I use it in meatloaf and meatballs as well as fricadellen and those who have tried it with their own meatloaf mixture have liked the result.

              1. re: PattiCakes

                Hey, I do a Diana Kennedy recipe for spicy Mexican meatballs (albondigas con chipotles) that includes a substantial quantity of shredded zucchini. Once they're cooked you'd never know the zucchini was there but they come out incredibly tender and moist.

                1. re: BobB

                  Is this recipe anywhere on line? Souds very good.

                    1. re: BobB

                      Muchas gracias, mi amigo. Feliz Navidad!

                      I like the looks of the cookbook. I think I might get it for my daughter, who married a young man of Mexican descent.

              2. re: greygarious

                Holy lord, you've got quite an idea!! I'm going to try it!

              3. I always assumed that breadcrumbs were added as a counterpoint to the eggs that are used to bind the mixture. Without bread crumbs, the meatballs would be too soggy to hold together.

                4 Replies
                1. re: roxlet

                  Oh no, they'll hold together, but will be really dense and somewhat to really dry.

                  1. re: jazzy77

                    I beg to differ. I have been making meatballs my entire life, and once you add the eggs they would be really mushy without breadcrumbs -- totally the opposite of dense and dry.

                    1. re: roxlet

                      Okay, are they still mushy after cooking them? That's what I was referring to. If so, how many eggs do you use? I mean, different recipes will get different results, so it's not to discount your outcome, but most of my experience with this has resulted in dry and dense.

                      1. re: jazzy77

                        I use about one egg per one pound of meat. There is also grated cheese, and chopped garlic mixed in, so the amount of breadcrumbs depends on the texture of the meatballs. Once they are mixed, formed and cooked (sautéed in a black skillet and then added to sauce) they are tender and delicious. Inhale-able my DH says...