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Am I the only one who hates using filler in their meatballs?

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I'm talking about meatballs for spaghetti. I've tried every traditional recipe out there with the milk, soaked bread or breadcrumbs, cheese, and yet I've always found that I prefer (by far) just using the meat by itself (seasoned of course).

I've read that all the filler in traditional meatballs are supposed to make them tender, but to me they just end up making them taste doughy and non-meaty (for lack of a better word), while not using any filler gives them a hamburger like consistency which I prefer.

Am I crazy or am I just trying the wrong recipes? Maybe the ingredients I've used aren't good enough quality and that's why my traditional meatballs have failed? Sometimes I can actually taste the cooked dough inside and it's just so off-putting.

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  1. I'm with you. I just use meat (and seasonings).

    Some time back, there was a similar thread and it prompted me to look in my cookbooks for recipes for Italian style meatballs. About half of them included filler, half didnt. Of course, there are many styles of meatballs from national cuisines which would never usually include filler.

    1. You must be doing it wrong if you can taste the filler as "dough".

      The most luscious meatballs I have ever tasted were made with veal and used spices along with the traditional panade and egg yolks and fresh bread crumbs.

      Since meatlballs are cooked through and often for extended periods of time unlike a hamburger, they need more than just meat to stay supple. It's just the nature of the protein.

      Make them however you like, but I;ve never faced your problem.

      Same reason I do not like hamburger as a pizza topping. Once cooked thru, it gets rather tough and quite chewy no matter the fat content.

      Good luck.

      1. If I was served an Italian-style meatball that had the consistency of a hamburger I would be disappointed meatballs IMO should be soft and luscious but they certainly should not taste of dough.

        are you braising your meatballs in the sauce or are you making them separately?

        Is this a problem you have with only your own meatballs or a general preference (ie do you not enjoy meatballs from an Italian restaurant or other's home as well because of the filler as well?)

        2 Replies
        1. re: JTPhilly

          I brown in the frying pan and then add to the sauce for the main part of the cooking. As regards texture, I much prefer the firmer nature that you seem to get when you don't use filler.

          1. re: Harters

            We get quite a firm texture with ours. We use Progresso Seasoned breadcrumbs and Calabro paremesan cheese and egg plus seasonings. Traditionally fried. We don't like the mushy so we don't soak in the sauce so much.

        2. You may be using the wrong technique here. If the panade or breadcrumbs are evenly distributed, you should not end up with doughy middles. Instead, you have a very light and tender meatball.

          When starch and liquid are introduced to the meat mixture in the form of panade, they form a gel like structure which coats the protein strands in the meat and prevents them from linking in a tough matrix. This makes meatballs characteristically moist and smooth. Without the panade, meatballs tend to be denser and coarser, essentially a round hamburger. If you like the coarser texture, keep doing what you're doing, there's nothing wrong with it; just adjust cooking time as they will cook more quickly than meatballs made with filler and binding.

          1. You might want to try a grated onion in the mixture and a little extra oil. That might get you the tenderness your looking for without being doughy.

            1. Agree, although I don't consider Parmesan cheese to be filler.

              1. Meatballs without breadcrumbs may end up too lean - I think that explains the textural difference that they make.

                The breadcrumbs absorb some of the "juices" (okay, fat) that the meat gives off as it cooks.

                1. Try finely grated potato with the moisture squeezed out.

                  1. Whatever floats your boat, but the best meatball recipes all use bread of some kind and the better the bread, the better the meatball.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: grampart

                      I've experimented with breadcrumbs (top quality store bought, and home made), English muffins and old Italian bread. Each has it's rewards. But none? I don't think so.

                    2. I agree. Fillers just make the meatball texture mushy to my way of thinking and tasting.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Wtg2Retire

                        Do you use egg to bind?

                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                          I do use egg or eggs - just depends on the amount of meat I am using I just sort of wing it; don't have an actual recipe.

                      2. Diced onions, diced mushrooms and shredded zucchini are all great subs for breadcrumbs in meatballs and meatloaf. I omit bread products and fillers from all sorts of recipes and don't miss it a bit.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: weezieduzzit

                          -----------------

                          Diced onions, diced mushrooms and shredded zucchini

                          ---------------

                          Sorry, but adding those , still adds "FILLER" no matter how you want to spin it.

                          Lots of ways to make a meatball, meatloaf and ad nauseum any gyro, loaf or meat product.

                          It's been done.
                          Still filler.

                          Still yummy.
                          Still filler.

                          Sorry.

                          1. re: jjjrfoodie

                            I'm quite sure you knew what I meant.

                            1. re: weezieduzzit

                              Not sure I do.

                              And keep in mind weezieduzzit I do indeed adore your CH postings.

                              Trust me.

                              So bread crumbs, panko or a panade is filler in a meatball or meatloaf (again, et al ) mixed proteins , but

                              "Diced onions, diced mushrooms and shredded zucchini" are not?

                              I'm just very curious.
                              I love food but seldom pick a fight over it.
                              Like never.

                              Again--I;m very curious of the nomenclature you use vs. me and "filler" and how you define it.

                              Cooking is an art, but yet, still a a science.

                              And even more so I meant no ill by my post.
                              It just seemed quite contradictory.

                        2. I always use a panade, and make sure it is very wet.
                          You might just need more moisture.
                          My meatballs are very, very tender, but everyone doesn't like them that way. Some like more firmness.
                          I use homemade bread crumbs and at least milk or heavier.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: monavano

                            Half and half or heavier for me, and don't forget a few eggs. Have switched from bread crumbs, to English muffins (a friends family secret), then a short while Panko to stale Italian bread as my MIL did. Getting there!

                            1. re: coll

                              Half and half or cream is wonderful if I have it and am feeling indulgent- the results are great.
                              My bread crumbs are the leftovers from making bread.
                              I love to make bread, but it's just DH and me, so we usually don't get through the loaf before it gets stale.
                              It works great, and I get a melange of herbs depending on what's in there. It's always worked out in my meatballs' favor.

                              1. re: monavano

                                I save so much stuff (breads, herbs, dairy product inc parmesan ends etc) in the freezer in my "meatball bag". But I sort of realize it's a more staple meal for us than others!

                                1. re: coll

                                  Sounds like my freezers!

                          2. I prefer a little filler for a tender meatball and softer mouth-feel. I don't care for meatballs that are as tough as golf ball sized hamburgers.

                            1. IMHO all-meat balls (addendum/correction - as in: balls made entirely and exclusively of meat) are leaden - hard and heavy in the mouth. I like my meatballs tender. You can achieve that in various ways, but the best way is cracked wheat. Small chips of cracked wheat that I soften in water then knead through the ground meat. I find it far more effective than bread crumbs in producing a light, meaty ball. You don't taste the tabouli, it tastes like it's all-meat. But it's light.

                              This is also the point in the recipe where you can add in the flavor: cumin, sumac, minced parsley, dried, crumbled mint leaves - depends what I'm going for, and whether I'm working with lamb or beef. since you're kneading the flavor into the meat, it's no extra work to knead in the cracked wheat and produce a meatball with perfect mouth-feel.

                              You do know that you don't have to serve meatballs over an enormous bed of starch?
                              If the meatballs are tender, they can stand alone in a glorious sauce.

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: AdinaA

                                So, you're the only meatball maker who can make a tender meatball?
                                That's really something!
                                Here, I thought mine were tender, but if all meatballs are leaden, that must mean mine are.
                                Bummer.
                                But seriously, that's a heck of a statement to make.

                                1. re: monavano

                                  Mono, poster meant that all-meat meatballs are dense. Not all meatballs. Confusing wording was used. Caught me for a minute.

                                  1. re: sal_acid

                                    Thank you! Big difference. Get it now!

                                  2. re: monavano

                                    She means balls of all meat, not every meat ball.

                                    1. re: magiesmom

                                      Thank you, too!

                                      1. re: monavano

                                        Sorry didn't see other explanation

                                        1. re: magiesmom

                                          Oh, I appreciate the clarifications!

                                    2. re: monavano

                                      She said you can get them tender various ways and then stated her favorite. I didn't find the post confusing at all.

                                      1. re: rasputina

                                        OK, good for you?

                                    3. re: AdinaA

                                      Aiyee... where does sumac, cumin and mint come into meatballs, unless I'm totally out of it and we're talking other than Italian? I'll be the first to admit I'm out of the loop in that case.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        I wandered away from Italy, to the first herbs and spices that came to mind. Sorry. My point was that kneading in an ingredient to lighten the ball doesn't add extra work, since you have to knead the herbs and spices in anyway.

                                        1. re: AdinaA

                                          I think that different flavors of meatballs (and even if not ball shaped) are totally acceptable, if not desirable. You are right, we are talking about a technique, not an actual recipe. My grandmother always empathized that it had to be done gently, more important that the actual ingredients.

                                    4. I use panko instead of bread, or crumbs.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: letsindulge

                                        Why panko when you just mush it up in a panade anyway?

                                      2. <<Am I crazy or am I just trying the wrong recipes? >>

                                        There is nothing wrong with the recipe its just sounds like you prefer a more "non traditional" recipe

                                        As with all the poster who said the same thing I agree that the fillers should not make the meatball taste or feel doughy. Is it possible that your ratios are off? As % to total the bread/starch filler is pretty small.

                                        That said I always use old fashioned oats, run thru the FP so they get the texture of fine bread crumbs, along with either parmesan or romano cheese as "filler" and the texture is wonderful-soft and tender. I brown them lightly first in the oven and let them finish cooking in the sauce.

                                        1. Like most respondents, I too prefer the tenderness and moisture that a filler provides. Perhaps you're just using too much of it, so that you end up tasting and getting the mouth feel of the filler more than you care for?

                                          Maybe experiment next time making some meatballs with less filler, some with the current amount you've been using, and some with no filler. I agree with others that a meatball with no filler tends to be denser and drier than those with. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

                                          1. Meat by itself =/= meatballs. If you want just meat, you don't need to take the time to form it into balls. Just break it up into whatever size pieces you like, and start cooking. I don't use a lot of bread (never dry crumbs) in my panade but I do like a lot of vegetable in the mix so I wind up, both with meatballs and meatloaf, with equal volumes of meat and filler. Tender, juicy, and delish. To each his own.

                                            1. I guess they just assume everyone knows to use bread when making meatballs.
                                              http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bon-app...

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: grampart

                                                My grandmother's golden rule: ALWAYS mix the meat mixture by hand. She claimed the heat from your hands was necessary to meld the mix perfectly.

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  Did she oil her hands?

                                                  1. re: grampart

                                                    Nope. I myself use food handler gloves, don't know that it makes a difference in the finished product though. Although that and the oil could affect the finished product, I'm sure. It's the slight warmth according to her.

                                                    1. re: coll

                                                      I don't use gloves, but I take my rings off. Grosses me out to see that on TV.

                                                  2. re: coll

                                                    My aunts used to say this, too.

                                                2. I love the lightness and tenderness of a well-made meatball with a panade.

                                                  I sense some feelings here that the panade is somehow cheating or stingy with the meat or something; it's actually an integral part of a beautiful meatball - !

                                                  1. Do what you want--your kitchen, your meatballs, your rules!

                                                    If you asked twenty of us, as you can tell, you might get 20 different recipes. My dad, for example, always used a mix of pork and beef in the meatballs, and one slice of Italian bread that he'd soaked in milk, plus an egg and spices. There are dozens of other ways to do it. Don't worry about what's "traditional" if you don't like it.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: pinehurst

                                                      Agreed, but most would include the bread in some form.

                                                    2. I mix mine in the food processor because it grinds the meat more finely and makes a more tender, more evenly seasoned meatball. Against the rules, but a better ball! No large nuggets of chewy, unseasoned meat....

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        Thanks for reporting that. Goes against almost everything from everybody- they always say DON'T OVERMIX- TOUGH!.

                                                        1. re: monavano

                                                          And yet on shows like DDD, they show them throwing everything into the giant Hobart and paddling the hell out of it.

                                                          Every cuisine must have its grandma myths, I guess...

                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                            I think the value of using the hands is more about the feel than the mechanics - "grandma" knows when her meatball mixture feels exactly right and when it needs a little bit of this or a little bit of that. It would be impractical in a restaurant but for a home cook who cooks not by recipe but by intuition the tactile part of mixing can be an important part of the process.

                                                            1. re: JTPhilly

                                                              Grandmas don't have Hobarts. Sounds like a horror movie, "Grandmas with Hobarts." Coming soon to your theater.

                                                        2. re: sandylc

                                                          "No large nuggets of chewy, unseasoned meat..."
                                                          blugh, I know what you mean

                                                        3. Rocco DiSpir's mom uses no bread or cracker crumbs and hers are delicious.

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: iL Divo

                                                            This Rocco?
                                                            http://www.food.com/recipe/chef-rocco...

                                                            1. re: grampart

                                                              Ha.

                                                              That's one of the print out recipes I keep around in the kitchen folder when I need to "jump start" my brain to make meatballs the way I make them.

                                                              Yep.
                                                              How' bout that.
                                                              Dumb ass bread crumbs.

                                                              Sheldon Cooper would say -- Oh drats.

                                                              Ha.

                                                              1. re: grampart

                                                                oh a gotcha moment.
                                                                I know nothing of that food dot com recipe or who wrote it. I stated that because I've heard him say it on TV half a dozen times. I've had her meatballs and they were heaven.

                                                                1. re: grampart

                                                                  there's so many things wrong with that recipe :

                                                                  ***Place the chicken stock, onion, garlic, and parsley in a blender or food processor and puree.***

                                                                  Putting raw garlic into a food processor for a meatball recipe is going to result in 'garlic balls' the flavor is going to be so overwhelming

                                                                  ***Pour about 1/2 inch of extra virgin olive oil in straight sided, 10-inch-wide saute pan and heat over medium-high flame.***

                                                                  don't cook anything on a high flame if you're using extra virgin olive oil, you'll scorch the oil and the whole thing will taste bad

                                                                  I'm not sure why you would omit the egg, and what is the point of chicken stock?

                                                                  and yet here is another one of his Mama's meatball recipes
                                                                  http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/recipe/mama...

                                                                  1. re: cgarner

                                                                    My link had nothing to do with the quality of the recipe. It was to show it did use bread.

                                                                    1. re: cgarner

                                                                      Not to mention that you preheat the pan first, THEN add oil, if you don't want oils to scorch and food to stick.

                                                                      I remember that network reality show he had about starting up the NYC restaurant, seeing the meatballs' ingredients, and knowing immediately that to me, they would taste crummy.

                                                                2. maybe instead of the full amount of bread crumbs, maybe substitute small diced onions. it will give it some moisture and it would avoid the doughy consistency you don't like.

                                                                  1. I've occasionally used challah bread in my meatballs, they're a bit lighter.

                                                                    14 Replies
                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                      I have tried different breads as well, but all of it goes into the food processor first to crumb it up, not too fine. It seems the texture is controlled by the moisture and fat content of the meat and length of time they are cooked. Cooking them in the sauce, actually a slow braise, seems to make the softest meat balls for us, which are preferred by my guests when making heros or sandwiches.

                                                                      1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                        I make a panade (with half and half and eggs) of the torn, slightly stale, bread; then a quick browning in the sauce pot, then cooked in with the sauce the whole time. I was lucky to learn from my husbands mom and grandmother, so I never had to worry about experimenting ;-)

                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                          Very interesting, I think I did read something along these lines sometime ago..could you elaborate just a little more, the ground beef and sausage was deforested yesterday for cooking up later this morning...

                                                                          1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                            Just put the bread into a big bowl where you have already mixed a good splash of half and half (or cream or milk, whatever you have) with one beaten egg per lb of meat. Mix that up, then add the meat and spices, squish it up some more by hand and form the balls.

                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                              I also add some veggies to my meat, like onion, chopped garlic and some finely chopped carrot. The aromatics are for flavoring the sauce,. I do not bake or brown them first.
                                                                              I will try your suggestion after my morning coffee is finished.
                                                                              I have to head to the bakery now...

                                                                              1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                                Hopefully the bakery is for some fresh Italian bread to go with the sauce! I keep a Ziploc full of old bread ends for my meatballs in the freezer, hate to waste one bit of a good loaf of bread.

                                                                                I put all my finely chopped aromatics in the sauce, in the very beginning with a bit of paste. I like my meatballs to have a very smooth texture (and the sauce too, MIL was from Abruzzi and that's how they do it). I do add some granulated garlic to the dry herbs plus s&p in the balls, then fresh herbs in the sauce. After all these years, I'm still tweaking though!

                                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                                  Yes some round white and round whole wheat....I tried your method and they are in a pot of tomatoes right now...smell them?

                                                                                  I will let you know how they taste later!
                                                                                  thanks!

                                                                                  1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                                    I can definitely imagine, I made a pot myself last weekend! Some really big beef shin bones in mine too, after I get through St Paddys it will be back to the butcher for me.

                                                                                    I'll be waiting to hear how they come out ;-)

                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                      My balls received compliments from all...

                                                                                      1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                                        Happy to hear it! Although now I have the AC/DC song in my head......St Joseph's Day Weds, maybe I should throw something together too.

                                                                            2. re: PHREDDY

                                                                              I do the bread, milk, eggs, seasonings, and parmesan in the food processor before adding the meat.

                                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                                It's not clear if you also add the meat to the processor: I did it recently your way because the bread was so stale, but with the meat it does come out a little softer by hand.

                                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                                  Yes, I put the meat in the processor - I think I said something about it upthread.

                                                                                  When the meat is ground more finely in the processor, the ingredients are mixed better and the meatballs are more tender.

                                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                                    Oh OK, in my limited experience (one time) I thought they were a little bit tougher, although far from inedible.

                                                                      2. I agree with you. I believe filler was used when people didn't have that much money to spend on meat, so they used what they had in their pantry. I don't think more expensive breadcrumbs are going to change the way you feel about "filler". I feel the same way about hamburgers. I think upping the meat quality is key and enjoy your "filterless" meatballs!

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: araden

                                                                          except that italian style meatballs were invented especially for this purpose - turning lower quality or trimmed meat and stale bread into something tasty and filling - it is the essence of the dish - presented with an abundance of high quality beef one would likely prepare a different dish altogether.

                                                                          1. re: araden

                                                                            Ugh... Meatballs with no panade are hockey pucks!!!
                                                                            There is an actual science as to why this is true!

                                                                          2. Nope. The "filler" is what makes a meatball taste like a meatball, and not just a ball of meat.

                                                                            I don't keep bread crumbs on hand so I just make dry toast and crumble as needed when I want to make Italian meatballs.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                              True, I put braciole and meaty bones in the pot, for those who want solid meat.

                                                                              1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                I just use bread.

                                                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                                                  How do you get the bread pieces small enough and evenly distributed? Do you tear by hand, chop it up with a knife, etc?

                                                                                  1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                    Panade is the way! Mush it up in cream and eggs.

                                                                                    1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                      Throw chunks of it into the processor with milk and eggs.

                                                                                2. My Italian grandma's meatball recipe;

                                                                                  Equal parts beef, veal, pork
                                                                                  Bread crumbs (seasoned)
                                                                                  Grated Cheese
                                                                                  Salt (seasoned) & Pepper
                                                                                  Fresh chopped garlic
                                                                                  Parsley
                                                                                  Egg(s)

                                                                                  Fried in the pan in which you earlier browned your sausage (hot only) in. Placed in the sauce for 2-3 hours on a simmer till ready to serve.

                                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: jrvedivici

                                                                                    A twisted friend of mine puts raisins in her meatballs. Says its a Sicilian tradition.

                                                                                    Always a bad surprise.

                                                                                    Like biting into a cockaroach.

                                                                                    1. re: jrvedivici

                                                                                      Do you find that using a blend of meats makes a difference? I always just went with 100% whatever ground meat I had on hand (beef or pork).

                                                                                      1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                        I used to use the mix of the three, but I'm getting away from the beef. I use just veal or pork, or a mix of the two, much more tender.

                                                                                        1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                          Not JR but I always use a blend too. I find the flavors really compliment and add to the flavors.

                                                                                          1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                            The blend definitely tastes different and I prefer but also use what is on hand - this weekends I made with just beef because that is what I had - they tasted good.

                                                                                            I like to make spicy meatballs by using fresh Mexican Chorizo in the mix - I think meatballs lend themselves nicely to experimentation

                                                                                            LOL on the raisins - my dad puts them in his red sauce - not sure where he got the idea from.

                                                                                            1. re: JTPhilly

                                                                                              Not long ago, out of desperation, I made some with ground turkey and I don't think anyone knew the difference.

                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

                                                                                                1. re: foodieX2

                                                                                                  Since no one complained, good. Cheap and hopefully a little healthier/less caloric. It won't be a regular thing either way, but nice to know, just in case.

                                                                                                2. re: coll

                                                                                                  ground turkey is pretty mild so it can take whatever flavor you throw at it - I have not done meatballs but have had success getting turkey meat loaf to be quite flavorful. Its actually a great medium for these things because of its neutrality - I think the beef ones I made this week (with cow share ground) where maybe just a bit too "beefy"

                                                                                                  1. re: JTPhilly

                                                                                                    I agree: I think I may have done a meatloaf too. Someone had given me four packages of ground turkey and chicken. So I fooled around and fell in love! So unusual to pig out and not gain any weight.

                                                                                          2. Here's a good recipe. It uses an unflavored gelatin mixture in the mix for texture although still includes bread. Perhaps it would also improve a no-bread recipe.

                                                                                            http://carnaldish.com/recipes/pasta/s...

                                                                                            1. I am quite surprised to see the huge amount of responses, but I want to thank everyone for your input. I will give some of these suggestions a try! And I think some of you are right, I may have used too high a ratio of bread or perhaps didn't mix it enough..

                                                                                              1. Did you know that Mario Batali thinks that meatballs should be 50% breadcrumbs?
                                                                                                Yup, just heard that on The Chew.

                                                                                                13 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                                  I'm sure he likes that in his restaurants. The more breadcrumbs, the more profit.

                                                                                                  1. re: monavano

                                                                                                    Hard to believe, but then I found this.
                                                                                                    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/20...

                                                                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                                                                      Yes, because plenty of bread is what makes a tender meatball. It's how it's done - it's not being cheap, it's making a great meatball.

                                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                        On that point I agree, not sure that I do half but it's a decent percentage.

                                                                                                      2. re: monavano

                                                                                                        I was testing meatballs recipes(over 500 meatballs made in one month) when I saw that article. I was initially dubious, but I started increasing the amount of binding until I reached roughly his proportions. No doubt about it: the addition of breadcrumbs made the meatballs much more tender. Another tip I discovered (from CH's venerable jfood) was to add water, milk or stock to the meatballs. Again, initially dubious, but testing showed it made the meatballs desirably soft and rich.

                                                                                                        1. re: JungMann

                                                                                                          Plus, softer meatballs allow the flavors, meats and seasoning within them to be savored longer, and the overall texture with pasta is not as harsh as gnawing on a chunk of NY strip. It's not like a Hamburger Helper meat economy extender, it's part of a good meatball.

                                                                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                                                                            i so agree, so I was surprised to read some people don't like really soft meatballs- which to me, are ambrosial.

                                                                                                            BTW Jungmann, now that's A LOT of meatballs!

                                                                                                          2. re: JungMann

                                                                                                            I've added 50% and even more of filler when I have little ground meat- like for lamb meatloaf I made a couple weeks ago.
                                                                                                            I used lots of vegetables and a good deal of panade and stretched that lamb like Gumby.
                                                                                                            I knew I was hitting the limit as to how much I was stretching, so I actually added some gelatin (in water) and think it helped.
                                                                                                            I think I pulled that trick from CI.

                                                                                                            1. re: monavano

                                                                                                              Last time I made meatloaf, I used chia seeds and it held together very nicely. Also used a bit of leftover cooked quinoa and bulgar, instead of the usual oatmeal, and will definitely be doing that again too.

                                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                                Chia is a really interesting prospect on many levels.

                                                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                  I have a bag that was just sitting there, so I've been experimenting.

                                                                                                            2. re: JungMann

                                                                                                              I always soak the breadcrumbs in milk (and add egg as a binder as well).

                                                                                                              Tender as balls should be.

                                                                                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                                                                                I have ALWAYS added bread and milk and egg to meatballs. Forever. It's what a meatball IS. Without them (and seasonings and parmesan) it's a hamburger ball.

                                                                                                            3. i like the tenderizing effect of a panade in meatballs.

                                                                                                              if you are tasting dough, then you are using too much.

                                                                                                              8 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                I never measure, but I'm thinking about one third bread.

                                                                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                                                                  or 1/4. just going from memory, though.

                                                                                                                  i use a panade in making mid-eastern/indian flat kabobs, too. i like the meat's texture for sandwiching the kabob in a sandwich. i've had success with ground turkey like this, too -- and i was surprised at the good result.

                                                                                                                  shammi kabob uses ground chickpeas as a "filler." other ground meat patties will use ground dal...or bulgur wheat.

                                                                                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                    sandwiching in a sandwich. brilliant! LOL.

                                                                                                                    i need coffee.

                                                                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                      What do you use for sandwiching?

                                                                                                                      1. re: grampart

                                                                                                                        for these, i like locally made pita breads. here in arlington, va., i go to "lebanese taverna," and pick up the softest loaves. AND i HAVE to get the garlic "toum" and then the "kabis" turnip pickles. those garnishes make it all worthwhile! when i go, i always sneak in a couple of fatayer (spinach in pastry) and kibbeh. ;-).

                                                                                                                    2. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                      I once made a lentil soup that had more solids than it should have. Rather than adding more broth, I removed some of the solids, which in addition to lentils included carrot, celery, and onions. I added them to the mix for the meatballs I was making, decreasing the amount of bread and milk accordingly. That mix already included onion. The soup solids, which were mostly lentils, gave the meatballs a finer, lighter texture that I quite liked.
                                                                                                                      I think adding drained canned, or plain-cooked lentils to a meatball or meatloaf mixture could be a good way of stretching the yield while increasing protein and fiber, and avoiding doughy fillers.

                                                                                                                  2. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                    I recently read Batali's comment about American meatballs being all wrong, and a 50% Breadcrumb to 50% meat being "perfect". Now, I didn't buy the percentage, but agreed with the underlying principle.

                                                                                                                    So, the last time I made meatballs, I played quite a bit with my old recipe. One pound of 80/20 beef, 1/2 pound of ground veal, and a half-cup of breadcrumbs, moistened not with milk or water, but with beef stock. Baked for 15 minutes before adding to my sauce.

                                                                                                                    Certainly I'd used breadcrumbs before, but not in that quantity. They came out much more tender, and I might be inclined to push it a little more in the bread direction, but I doubt I'd ever go so far as a 50/50 mix. The resulting meatballs would be just *too* soft to me.

                                                                                                                    1. re: mcsheridan

                                                                                                                      hmmm... interesting, 50-50. that's pretty soft!

                                                                                                                      and i can imagine eating way too many!!! ;-).

                                                                                                                      maybe i'll look at my mom's sauerkraut and porcupine meatballs recipe again. it uses 1/3 bread crumbs, but also an egg and some water. http://www.chow.com/recipes/13527-geo...

                                                                                                                      as long as these take to cook, i think more bread crumbs would end up as ground beef ++ atop the sauerkraut! "meatballs...deconstructed." LOL

                                                                                                                  3. I have used 50% panade in meatloaf to really stretch out my ground meat.
                                                                                                                    It's a matter of being practical and making a buck stretch, because I always have homemade bread crumbs on hand.

                                                                                                                    But, I'd say I'm 30% bread in my meatballs normally, with a wet panade.
                                                                                                                    No wringing it out and wasting that milk for me!

                                                                                                                    I like a really soft meatball.

                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                      my 'regular' meatball recipe (well I don't have a real recipe, I just make them pretty much the same every time) has lots of breadcrumb from my freezer stash, I'm with you, probably close to 30% of the volume, I love soft, tender meatballs
                                                                                                                      I guess it's just a matter of textural preference
                                                                                                                      my hubby's family is the exact opposite, they literally use just meat, salt, onion (raw) and spices (thyme)
                                                                                                                      not at all what I grew up with as a 'meatball' it's funny because they literally call them "balls of meat" kind of as a joke... but that's kind of the difference in my mind between a 'meatball' and a 'ball of meat' the flavorful filling that you mix in and the tender texture

                                                                                                                      1. re: cgarner

                                                                                                                        Salt, onion, and thyme? What kind of meatball is that? Can you divorce your inlaws for cruelty to meatballs?

                                                                                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                          That might piss them off and end up with battery with balls of meat!
                                                                                                                          Italian dodgeball, if you will.

                                                                                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                            I tease my husband about it, they're Irish... They don't really know any better

                                                                                                                            1. re: cgarner

                                                                                                                              "they're Irish"

                                                                                                                              say no more

                                                                                                                              as an Irish/Italian-American and growing up surrounded by families of that same mix I have learned to live between worlds my whole life

                                                                                                                          2. re: cgarner

                                                                                                                            I eyeball and don't really have a recipe, per se.

                                                                                                                            A bit of a wildcard in my meatballs and anything that uses a panade is my breadcrumbs.
                                                                                                                            You don't quite know what you're going to get since the bag is a melange of unused boule ends.

                                                                                                                        2. I'm also with you. I like to blend the meats and add lots of seasonings and spices.

                                                                                                                          depending on my meat mix I may use a little egg yoke and panko bread crumbs a bit. I watch baking them and make sure they are never dried out.

                                                                                                                          1. I'm just going to chime in to disagree with the original poster ;) Meatballs, of course, as everyone has pretty much already stated - require a filler.

                                                                                                                            With that said. I use flour. People are always shocked to find this out. I don't have an exact recipe - they're always good, but sometimes they're ridiculously amazing and I should open up a meatballs only shop ;) Anyone else use flour? I like soft meatballs, that still hold their shape well and flour just seems to work for me! I can't really remember why I started using flour. I'll never go back to bread or crumbs, etc.!

                                                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: tiffeecanoe

                                                                                                                              You dredge in flour before browning or do you incorporate flour in the meatball mix?

                                                                                                                              1. re: grampart

                                                                                                                                I put flour into the mixture. I can't help but wonder if it was a mistake I made early on in my cooking - perhaps they were supposed to be dredged in flour, I really don't know!

                                                                                                                                1. re: tiffeecanoe

                                                                                                                                  So what do you think the flour/meat ration would be?

                                                                                                                              2. re: tiffeecanoe

                                                                                                                                That's very interesting.
                                                                                                                                I've only occasionally seen meatballs rolled in flour then fried.

                                                                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                  But flour is similar to extremely fine bread crumbs I guess. Once you make a panade, what's the big difference?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                    probably not much! I do find them to be a bit more tender by using flour.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                      I really don't know what the difference is, never tried it.
                                                                                                                                      My sense is that flour+milk=paste.

                                                                                                                                      I'll stick with my bread crumbs, but I'm sure the flour meatballs are great.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                        Bread and milk paste adds moisture.

                                                                                                                                        Flour alone will suck up moisture.

                                                                                                                                  2. Your not crazy it's just what you prefer, a more meatier meatball with a firmer texture.

                                                                                                                                    The fact is meatballs are served the world over and in many countries only meat and spices/seasonings is used and the inclusion of a panama would be considered non-standard.

                                                                                                                                    Personally I like small meatballs, the size of golf balls or smaller to be without any fillers but as they get larger I think the addition of a panada helps it's consistency and moistness.

                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                      Yeah, countries the world over have included a panama, especially Spain, the U.S. and Columbia. But but in the long run, it was decided ot leave Panama out and include a panada.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: AdinaA

                                                                                                                                        ...

                                                                                                                                        1. re: AdinaA

                                                                                                                                          This book tells all about it.

                                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                      2. Well smack me down. I was reading this thread yesterday and got a craving for spaghetti and meatballs (okay, vermicelli and meatballs, because I can never cook spaghetti right). I read the comments about the ratio Mario Batale recommends, so I hopped into the car and headed to Albertsons for supplies.

                                                                                                                                        I got just a tad over 3/4 lb. of 85/15 ground beef, made a panade using an old English Muffin and milk, then added an egg, seasonings, some finely chopped onion, parsley, etc. The mixture yielded 8 succulent meatballs after baking them at 350° for 45 mins. and finishing them in sauce that was set to low heat on the stove.

                                                                                                                                        Greatest. Meatballs. Ever.

                                                                                                                                        1. We had Huw Thornton, a Bay-area chef come in and prepare meatballs for us in the CHOW test kitchen, and his feeling was that fillers are essential to a tender meatball, but the ratio of meat to fat to bread is important to keep things holding together and not doughy. Plus, he adds ricotta for extra lusciousness.

                                                                                                                                          Here's the recipe he shared with us: http://www.chow.com/food-news/151394/...

                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                                                                                                            Thank you for the link, but I don't think I'll be making those anytime soon.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                                                                                                              30% fat. plus the ricotta -- i'll bet those were rich. they weren't too greasy?

                                                                                                                                            2. Tonight I made meatballs again, with about double the amount of filler that I’d used the last time, approaching 50/50 meat-to-filler. I’m not totally convinced about going so high filler-wise, as tonight’s batch is markedly less beefy tasting.

                                                                                                                                              I’m still going to give it a go, and probably cut the panade down to add ricotta next time, just for the sake of testing the texture, but this is heading away from the purpose of having a meatball, which is for the meat!

                                                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: RelishPDX

                                                                                                                                                IMO, when you go that high on the filler, whether it's meatballs or meatloaf, they'll be better if you add some concentrated umami. This can be any or all of the following: sauteed tomato paste, Kitchen Bouquet/Gravy Master, Maggi seasoning, soy sauce, Better than Bouillon beef, chicken, or vegetable base, ground dried mushrooms, dry onion soup mix.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                                  All good suggestions I'll tuck away. I'm a big fan of KB, but I've a bottle of Maggi I'm trying to find things to use it in, too.

                                                                                                                                                  Right now I'm just working on texture, and keeping the seasonings basic. It's amazing how much "filler" meat will hold. Starting with double the amount of meat which had made 8 meatballs the last time, this batch made 30!

                                                                                                                                                  I went too high on milk for the panade last night, so I added some quick oats, which the Pioneer Woman uses, but the finished product reminded me of why I dropped using oatmeal long ago. It gave the meatballs a hint of that 'school lunch' taste in the background.

                                                                                                                                                  At least I kept measurements this time, so I can make changes accurately in the future.

                                                                                                                                                  I also used the «turn the heat off» method of cooking pasta. I've had such disappointing results cooking spaghetti in the past, that I've used vermicelli instead for years. Yes, it took longer, and yes, I had to bring the water back up to a boil since the water was going tepid, but it was the first time I've cooked spaghetti where it was cooked through without the outer half of the pasta going mushy. And this was just with cheap American Beauty spaghetti I bought on sale so that if I had to toss it out, I wouldn't feel as bad. :)

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: RelishPDX

                                                                                                                                                    I've lately used quinoa and bulgar in my meatloaf, and it's win/win as far as I'm concerned. Scared to mess with the sacred family meatball recipe, but if forced by necessity I wouldn't hesitate.

                                                                                                                                              2. using pork and ground beef vs just ground beef makes a big difference. what does veal add? i have never even seen ground veal locally, is it worth it?

                                                                                                                                                11 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: divadmas

                                                                                                                                                  I'm not sure where you live but here in MD both Whole Foods and Wegmans carry ground veal.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                    I prefer ground veal and ground pork, even ground chicken, over beef lately. The price partly, but also lots lighter for such a heavy dish, with no loss of taste.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: divadmas

                                                                                                                                                    I read once that the veal provides a pleasing "mouth feel" more than anything. It was suggested a small amount of unflavored gelatin incorporated into the panade would provide this. Veal became hard to obtain so I gave it a try. I didn't notice any difference from the ground veal so I continue using it. One pound 80/20 beef, 1/2 pound pork, a scant tsp of gelatin, and all the rest.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: grampart

                                                                                                                                                      The chia seeds also add a gelatinous feel with a little extra oomph!

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                        do you soak them, coll? how do you use them?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                                                          Yes they were leftover, previously soaked/cooked. I had some mixed with quinoa and bulgar in the fridge, so I subbed them for the crackers I usually use and to my surprise it was great!

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                            thanks.

                                                                                                                                                            one more thing, do you sing the chia pet song when you take the chia seeds out of the package?

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                                                              Chchchch chia! I am getting used to it as an ingredient though, finally.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                Chia is an interesting choice, both for nutritional content and texture due to the gelatin forming property, which Cook's Illustrated has experimented with, but using actual gelatin.
                                                                                                                                                                I think I need to experiment using this in meatloaf...

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                                                  A lucky happenstance. I love meatloaf but unfortunately in its original form it's not too healthy. I've been making it a lot more often, also subbing ground turkey or chicken for beef. Tastes as good as the original, if not better!

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                    I use both turkey and chicken and I enjoy them just as much as meatloaf mix.
                                                                                                                                                                    With my "special" spices (not really, but) and herbs and cheese, and glaze, the end product is tasty.