Posted on November 1, 2013
That’s a spicy meatball! Actually, they’re not that spicy. I love meatballs and grew up making them with my mom. The recipe is pretty simple but for whatever reason most meatballs at restaurants or elsewhere are awful. Because of that, I only eat my own or those made by my grandfather or any of his children (my mom, uncle and aunt). They are the best meatballs I’ve ever had so I didn’t think they could be improved on.
For that reason, I was skeptical when Valerie told me about a meatball recipe she saw on Food Wishes. They weren’t for a marinara sauce, but for Italian wedding soup instead. What was different about this meatball recipe that I thought could improve on my own, was that it used fresh, home-ground meat. I made them in the food processor the first time like the video shows, but after using a meat grinder to prepare cooked meat to make tamales with Valerie’s family, I started looking for my own grinder.
All the grinders I found online were cheap electric or hand cranked grinders that reviews said didn’t hold up, or didn’t even work the first time. Or, they were professional grade and cost hundreds of dollars. They are one of those things that they just don’t make like they used to. Finally, one weekend this summer, we found ourselves taking the scenic route through Pennsylvania, and we stopped at a bunch of antique stores. I bought the first good quality hand cranked meat grinder I could find, just a bit of rust, with a few different blades. I paid $15. As it turned out, just about every store we went into had one or two for about the same price. Getting the rust off was easy, just a bit of brushing with a wire brush and then rubbing it with some corn oil.
A few tips:
Grinding meat makes a big mess. The whole contraption isn’t sealed, so it will drip meat juice out of the back onto the floor and splatter it everywhere; but it’s totally worth it. The flavor is better and the quality is really good(no pink slime or trash pieces of meat). When it comes to health, its going to be a lot safer too. Bacteria on fresh beef only grows on the outside, but when you grind it, you create exponentially more surface area and bacteria begins to grow on all that new surface area. This is why people get sick from burgers made from meat ground at factories or grocery stores but you never hear of people getting sick from eating really rare steaks; that’s because the outside has been been seared and all the bacteria has been killed even though the middle is barely above 100 degrees. But if you grind it fresh at home you cook it before there is any chance for bacteria to grow.
When you clean the grinder just use hot water and soap, and then take all the pieces and put it in the oven on 300° for like 20 minutes or so. This will dry all the pieces so that rust won’t form. You can also rub a little oil or spray it with a cooking spray. These old grinders are steel that have been tinned. The tin doesn’t rust, but because you are buying an antique, some if it has probably chipped off and some of the main grinding pieces don’t have it on there so the oil helps.
I follow Chef John’s recipe pretty closely but add a few of my own touches. I double or triple the garlic and add some cayenne or chili flakes (just a pinch per pound if you want a spicy meatball). Since I’m putting it in sauce–or gravy technically once you put the meat in–I broil them first until deep golden brown on one side then flip; the second side browns in half the time as the first after you flip. If they are really small they will cook through in this process, but if they are a bit bigger you will want them to cook in the sauce for 20 minutes at a minimum. But you should cook them in the sauce for at least 40 minutes anyways because the fresh beef adds a great complex flavor to the sauce like a stock would–and the meatballs absorb some of the sauce.
In this video, Chef John of Food Wishes, explains how its done.