I love a tasty meatball coated with marinara sauce or a flavorful slice of meatloaf on a Wednesday night after work. I am not alone because one of the most common questions I receive from home cooks is: What can I do for a better-tasting meatloaf?? Well, here are 5 tips to delicious, moist meatloaf and meatballs that you can make anytime!
#1: Sauté your veggies and add herbs.
Use your favorites, but I typically use onions, red bell pepper and garlic. Try celery, mushrooms, leeks, carrots and even squash. Cut the pieces into a small dice or use a mini chopper to make your life easier. Saute in a fry pan with a small amount of oil to prevent burning and add your favorite seasonings to begin building flavor.
Once the veggies are soft, add fresh or dried herbs as a simple way to add complexity . I like thyme and parsley because the tastes are basically themed-neutral. Try basil and oregano for a more Italian profile and cilantro for a Latin twist. Make sure to allow the veggies to cool to room temperature before adding the other ingredients!
#2: Mix your “bread” with milk to help keep meat moist.
This panade, typically made with white bread torn into chunks and soaked in milk, does not have to be limited to bread. I have used oats, panko bread crumbs and cooked brown rice. You can use non-dairy liquids as well but you may have to make up for the fat content with a few teaspoons of oil. What’s important to know is that the main purpose of the breading is to add moisture, not for binding. A typical ratio is 1 cup of breading with 2-3 tablespoons of milk for each pound of meat.
And don’t forget to lightly season the panade as well – you’re building flavor at every opportunity!
(Eggs are most commonly used to bind, but other options include sour cream, BBQ sauce, tomato paste, ground flax seed or a mixture of any of these. The ratio is typically 1 egg or 1/4 cup alternative for each pound of meat.)
#3: Mix the sautéed veggies, liquids, breading and seasonings thoroughly before adding the your meat.
The goal here is to not overwork your meat which usually results in a very tough final product. Use a big bowl and mix together the veggies, panade, egg, other liquids/flavorings and seasonings and mix very well. You can stir this as much as you want! Then add your meat – any meat like ground chicken, veal and pork, buffalo or beef. I make a lot of pure ground dark-meat turkey meatloaves and Italian meatballs. But I do add extra flavorings to adjust for possible blandness like herbs, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, smoked paprika, onion and garlic powders and other no-salt seasonings.
The mixture should be more loose than stiff, almost like a bowl of oatmeal. It can be delicate balance, though, because the meat should be able to stand on it’s own as a meatball or in loaf form.
#4: Make a tester, PLEASE!
If you do not want a dozen bland little meatballs or 8 slices of dry, boring meatloaf, fry a small amount of the mixture in the same pan you sauteed the veggies and taste for seasonings and to see if the meat holds together. Then add seasonings, breading, binders or liquid in small amounts until you get what you want.
Once you get the desired taste and structure, try to keep the mixture cool (around 36°F is best) while you create your form. Use an ice cream scoop for even-sized meatballs. And I prefer a free-formed loaf on a baking sheet. This allows any fat to drip away from the cooked meat, the loaf cools faster and, for me, it’s easier clean-up than washing a loaf pan.
#5: For meatballs, pan-fry or bake at high heat before adding to your sauce.
Your meatball will have a pleasingly crisp outer texture and will hold together with a good sear by frying in a pan with a little oil or by cooking completely in 375°-400°F oven.
I hope these tips help in your quest for meatloaf nirvana. If you need a recipe to help you get started or to try something new, I have posted one for BBQ Turkey Meatloaf. Whether it’s your plate or mine, my goal is to help you have peace in the kitchen! Happy Eating!