My first attempt to make meatballs was part of an elaborate scheme to impress a date. Because I was remitting most of my extra income home to pay my student loans, I didn’t have a lot of spare cash to dine in restaurants in Japan, which is generally pretty pricey unless your date is impressed by Saizeriya or Yoshinoya. I had however, developed what I felt (and still feel) is a fantastic recipe for spaghetti sauce. Armed with this sauce, I carefully researched all kinds of recipes, searching for the ideal combination of spices and flavo(u)rings, and came up with a pretty decent initial meatball construction. Since then, I have come across many meatball theories. By far the best of these is the addition of grated onion and garlic, as opposed to the more conventional diced/minced inclusion.
The grating of the quintessential alliums is preferable for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important is that grating releases more of the juices of these flavo(u)rful bulbs; we all know that a juicy meatball is the best meatball. The next reason, which is admittedly unimportant or even not preferable to some, is that the addition of grated onion and garlic contributes to a better overall homogeneity in the texture of the meatball. The final reason is perhaps the most crucial for those who are torn between preparing decent-tasting food and cooking for those who dislike onions and/or garlic: grating these vegetables renders them completely undetectable to even the pickiest anti-onion meatball consumer.
Student Loan Meatballs
Yield: about 10 meatballs, or about 5 servings
- 500g (about 1lb) lean ground beef*
- 1 medium onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 small fresh chili, or about 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tbs olive oil, plus a glug (about 1 tbs) for frying
*If you are using beef, it’s a good idea to use lean (as opposed to extra lean). You want a little bit of fat to keep the meatballs a bit stickier. Alternatively, you can use this recipe with just about any ground meat of your choice. I recently made this with a 50/50 mix of pork and ostrich.
In a mixing bowl, grate the onion and garlic directly into the bowl to catch as much juice as possible. Add the ground meat, herbs and spices, and olive oil. Knead the mixture until it is thoroughly mixed. Doing this with your hands is best, but I guess you can use a fork if you’re feeling delicate or you don’t have immediate access to soap or something. Form the mixture into balls, and place in a sealed container to chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. At this stage, you can also freeze the meatballs for later use (thaw them in the fridge when you’re ready to cook them). Leave the meatballs in the fridge until you’re ready to fry them.
Pre-heat a nonstick frying pan. It’s important to pre-heat the pan so the meatballs “seal” nicely. When the pan is heated (it doesn’t need to be smoking hot, just hot enough so a few drops of water sizzle away), add a glug of oil. Arrange the meatballs with plenty of space between each one, and fry without moving or touching them until the bottom begins to turn golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Carefully rotate the meatballs and continue frying until they are browned on all sides, around 10-15 minutes. Serve them in any way you see fit, such as perched on top of pasta bathed in red sauce.