Note 2: the recipe below is adapted for ultra lean ground wild game meat. It works equally well with very lean beef (<7% fat). If you want to use fattier ground beef, or ground pork, cutting the eggs in half and using quite a bit less oil for frying will keep consistency constant.
The two challenges I’ve found in making meatballs are keeping them from falling apart while cooking, and in making them not bland and boring. Thankfully, both have solutions which are simple, if time consuming.
The best way to make subtle, complex meatballs (in addition to salting them enough) is to deeply roast vegetables and puree them into the meatballs. This method works well with the texture and suffuses flavor into every morsel.
For classic italian meatballs I start out with one large sweet onion and 6-8 cloves of garlic per pound of meat. Smash the garlic cloves, roughly chop the onion, sprinkle with olive oil, and roast on a pan until they’re on their way to being caramelized and are just a hair burnt. Let cool, then puree. Mix with the ground meat in a large bowl, and add seasoning. For the meatballs pictured above, I added lots of oregano (1 heaping TSP per pound) and a bit less sage and thyme. Plenty of salt too, more than you think you’d need, in this case simple sea salt. I didn’t use any pepper as my wife and specific dinner guests aren’t spicy food people, but an arrabiata version with plenty of black and cayenne pepper would work well (or a puttanesca-arrabiata blend with all of the above plus kalamata olive and capers).
Now for the binding agents and process. I add two whipped eggs per pound of meat, then bread crumbs until a moist but not at all liquidy consistency is achieved. Mixing the meat should by the end take quite a bit of forearm effort. When hand forming the meatballs should stick together easily, but leave almost no mess on your hands.
Then, form them into meatballs of the desired size, place in a big tupperware (using foil to separate layers if necessary) and freeze. At least overnight. You could make these a week ahead if desired. Just make sure to take them out far enough ahead of cook time so they’ll thaw.
Heat vegetable oil is a large skillet or pan with a lid. Brown the meatballs thoroughly on at least two sides. I prefer an aggressive brown just short of a burn. Get the oil hot enough before you add the meatballs, and don’t crowd the pan. This helps keep the balls in one piece and prevents sticking. After browning, drain off the oil, lower the heat quite a lot, then add back the meatballs with a good covering of sauce. For italian style, this means a garlic marinara 2/3 of the way to covering. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked and the sauce has taken on a good vension flavor.
Plate and serve as desired.
For a recent afternoon potlock I made a spicy, slider version of this dish that disappeared from the table very quickly. In addition to onion and garlic I roasted and pureed red bell, poblano, and jalapeno peppers, and seasoned the meat with paprika and lots of worcestershire sauce. After frying I steamed the meatballs in a 1:2 mixture of water and light ale, then used the deglaze from the pan to make an light brown aioli. I put a dab of sauce on a strip of tortilla, and held the whole thing together with a toothpick.
My next variation will be an english-style meatball, with onion and a bit of garlic, oats rather than breadcrumbs, steamed in guinness, with a nice gravy made from the pan drippings. Served on mashed potatoes, of course.
The steps here are not few, and the whole thing requires planning, but the product is sublime and is great for leftovers, and the reward outstrips the work several fold.