Friday, November 5, 2010

Comfort Food: Southern Style Meatballs

Another title for this could be "Do as I say, Not as I Do", but we'll jump off that bridge when we get there.

How much do you love a meatball? I love them a LOT.  I could easily eat them at least once a week, if only they didn't seem so limited. Most meatball recipes I've come across are either italian or meatloaf-like, and I was wanting something different. I thought, "what could go wrong with a southern-style meatball"? You'd be suprised. My first attempt at developing this recipe ended in Epic Meatball Fail, but it was an easily solved problem and I can now share with you the more successful and delicious version. Make no mistake, this is some full-fat, get cozy on a cold night, comfort food. (You may want to follow it with the fiber-rich Pumpkin Oat Muffins as atonement for such a dietary sin.)

Time to get out grandma's cast iron skillet kids! (And preheat your oven to 400)

Southern Style Meatballs with Smoky Country Gravy

1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound pork sausage (like the log of breakfast sausage)
1 teaspoon Sylvia's Seasoning
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, minced
1 egg
1/4 cup dry whole wheat bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the gravy:
1/3 cup fat from pan (you'll get this browning the meatballs)
1/3 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/4 tsp liquid smoke (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well. The best tool for this is your clean hands, so get in there and get dirty. I'm not going to put up a picture, because quite frankly smushed up raw meat is just not that attractive.

You know how I'm always telling you to taste your food as you're cooking? Well you have to do it with meatballs too, but obviously you don't want to go munching on a raw beef/pork mixture. So what do you do? How do you know if they are seasoned well? You make a test patty.

I actually forgot to take a pic of the test patty before I cooked the meatballs,
so I got an extra snack :)

Heat up a pan, form a tiny hamburger and cook it - it will only take a couple minutes. Then enjoy your snack and decide if you need to add anything.

Once you're happy with the seasoning, heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Barely film the bottom of the pan with oil (you won't need much, the meatballs will render out fat while they brown, which is what you want). Form the mixture into 1 1/2 to 2-inch balls - you'll get about 12 - and drop into the hot pan in batches, turning every few minutes to brown evenly. You'll know when to turn them when they release from the pan - they won't want to stick when they are ready.

Aren't they cute? How do you not love meatballs?
As they finish browning, transfer them to an ovenproof dish. Place the meatballs in a 400 degree oven to finish cooking through while you make the gravy. They'll need about 20 minutes - just cut one in half to see if they are no longer pink inside.

(This is where the Meatball Fail came in. Instead of putting them in the oven, I made the gravy then finished the meatballs in the sauce. The long cooking time turned the gravy from creamy delight to grainy, gloppy mess. I cried, took out the meatballs, whisked the daylights out of the gravy and it was better, but not perfect. So I cried some more and decided I would instruct you all to bake the meatballs instead of simmer them like I did.)

For the gravy you want about 1/3 cup of fat in the pan, along with all the crusty brown goodness stuck to it. If you have more than that, remove a couple tablespoons. If you have less for some reason, add a little vegetable oil (or for huge bonus points, reserved bacon grease). Sprinkle the flour over the hot fat in the pan and start whisking like crazy till smooth. You don't want color here, so as soon as it's smooth start slowly adding the milk, whisking the entire time. Add The liquid smoke, salt, and pepper to taste. When it starts to come to a bit of a simmer and is thickened, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and keep warm until the meatballs are ready. Whisk occasionally to keep a skin from forming.

This is a lot of pepper, but I like it that way.
Pull the meatballs out of the oven and drop them into the gravy, rolling them around to coat, and serve.Your family will fall into a coma shortly after this meal.

oh yeah...
I took this over the edge and served it with equally sinful mashed potatoes loaded with cream cheese and bacon. I mean, if you're going to do this thing, do it all the way. Would you want this with a salad? I didn't think so. I DO think this would be fun as breakfast with some biscuits, though. Which is exactly what I'll be doing the next time I make this. Enjoy!

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