Published January 1, 1998.
Buttermilk-soaked bread is the key to meatballs with a soft, creamy interior and a pleasantly rich, tangy flavor.
One of the problems with meatballs is that they're thought of as smaller, rounder versions of hamburgers. This would be fine if meatballs were generally cooked to rare or medium-rare, as most hamburgers are, but meatballs are often cooked through till well-done. This can leave them flavorless, dry, and dense. Consequently, they need some help to lighten their texture.
What we were after was nothing short of great meatballs: crusty and dark brown on the outside, soft and moist on the inside.
Milk does wonderful things for meatballs, especially when mixed to a paste with fresh bread crumbs. Still better is buttermilk, which, as we had discovered when testing meatloaf recipes (see "Memorable Meat Loaf," September/October 1996), delivers a delicious flavor. Eggs are also important for texture and flavor; their fats and emulsifiers add moistness and richness. Egg yolks alone work best; the whites just make the mixture sticky and hard to handle, with no benefits. Another contribution to the flavor dimension can be gotten by adding some ground pork to the usual ground beef (usually chuck); we found 1 part pork to 3 parts beef to be about right. Pan-frying (as opposed to broiling, which dried out the meatballs) is the best way to brown the meatballs, an important tip being to wait till the oil is quite hot before first adding the meatballs to the pan.list of recipes