Mushy Meatballs
December 16, 2013 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm making a cocktail-sized version of these baked chicken meatballs for a party tonight, and my meatball mixture is super mushy. (Which I now know is a feature of cooking with ground chicken...) I need help in figuring how to stiffen these things up!

I mixed everything together last night and am planning to bake them this afternoon but am concerned the end product will be shaped more like a droopy croquette than a ball. We are only serving finger foods, i.e., no utensils, so I'm concerned they'll be difficult to spear/hold onto with a toothpick. I'm thinking of adding panko – does anyone have any other ideas?
posted by hapax_legomenon to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would use regular breadcrumbs, not panko, for the sake of smoothness/texture. But panko would certainly work.
posted by jbickers at 8:03 AM on December 16, 2013

Can you just firm them up prior to cooking by putting the mixture in the fridge or freezer for a bit? You could try it with a test meatball to make sure the cooked product still has the texture you want.
posted by Ausamor at 8:03 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Probably the amount of bread mentioned in the recipe is on the low side, or yours was too squishy. Carefully add good quality breadcrumbs, while mixing, until the consistency is like you want it. Test-fry a tiny bit and adjust spices.
posted by Namlit at 8:04 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can use breadcrumbs, but I like Matzo Meal. Talk about stiff!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:07 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some quick oats and a bit of flour would also work, but I would go with Namlit's suggestion.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:11 AM on December 16, 2013

Response by poster: I should clarify that these are baked (not fried or browned then baked) so that's why I need them to hold their ball shape out of the gate. Also, I was thinking panko because it seems to have less moisture in it than breadcrumbs but I don't actually know if that's the case?

Thank you all for the suggestions thus far!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:15 AM on December 16, 2013

Panko will likely change the texture of the meatballs a lot, and I don't think that it has much less moisture--I wouldn't use it. If you're wedded, I'd at least pulse it in the food processor a few times.

I'd add some, let it sit for an hour, and then make a small ball and fry it in a skillet--it's not how you'll be cooking it, but if it stays intact for skillet frying, it'll be fine in the oven, plus you can taste it and see what you need to add. More breadcrumbs will definitely necessitate more seasoning, especially salt, in my experience.
posted by MeghanC at 8:23 AM on December 16, 2013

Is the mixture crumbly or more homogeneous? That is, can you see distinct granules of ground chicken and other stuff? You may need to work the mixture a little bit more - kneading ground meat generates proteins that will bind the whole thing together.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:32 AM on December 16, 2013

There is a LOT of liquid in that recipe, between the milk and the egg and the EVOO and the tomato paste. Plus, it calls for plain ol' bread, NOT breadcrumbs (more moisture!). You want to add an ingredient that's gonna sop up the MOST moisture (because the more you add of it, the more the flavor of your meatballs gets diluted). I'd probably use plain old breadcrumbs, or flour, or cornstarch... if you can spare a little raw meatball mixture, you can do a test-run, like Namlit suggested.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:33 AM on December 16, 2013

Best answer: I would bake one off first before you worry about it. A panade and eggs can feel wet but bake up nicely. That fact its baked means it can start off a little wetter than something fried. Especially as chicken is leaner you want it to be quite moist.
posted by JPD at 8:38 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

add some bread crumbs and freeze them. not all the way but enough to firm them up.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 8:48 AM on December 16, 2013

Response by poster: Is the mixture crumbly or more homogeneous?

The mixture is like mushy goopy pâté at this point - you can't see any distinct granules of chicken (or anything). And when I try to make a ball of it, gravity takes hold and it turns into a distinctly non-spherical blob.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:52 AM on December 16, 2013

Looking at the image, I think this recipe is supposed to be very wet before baking. But like everyone else, I'd say: bake a trial specimen. If it really is too wet, add one tablespoon flour.
posted by mumimor at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2013

I agree with others above - you need more breadcrumbs.
posted by Flood at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2013

Since I am right at this moment cooking some really mushy meatballs, like my granny made them, I am reminded of something else.
With wet recipes, you need to stir the mixture really, really thoroughly. I never succeeded in replicating granny's meatballs before I inherited her Kenwood mixer. Start with just the meat and the salt, and then add the other ingredients slowly, after the salt/meat mix has become all long and sticky. I know this last part is too late for you, but it is still good to add a tiny amount of bread or flour, and then stir very well.
posted by mumimor at 9:21 AM on December 16, 2013

If you read the reviews, a couple reviewers did say they used panko or breadcrumbs, so I'm sure either would work. Just be careful not to add too much and end up with dry, bland meatballs. I'd also add some extra spices. I wonder if the problem is you didn't squeeze enough milk out of the bread first?

I also think some reviewers' suggestions to add chopped peppers into the mix would add to the flavor.
posted by catatethebird at 9:40 AM on December 16, 2013

I'd add more egg, up to two eggs. That is, I'd add an amount of (stirred/combined) egg mixture that is more than one egg, but maybe not all of two eggs. Overegging meatballs results in weirdly firm, gelatinous meatballs. Eggs are a binding agent as they add protein. If you're concerned about the fat, add 1 egg + 1 egg white.

The bread+milk technique is called a panade, and for meatballs/meatloaf, moisture retention, but as I understand it, the milk isn't really the moisture it retains-- it's there so it can hold on to some of the grease that comes out of the chicken. When it says to press out the milk, you press out the milk.

Test this in the small scale with a few trial meatballs. It sounds like they're small to begin with (sized for toothpick eating) so you should be able to bang out a few trial meatballs with different amounts of breadcrumbs or egg, with just one batch of baking. After they're cooked, toothpick them, slice them in half, crumble them in your hand, and also taste for mouthfeel. Observe and adjust.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:41 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sunburnt beat me to the panade suggestion. Also, although they are mushy now and might form oblong tiny fingers than meatballs, once you cook them they will most likely be perfectly firm and one will be able to skewer them
posted by absquatulate at 9:52 AM on December 16, 2013

Response by poster: In case anyone is still following this and/or interested, I am happy to report that my meatballs turned out great!

A combination of time pressure and chilling out (on my part as well as the meatballs') resulted in me taking JPD's advice below to heart:

JPD: "I would bake one off first before you worry about it. A panade and eggs can feel wet but bake up nicely. That fact its baked means it can start off a little wetter than something fried. Especially as chicken is leaner you want it to be quite moist."

I didn't end up adding anything else (e.g., panko, breadcrumbs, eggs, etc.) to the mixture - I decided to just go for it, figuring that even if they turned out non-ball like they would still be yummy and my tipsy guests wouldn't notice or care.

And I was right! They were actually fairly easy to roll into pinball-sized shapes - I think the refrigeration really helped with that: as the mixture warmed it became somewhat more difficult to roll. Next time I might make some other tweaks to the recipe (more spice of some sort) but overall they were a big success.

Thanks all for your speedy advice and suggestions!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 1:20 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older DSLR on a budget: Buy an older high-end or a newer...   |   Old-school conference calling? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.