Abbreviated GUIDEPOST Reprint
by Betty Sode
30 September 1980
Given even a few minutes at a restaurant table, most diners can be divided into one of two basic categories: those who, often without so much as a glance at the menu, order a familiar favourite, almost invariably a plain and unadorned presentation of the steak-and-potatoes variety; and those whose eyes shoot directly to the list of House Specialties and who then pore over the menu, looking for something new and different. I must admit that I am definitely in the latter category, in the kitchen as well as at the table. Given top quality fresh food of the choicest variety – be it beef, caviar or raspberries – there is nothing to match the simplest preparations, perfectly executed. But, since there are few enough instances of this in restaurant dining, and even less opportunity to obtain consistently top quality ingredients for home cooking, — and few of us have the experience and skill of the professional chef and his equipment, — I think variety in the preparation of simpler and less demanding foods is often of more value to the home cook. Soooooo, we will dispense with recipes for broiled lobster and concentrate on performing small miracles with humbler classes of foods.
There can be few things in the world less demanding and more amenable to varied preparation than ground meat (carne picada). Its virtues are endless. Ground meat can be inexpensive without sacrificing quality due to nothing more than grinding itself, which eliminates toughness without affecting flavour. It can be stored frozen, and not lose more than a minimal amount of flavour. It can be prepared alone, or with almost any combination of ingredients you may have on hand. It can be dressed up or down, depending on the needs of the moment. And it can provide the inventive cook with a basic material of unlimited potential.
Here in Spain there is no need for that uneasy echo of “slugs and snails and puppy dog tails” as you stare at the prepared package of ground meat, chemically aglow with artificial colouring and of decidedly vague antecedents. The Spanish butcher is always ready and willing to grind up any piece of meat you wish to buy. Setting aside the inevitable realization that you are always getting the tag ends of the previous customer’s purchase (left in the grinder), you can put together any combination of meats you wish, or have the less desirable parts of a large roast cut off and ground, or trust the butcher to select some pieces – which he will show you before tossing them into the grinder for your instant-tenderizing. Another consideration is that you can exercise tyrannical control over the amount of fat to be included and need not fear the annoying experience of having your pound of meat waste away in the frying pan. You can, of course, buy packaged ground meat, including “Hamburger” ground with onion and other unidentified ingredients, in most of the supermarkets, but I think it is foolish to miss the opportunity to buy freshly ground meat when it is so readily available.
Ground meat may be mixed or layered into any of a thousand casserole dishes, or combined with endless sauces, or can go into the ubiquitous meat loaf pan with anything you have left-over. My own preference, however, is for meatballs.
Somehow, meatballs preserve the identity of the meat more successfully than the other methods of preparation. They can be made elegantly small in a chafing dish for cocktails or buffet entertaining, or more generously sized for family consumption. They are easily and quickly made and even more rapidly cooked. Recipes range from the simplest of ingredients and techniques to some of the most complex and exotic. The only problem in fixing meatballs is to decide How.
The first meatball to roll into my life were a childhood favourite which is still a good recipe for the neophyte cook:
Another five-minute special which combines ordinary ingredients for an unusual taste combination is this recipe with mysterious overtones of the Middle East:
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Probably the best meatballs I have ever eaten are the Königsberger Klops served at a restaurant in San Francisco [. . .], and while their preparation is neither simple nor fast, they deserve the time – as attested by their popularity at Schroeder’s, a family style restaurant with community tables regularly filled with serious eaters concerned with good food and lots of it. These meatballs should be served with plain boiled potatoes garnished with freshly snipped parsley and nothing else.
Another recipe that will have you wiping up the remaining sauce in the dish for the last bit is the following recipe for Swedish meatballs:
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One of Belgium’s national dishes, Beef Carbonade, a stew made using beer as the liquid has also been adapted to the meatball:
One of my favourite recipes here in Madrid – where veal is frequently more plentiful and of better quality than the beef – is the following more delicate dish with a rich egg and lemon sauce:
Nobody can think of meatballs without conjuring up the presence of that inevitable accompaniment, spaghetti, and while I usually avoid this dish as one of the most consistently ill-prepared dishes anywhere, I do relent when the following recipe is involved:
SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
While some of these main dish recipes may be adapted to use as food for entertaining, the following recipe provides a more highly spiced meatball which lends itself to consumption with – ahem – liquid refreshments.
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Featured image/Lusaka, Zambia
Carne picada (minced meat)/Erwin (HOerwin56, Pixabay), PD
Albóndiags/Juan Emilio Prades Bel, CC BY-SA4.0
Königsberger Klops/Bernreis (Wiki/User:Benreis), CC BY3.0
Kottbullar (at IKEA Xihongmen)/©Ralf Roletschek, GNU Free Documentation License
Carnicería-Charcutería Hermanos Escudero/MercadoBarcelo.es, Fair use
Cocktail meatballs/Meal Makeover Moms, CC BY-ND2.0
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