sliderTime Out


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.

Carne picada

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.

Plato de albóndigas (a plate of Spanish meatballs)

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:


  • Mix about 1 pound of ground beef with 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, 1 tsp dry mustard and – optional but recommended – ¼ tsp poultry seasoning. And ½ cup raw rice and, mixing thoroughly, shape into 8 meatballs to serve 4. Brown them lightly in a hot skillet, using a little fat if the meat is very lean. Add 3 cups good beef stock, or 1 can of either beef consommé or onion soup plus 1 can of water. Cover pan and simmer about 1 hour. Add more liquid if necessary. Serve the porcupines in the soup in shallow soup plates, or reserve the soup for another day.

Another five-minute special which combines ordinary ingredients for an unusual taste combination is this recipe with mysterious overtones of the Middle East:


  • Mix together 1 pound ground beef, 1 small minced onion, 1/3 cup crushed cornflakes, 1 egg, salt, pepper and paprika. Shape into 8 meatballs and brown in a little fat. Mix 1/3 cup water, 1 tbsp sugar, ¼ cup raisins, and the juice of 1 lemon, strained. Add this liquid to the pan and cook, covered, over low heat until meatballs are done. Serve with rice.  

[. . .]

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.


  • Break 2 hard rolls in pieces and soak in ½ cup milk for about 10 min. Squeeze dry and put in mixing bowl. Chop 1 medium onion and sauté in 1 tbsp butter until lightly browned. Add to soaked bread with ¾ pound of ground beef chuck, ¾ pound ground veal, and ¼ pound of sausage meat. Add 2 eggs without beating them, 4 anchovy fillets coarsely chopped, 1 tbsp chopper parsley, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp marjoram and pepper. Blend thoroughly and shape into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Combine 5 cups of beef stock with 1 cup dry white wine in a large pan and bring to a boil. Add meatballs and cook 15 minutes, reducing heat once mixture returns to a boil. Remove meatballs from stock. Mix ¼ cup flour with 1 tsp dry mustard and ¼ cup sweet butter. Add a little of the hot stock to make this mixture the consistency of light cream. Slowly add to stock and cook, stirring, until mixture is smooth and thickened. Add 1-2 chopped boned sardines, ½ cup capers, 2 tbsp chopped parsley, and the juice of ½ lemon. Stir well to combine, add meatballs and serve.

 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:




  • Have ¾ pound beef, ½ pound veal and ¼ pound pork with some fat ground together twice. Soak 3 slices of soft bread in ¼ cup milk for 5 minutes and brown ½ cup chopped onion in butter. Squeeze bread dry and add to meats with browned onion. Add 1 cup light cream or evaporated milk, ¼ cup finely chopped parsley, 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp ground ginger, dash of pepper. Beat the mixture 5 minutes at high speed with a mixer until fluffy. Form lightly into balls with wet hands and brown meatballs in 2-3 tbsp butter. Shake the pan to keep the balls round and do not crowd. Remove meatballs from pan as done. Stir 2 tbsp flour into the pan drippings and add ¾ cup light cream or evaporated milk and 1 tsp instant coffee powder. Heat and stir until gravy thickens. Return uncovered. Add more cream if needed. Makes about 60 1-inch meatballs. Serve with boiled potatoes or buttered noodles.

[. . .]

One of Belgium’s national dishes, Beef Carbonade, a stew made using beer as the liquid has also been adapted to the meatball:


  • Cook 2 or 3 slices of bacon until crisp, crumble, and set aside. Heat 1 cup beef stock (or dissolve 1 beef bouillon cube in a cup of hot water if you forgot to put the soup kettle on this week). Mix 1 pound ground beef with 1 lightly beaten egg, ¼ cup soft breadcrumbs, ½ tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper. Mix well and shape into meatballs. Brown 2 thinly sliced onions in the same pan and add to meatballs. Stir 2 tbsp flour into drippings and add 1 cup beer and 1-2 tsp brown sugar, 1 tsp vinegar, ½ tsp salt and 174 tsp powdered thyme. Cook and stir until mixture thickens. Pour over onions and meatballs in casserole, cover, and bake at 350ºF (MODERATE) for 45 minutes. Top with crumbled bacon just before serving. 

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:


A typical fresh and cured meat shop, the Carnecería-Charcutería Hermanos Escudero, in the Barcelo Market, Madrid.

  • Combine together lightly 1 pound ground veal, ¾ cup freshly made soft breadcrumbs (this means you crumble fresh slices of crustless bread with your fingers if you don’t have a flat sieve to rub the bread through), 1 egg, 1 tbsp chopped parsley, 172 tsp salt and a little pepper. Add ½ tsp nutmeg and 1/3 cup heavy cream. Shape into small balls and dredge with flour. Heat ¼ cup fat (use equal amounts of butter and olive oil) in a large skillet and brown meatballs on all sides, shaking pan frequently to turn them and retain rounded shape. Reduce heat when browned and cook another ½ cup stock and mix well. When there are no lumps, stir a little of the hot broth into the mixture, and then stir the mixture into the pan of hot broth. Heat until the mixture thickens and is smooth. Combine 2 egg yolks with 2-3 tbsp lemon juice and beat well. Add a little hot sauce to mixture and then, reducing heat to a minimum or placing sauce over hot water, stir this egg-lemon mixture into the hot sauce. Stir rapidly. Reheat carefully or eggs will curdle. Add meatballs to sauce and serve promptly with rice or noodles.

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:


  • Mix together thoroughly 1-1/2 pounds ground beef, ½ cup rolled uncooked oats, 1 tbsp chopped parsley, ½ tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper, ½ cup Parmesan cheese (grated), 2 lightly beaten eggs, 1 clove of minced garlic… shape into small balls, using amount 1 tbsp of mixture for each. Brown in a small amount of hot oil in a large skillet, turning frequently. Mix a 1 pound can of peeled Italian tomatoes with 1 small can of tomato paste. Add 1 tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Combine with a generous 172 tsp each of oregano and basil. Pour sauce ingredients over meatballs in skillet and simmer about 30 minutes. Prepare spaghetti separately and when done <<al diente>>, place on serving plates and ladle meatballs and sauce over top. Serve with additional grated parmesan cheese. 

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.


  • Mix together 1 pound ground beef, ¾ cup fine dry bread crumbs, 2 tbsp finely minced onion, 1 tsp prepared horseradish, 3-4 drops Tabasco sauce, 2 beaten eggs, 3/4 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. Shape lightly into balls about ¾ inch in diameter. Melt butter in a skillet or chafing dish and brown meatballs over direct heat, shaking pan for even browning. Prepare following sauce. Combine ¾ cup prepared tomato ketchup, ½ cup cold water, ¼ cup cider vinegar, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp minced onion, 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1-1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp dry mustard, ¼ tsp pepper, few grains of cayenne. Pour off any fat remaining in a pan with meatballs before adding sauce. Heat and serve with toothpicks.

[. . .]


GUIDEPOST cover, 30 September 1980

















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