I do love a challenge….
March 3, 2017
…so when my friends over on the eGullet challenge launched the current cook-off, the Meatball Challenge, I knew I had to participate.
eGullet is a food forum, bringing together in an unlikely conglomeration professional chefs, enthusiastic amateurs, those just getting involved in cooking, and travelers who share exotic dining experiences and cuisines. I’ve been reading it, and posting on it, for seven or eight years, and I’ve learned a TON, as well as stretching both my imagination and my collection of cooking appliances.
(It is, after all, due to eGullet that I own a sous vide immersion circulator, a steam-convection oven, and an Instant Pot, not to mention several dozen cookbooks. As well as expanding my horizons, it’s contracted my budget. But I digress.)
Anyway, periodically the admins at the eGullet site will toss a “challenge” out there. There are no rules, no prizes, no competition — just a “hey, this is the challenge, give it your best shot and post your details and photos.” And at present, the topic is meatballs.
I do love me a meatball. I love the traditional ones over pasta with red sauce. I love little ones simmered in a combo of barbecue sauce and grape jelly, or some other sweet-and-sour sauce, on a cocktail buffet. I love them made from minced fish, deep fried and served with a dipping sauce, or floating in a bowl of soup. I still rank the very best meatballs I ever had in my life as the tennis-ball-sized ones that came with my plate of homemade ravioli at Villa di Roma on Ninth Street in Philadelphia (have mercy! I can still feel that texture and experience that gorgeous taste in my mouth).
So when it came meatball challenge time, I knew I had to kick in.
Back in the day when I was first branching out from Southern American rural cuisine, I discovered sweet and sour. Truth be told, I think the first such dish I cooked was chicken tenders, in the crockpot with a combo of pineappple and soy sauce, and I thought it was exotic.
Meatballs, you know, are pretty Middle America. So why not go REAL Middle-America, and go with poultry meatballs in a pineapple based sweet and sour sauce?
Well, hell. Why not?
So I bought ground turkey on my last trip to the grocery, along with a can of crushed pineapple. Picked up mushrooms while I was about it. A plan was commencing to take shape in my head.
I opened the pineapple and set it to draining in a colander over a bowl. I shredded up a couple of pieces of white sandwich bread and made a panade with whole milk. Let both those sit for an hour. Dumped the panade into the ground turkey, added half the can of drained pineapple, an egg and some seasoned salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and squished all that up together. Made ping-pong-ball-sized meatballs, put them on a plate and stuck them in the freezer to firm up, as they were QUITE squishy. I think I got too much milk in my panade.
Then I set about inventing a sauce.
I diced and sauteed an onion in the Instant Pot. Added garlic. Let that sizzle. Threw in the quartered mushrooms (a combo of button and cremini). Cooked until they started to sweat nicely. Added a healthy portion of white wine (I am not a huge white wine drinker, but I keep one of those four-packs of single-serve bottles of Robert Mondavi in the liquor cabinet, just for the purpose of cooking). Let that simmer down. Added the pineapple juice. Added a boatload of Worcestershire sauce, a glug of sweet chili sauce, and some chicken stock, and let it come back to a boil.
I got my meatballs out of the freezer, and dropped them into the pot. Because they were so soft, I wanted to be sure not to disturb them by stirring, so I just used a wooden spoon to one side of the pot to clear a space to drop each meatball. I let them come back to a boil, then switched the IP over to slow cook on high.
They cooked for about two hours, and I served them over wide egg noodles, as I’d had rice the night before.
Verdict: Good. One significant issue is that the sauce was way too thin. I used my condensed chicken stock and added water to make enough liquid in which to poach the meatballs, which resulted in too-thin gravy/sauce. Attempting to remedy that by removing most of the solids and reducing the sauce. And I think I’ll serve them over mashed potatoes the next time, or maybe grits.
I’m calling them “Trailer Park Meatballs Grow Up And Move To The Suburbs.” You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em know you’ve got some favorite trailer-park trashy food you like. Try kicking it up a notch and see what you can come up with.