Friday, August 13, 2010

My Nemesis: Turkey Meatballs

As frequent readers may know, I try to eat healthy. Most of the time, this isn't too hard because lots of things that are good for you taste pretty good. However, there are two exceptions: baked goods, and meatballs. Baked goods I am willing to relegate to the "once in a while" category, but I refuse to believe that meatballs can only taste good with beef, veal or any such combination. And let me just say, Mr. Ground Turkey, you almost had me there.

I use ground turkey pretty much any time a recipe calls for ground beef: sloppy joes, tacos, meatloaf-- it makes a big difference in terms of health, and if you know how to flavor this stuff, makes very little difference in taste. Except when it comes to meatballs. My family loves meatballs. My mom makes great meatballs; we have a crock of them at every party. My grandmothers make great meatballs. And I use their recipes, with turkey. And they taste, well, terrible.

At first I thought, oh my god, what is wrong with me? How hard can it be to make a decent turkey meatball, I have made these like 25 times! Then one day, I just used ground beef to see if it really was my anti-intuition in the kitchen. And I discovered, it wasn't! The beef meatballs were delicious.

Well, now this made my problem more complex. I was more determined than ever to make a healthy meatball that tasted good. What did these have that my turkey ones didn't? Fat, yes that is the obvious answer. And I wasn't going to add fat to my turkey because that would defeat the purpose. It definitely wasn't salt or garlic, because I had added as much as possible to my turkey ones and they still were blah.

Suddenly, it hit me. It's the beef taste that's missing. If these could get the depth of beef flavor, without being beef--then we'd be onto something. First I thought of beef broth, but that kind of liquid in the meatballs is definitely a no. Then I had the only ever genius idea I have ever had in the kitchen--ever! Beef bullion cubes!

In case you didn't know, these are little cubes that you dissolve in boiling water to make beef broth. I had bought the package when I needed beef broth but the store didn't have any. This was the "beef" flavor, with no added fat at all!

I crushed up one cube (I found this best to do with a serrated knife; just start sawing), and mixed it into my usual meatball mixture. It made a huge difference; they tasted great. My husband even said, "Did you do something different? These are actually good!" Below is my turkey meatball recipe.

Turkey Meatballs
1 1/2 pounds (about) of ground turkey
1 egg
1 TBSP Parsley
1 small onion, chopped (smaller pieces are better)
1 big clove of garlic
1/4 grated parmesean cheese (optional)
1 beef bullion cube, crushed
Breadcrumbs (about 3/4 cup, but please, approximate! see below)
Makes about one dozen

Preheat oven to 425. Spray a glass casserole dish with pam, and set aside. Put all ingredients into a large bowl, but only 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. Now, you gotta get your hands dirty, or should I say, one hand dirty. Mix with your non-dominant hand, and once everything is thoroughly combined, test to see if you grab a handful if it can stay in a ball without sticking to everything. If it cannot, you need more breadcrumbs. Use your clean hand to add more breadcrumbs 1/4 cup at a time. You shouldn't need more than 1 and a 1/2 so, keep that in mind. Then, take both hands and form into balls. Line up in the pan, and bake in your oven for about 35-40 minutes. They should be nice and brown on the outside, and you shouldn't see any pink juice coming from any. See also my tip below for testing doneness in turkey (and see photo below for a visual).

Tips for turkey meatballs:

1. These need to cook at a higher temperature, for longer than regular meatballs. This is because they must cook all the way through to be safe to eat (no one asks you for how you want your turkey cooked, right?). You should designate one as your "tasting meatball." You will need to cut it when you think it is done and look inside immediately. If you wait like, even 5 seconds, it will "cook" more and look brown when it is not really cooked. I get pretty panicky when I see pink turkey meat, so use this trick to avoid worrying about that.
2. If you want to save some, put them in the freezer in a ziplock bag once they have reached room temperature. To reheat, put them into the sauce while frozen and warm them up slowly over about 20 minutes while you're cooking your pasta.

So there you have it; tasty turkey meatballs. Share the secret with pride! (After all, it is the only original secret I have.)


  1. i......... i LOVE IT! absolutely LOVE IT!

  2. The bouillon is a great tip. I buy a product called "better than bouillon" that I may try using (it's organic) - it's already in a base/paste kind of form (not hard like the cubes), so I think it will mix extremely well with the meatball mixture.
    In addition to ground turkey I also use hot Italian chicken sausage (removed from the casing) - so 1/2 ground turkey & 1/2 hot Italian chicken sausage. The chicken sausage is a bit firmer/stickier so it helps hold the meatballs together.
    I also add in some fresh chopped parsley and other Italian spices to enhance the flavor.