Meatballs rely on binders, most commonly eggs, to keep them together during cooking. Whether in concern of dietary restrictions or if you've simply run out of eggs, with easy substitutions you can still make flavorful meatballs that don't crumble. Use one or more substitutions or techniques based on your personal taste.
The Role of Eggs
While a common assumption is that the purpose of eggs in meatballs is to add moisture, in reality, their primary role is one of structure. The egg whites serve as a binder to help hold the meatballs together. If you were simply to remove the eggs, the remaining ingredients would fall apart during cooking, leaving you with crumbled pieces of meat.
Choose a Substitute
- Replace the eggs in meatballs with whole milk ricotta, using about 1/4 cup of cheese per egg. Alternatively, add crumbled feta cheese in the same ratio. The texture will remain similar, but the feta will add a tangy bite.
- Soak 4 ounces of cubed bread per 1 1/2 pounds of meat in whole milk, then stir into the meatball mixture.
- Substitute 2 tablespoons tomato paste per egg during mixing. This works especially well for Italian-style meatballs or when serving the meatballs with a tomato sauce.
- Mix in 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes in place of two eggs. Use russet or Yukon gold potatoes for the least change in flavor. If the potatoes were made with significant amounts of butter or sour cream, the meatballs may taste a bit richer.
- Replace the eggs with rolled oats or cooked oatmeal. Start with 1/4 cup and add more if the mixture is falling apart. The meatballs will be a bit drier and may have a slightly earthy taste.
Use the Right Meat
Meatballs benefit from being made with higher fat content ground meats in general, but this is especially true when omitting eggs from your recipe. Use ground beef that is no leaner than 85 percent. Ideally, add an equal portion of sausage or ground pork for additional fat. Combined with a starchy binder, such as the breadcrumbs in your recipe, the fat will help bind the meatballs together even before the addition of egg substitutes.
Rather than pan frying your meatballs, try baking them. Doing so will not only help prevent them from falling apart, it will help develop flavor and color, as well. Arrange the meatballs on a rimmed sheet tray and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Drop the temperature to 300 degrees F and bake until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Consider braising the meatballs for optimal tenderness and moisture. After an initial 10-minute bake at 425 degrees F, move the meatballs to a glass baking dish and smother with a simple tomato sauce made by squeezing canned plum tomatoes and stirring in salt. Drop the temperature to 300 degrees F and braise until cooked through.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- VegKitchen: Vegan Substitutions Guide
- Bon Appetit: The 8 Most Common Meatball-Making Mistakes
- Photo Credit Lesyy/iStock/Getty Images
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