A plate of spaghetti adorned with rich sauce and meatballs makes a satisfying meal. If those balls are tough and lacking in flavor, though, it can be a disappointment. A good meatball starts with proper technique, part of which is browning to add a bit crust for texture and to seal in the juices. A successfully browned meatball can be achieved via a saute pan or in the oven.
Classic Pan Frying
After you've made your favorite meatball mixture, form the balls with your hands or an ice cream scoop. Italian chef and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich recommends dredging the balls in a light layer of flour before placing them in a medium-hot pan coated with a layer of oil. Although the flour isn't required, it encourages a deeper brown color and provides an extra seal on the meatballs' juices. Give them a minute or two on each side to fully brown and then finish cooking them in the oven, or drop them into your sauce of choice to simmer for about 30 minutes.
Pan frying your meatballs can be a messy and time-consuming affair if you have a large number of them and have to work in batches. Alternatively, broil the meatballs in the oven. Line a broiler pan with foil and place the meatballs in a single layer -- be careful not to crowd them. Place them under the broiler and cook about eight to 10 minutes, turning once, until they've reached a nice brown color. Finish cooking them in a sauce, or turn the oven down and bake them until they're cooked through. Monitor the meatballs as they broil to ensure they don't blacken instead of brown.
Oven roasting meatballs is another browning method used when you want to set a timer and walk away. Shape your meatballs and place them in a single layer on a baking tray. Place them in an oven set to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through. Larger meatballs will take longer to cook than smaller, two-bite versions.
Don't Brown at All
To save time, you may choose to not brown your meatballs at all before adding them to the sauce. While you may lose some of the flavor of the caramelization that is achieved through browning, chef Mario Batali advocates simply cooking the meatballs in a hot, bubbling sauce until they're soft. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Batali notes that the ratio of meat to non-meat in a meatball is a far better indicator of how it will turn out. He goes for a 50 percent meat, 50 percent soaked bread for the perfect blend. You'll end up with a softer, more tender meatball with these tips.