I’m not sure I know what a bison is. Mama tells me it’s the same as the buffalo I’ve seen roaming the hillside at the zoo…but I don’t really understand how that big gruffy animal is the same thing I saw on my plate tonight in the form of meatballs. Mama says you can buy ground bison meat at most groceries stores, so who am I to argue? It’s supposed to be healthier than beef, but I wouldn’t know about that. As there seemed to be a lot to do with these particular meatballs, I only paid partial attention as Mama made them. She tells me there are as many ways to make a meatball as there are to raise a kid—and everyone feels their way is the best—so I’ll relay what I can. But don’t shoot the messenger.
Start with about a pound of your ground meat. It can be beef, bison, turkey, chicken, pork, veal, or a combination of whatever you prefer. Purists might stop you here, tell you to add some salt and pepper, shape the meatballs, and cook them off. But there’s a whole world of flavor out there that you can add to your meatballs. There was very finely chopped onion (Mama noted that some people even grate it on a box grater) and minced garlic; you can cook the onion or not, but add it to the bowl with the ground meat. Some people add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste or ketchup, others go ahead and put a bit of marinara or barbecue sauce in it. There’s a filler, such as breadcrumbs (make yours fresh by grinding a slice or two of bread—the heels work great for this—in a food processor), cracker crumbs, or even something called a panada, which is bread soaked in milk. Then comes your binder—usually 1, but sometimes 2 eggs. Then you add your spices—whether it’s simply salt and pepper, a favorite herb blend, or your own combination of preferred spices.
Mix it all together. Mama says to do this gently and until everything is just combined, otherwise you’ll be packing down your meat, and your meatballs will be tough. (Incidentally, Mama says you can make a meatloaf instead, if you prefer.) Make your meatballs as big as you like, but think about how you’re going to be cooking and eating them. If they’re big, you might want to brown them in a frying pan first, then finish them in the oven. If they’re small, you could bake them or even grill them until they’re done. If they’re really small, you could simmer them in spaghetti sauce or soup. Mama sautéed these for a couple minutes then baked them for another 15.
I thought the meatballs were pretty good. What’s not to like about a food that you can roll around your plate? They were flavorful and moist. (And they were the only part of dinner that I ate.) I’m still not sure how they relate to that big old animal at the zoo, though.