The current selection of our Cook the Books Club is Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent, a delightful memoir about the friendship between the author and an elderly widower that develops as they talk during elaborate meals cooked by him for the two of them. The book has no detailed food recipes, but plenty of life ones. I immediately took to the story, in part because Edward reminded me of my beloved Uncle Domenico. Though he was not a cook in Edward's way, our friendship developed over shared food and meals. I miss him a lot.
Edward's style of cooking, heavily influenced by French cuisine, is quite different from mine. I was intrigued by the Herb-Roasted Chicken in a Paper Bag, but due to family dietary restrictions, I decided to keep to my tried-and-true recipe which is actually originally from Thomas Keller1. I have talked about that recipe and also about how I use the leftovers to make chicken stock/broth2. But I have not talked about what I sometimes do with the meat.
When my mother installed the meat grinder on the table, I knew something good was in the making. She did so rarely and even more rarely did she let me turn the handle. A meat grinder has remained in my mind a fascinating kitchen tool. So when I saw one on the side of the road, among other objects, in a box labeled "FREE" I grabbed it, cleaned it, made sure it worked and stored it in my kitchen.
Like my mother, I don't use it often, but when I do, I take pleasure in feeding it, turning the handle and watching the ground meat come out the holes. My mother's meat grinder was clamped to the table, while mine has a suction cup (ventosa) under its body. The emergence of the meat grinder from its box meant my mother was making either meatballs or the filling for cappelletti or cannelloni. The process leading to meatballs went like this:
- Day 1: my mother made broth (brodo) using chicken and beef meat plus vegetables (onion, carrot, celery — cipolla, carota, sedano)
- Day 1: we ate boiled meat (bollito) and vegetables for lunch
- Day 2: she ground the leftover boiled meat and turned it into meatballs, which she breaded and deep-fried; we also had soup that day
- Day 3: she warmed up meatballs in tomato sauce (sugo di pomodoro)
When freshly fried, my mother's meatballs were crisp outside and very soft inside. When warmed up in tomato sauce, they lost most of their crispness, but acquired the tomato flavor. I spent years debating with myself whether I preferred them on the first or second day and in the end accepted the fact that I liked both versions equally.
My rendition departs from my mother's recipe on several counts, including the fact that I shallow (not deep) fry, but the most important elements are there. In particular, for me, the enjoyment of turning the handle. Electric meat grinders need not apply.
- 1 pound / 450 g boiled chicken
- 1 large egg, preferably from pastured poultry
- 1 ounce / 30 g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout spice mix3
- 4 tablespoons / 60 ml homemade chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt + more if needed
- Flaxseed meal (gluten-free option) or fresh bread crumbs, for breading4
- Olive oil, for shallow frying
- Tomato sauce5, optional, to serve
Grind the chicken and transfer it into a large bowl.
Add the egg, cheese, parsley, ras el hanout and salt and stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.
Add chicken broth, one tablespoon at a time. The mixture should be soft to the mixing fork and should hold together enough to be shaped. Taste and add more salt, if needed.
Use immediately or cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
You can shape meatballs of the size you prefer. As the photo shows, that time I opted for a flat shape that made the meatballs more like patties.
For breading, family dietary requirements make me reach for flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed), which provides a low-carb, gluten-free option, but you can certainly use bread crumbs, possibly freshly made using good-quality bread. Make a thick layer of breading ingredient in a shallow bowl. Shape a meatball as desired and roll it or pat it lightly on the breading. Transfer to a plate lined with wax paper. Repeat until you have as many meatballs as you are planning to cook immediately. Cover and refrigerate any leftover meat mixture.
Warm up a generously oiled skillet that can accommodate the meatballs comfortably, so they are not crowded. The size will depend on how many meatballs you are frying (in one or two batches). When the oil is hot, gently place the meatballs in the skillet and fry until crisp, 3-4 minutes. Flip and fry on the other side. Serve immediately or, if you are frying another batch, keep warm until everything is ready then serve.
This is a delicious way of using meat used for making broth. It is also a great project for which to enlist children's help.
1 Thomas Keller's recipe for Simple Roast Chicken
2 My recipe for Chicken stock/broth and the recipe for Light chicken stock
3 "Ras-el-hanout is a classic spice mixture used in Moroccan cuisine. The name means 'top of the shop', which reflects its expensive ingredients. Good mixtures will contain more than 20 different spices..." (source).
4 My recipe for Breaded baked cod bites that uses ground flaxseed as breading ingredient
5 Post including my recipe for tomato sauce, which uses my strained roasted tomatoes
6 I met Sean, the artist behind Forest Ceramic Co. last summer at the farmers' market in Eastsound, Orcas Island, WA
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the tritacarne, polpette e ricordi audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]