Pheasant Italian Meatballs

This is the last of the pheasant from this year’s harvest, but I still have some grouse left for a few more game recipes, and there is that venison backstrap in the freezer waiting for the grill.

I used 2 pounds of ground pheasant and 1 pound of ground pork, but if you’re making a chicken or turkey meatball, you could make up a different ratio that even adds veal. Three pounds of meat yielded about 3 dozen meatballs of golf ball size. It was a lot, but we had subs the first night and pasta the second. My husband had subs again the third night, but I was all meatballed out by then. I also made my own sauce, because I’m not too fond of any of the commercial sauces. Thank you, pheasant and little dog hunter.

The most interesting choice I made was to use panko crumbs instead of soft fresh or fine dry crumbs. I liked the body they added to the meatballs, keeping them moist, as well. Not sure how that works, but it works.

Pheasant Italian Meatballs

  • Servings: makes about 3 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
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I let my meatballs cook completely in simmering sauce, with no beforehand browning. I used a true simmer gas burner, which is lower than the low on most burners. If you only have regular burners, the cooking time would be shorter, because I find that the lowest setting on my other burners keeps dishes at more of low boil that you have to watch for burning and sticking. I can just let my pot sit for hours without that happening. The downside is that my sauce doesn’t want to thicken at that low simmer, so I remove the meatballs later, and turn up the heat to cook down the sauce, uncovered.

For the meatballs:

2 lbs ground pheasant (or any poultry)

1 lb ground pork (mine was reduced fat)

Optional: 2 tablespoons bacon fat or other fat to compensate for lean meats

2 cups panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1/2-1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I keep it ready in the freezer)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

  1. Mix all the ingredients with a large meat fork, which cuts through all the ingredients, rather than mashing them as a spoon does. Or mix with your hands, which gives you a good sense of when everything is evenly combined. I start out with the fork and then get my hands in there to fold it all together.
  2. Into a large pot (about 6 qt) of simmering sauce, drop shaped meatballs, first covering the bottom and then dropping some into the spaces between balls, until all are made and in the pot. Do not worry that some are sitting on the top and not covered by sauce. DO NOT STIR at this point. Your meatballs will not fall apart if you just put the lid on and let them simmer away. I go in after about 1 1/2 hours to give a light stir, just to see how it all looks. Once the meatballs are in the sauce, this is pretty much a hands-off process. People who complain that their meatballs fall apart if not browned first are obviously unable to keep that spoon out of the pot. I can see how that would be an issue without a true simmer burner, though. If you must pre-cook your meatballs, I would bake them, as in this recipe: “Jen’s Incredible Baked Meatballs
  3. Remove meatballs after 2-3 hours and reduce sauce, if necessary, by raising the heat to a low boil and cooking uncovered to desired thickness. Return meatballs to sauce to keep hot.

For my sauce:

2 28 oz cans peeled plum tomatoes, crushed by hand or with a potato masher

1 tube or small can of tomato paste (sizes vary from 4.5 to 6 oz)

Optional: water, as needed, if you think the sauce is too thick at this point

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1/2-1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

  1. You’ll notice that my sauce flavorings are the same as in the meatball. Don’t expect the sauce to flavor the meatball all by itself.
  2. Mix all ingredients in your large pot and bring to a simmer while making the meatballs. The sauce should be simmering before dropping in the meatballs so you don’t have to bring the whole thing up to heat.
  3. After removing the cooked meatballs, I used a hand blender to further chop up some of the tomato pieces to help it thicken, and I cooked it, uncovered for about a half hour, stirring often. Then I returned the meatballs to the sauce to keep hot.

At a simmer, you can cook meatballs for a looooong time, longer than the 2-3 hours, if necessary, and of course, you can make them in the crockpot, but my crock is cracked. Make sure you have plenty of extra Parmesan for garnish and mozzarella if making subs.

To reheat the next day, let the meatballs and sauce come to room temperature, or heat slightly in the microwave, before heating on the stove at a low temperature or simmer. I don’t like to heat them completely in the microwave, which seems to have a toughening effect on meat.


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