Tag Archives: meatballs

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.

Chinese Pheasant Meatballs and Cabbage

So far, this is my favorite pheasant meatball, not just because they simmer in broth instead of needing to be browned, but I like the vibrant flavors of ginger and garlic and soy with the pheasant. They are big enough to be called Lion’s Head meatballs, if you know those recipes, although the only thing that ties all such recipes together seems to be the size of the meatball. My 1.5 pounds of ground pheasant made 12 large meatballs. Most recipes that called for a pound of meat, suggest making 8 meatballs.

I have a recipe in a Chinese cookbook for “Meatballs and Cabbage” that I followed for cooking directions, but the seasoning seemed too tame to me, so I added some extra ingredients.

Chinese Pheasant Meatballs and Cabbage

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Prepare the meatballs:

1 1/2 lbs ground pheasant (or pork or chicken, etc.)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 cloves garlic, minced or grated

1 tablespoon ginger, minced or grated

1 tablespoon rice vinegar (my ginger was stored in vinegar, so included in that ingredient)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

salt & pepper

Mix all the ingredients and set aside or refrigerate for up to four hours. When ready to cook the dish, form the meat mixture into about 12 large meatballs.

Prepare the cabbage and assemble the ingredients:

1 head of Napa cabbage, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

1 1/4 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons soy sauce

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large sautéing pan with straight sides and a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Sauté the cabbage, stirring until wilted, not browned.
  2. Place meatballs on top of cabbage and pour in the stock/soy sauce mixture. Cover with the lid and reduce the temperature to low after the liquid comes to a slow boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the meatballs are done.

Serve in bowls as is or with noodles or rice.

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

We don’t eat Italian red sauce very often, and by that I mean maybe once a year. We used to eat it more, but just found things we liked better—lighter sauces, more vegetables, even pizza with white sauce instead of red. Even during the last few years when we were eating a red sauce more often, we had moved away from the thick sauces to ones made with canned crushed tomatoes that didn’t seem to mask over other flavors in the dishes.

That’s what I’m aiming for in this dish that uses up the last of the garden tomatoes. I’m just going to peel, seed, and crush the tomatoes, and then decide when I see the results if it needs any tomato paste for body, and as I always do, I’m going to cook the meatballs in the sauce. I’ve never liked the results of meatballs browned first; I like to just form and drop them into the pot of sauce and let it simmer until it’s all done. That method has produced both flavorful, tender meatballs, and flavorful sauce., as well as a lot fewer pans to wash.

Perhaps you can see in this video of today’s sauce with the meatballs removed the consistency after it has cooked down a bit and had a small can of tomato paste added:

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

  • Servings: 4-6, about 20 meatballs
  • Difficulty: easy
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My red sauce ingredients are always simple and this will be the first time I’ve written them down, so don’t dwell on the proportions of any of the ingredients. Just use amounts that seem right to you. We like a lot of garlic; you might like more herbs. Likewise with the meatballs—I like grated Parmesan in them, and more garlic.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

This big pile of tomatoes, peeled and seeded, crushed with your hands or a potato masher is what I am working with. I don’t have a scale, so can’t tell you how much weight I’m using, but the quantity, crushed, comes half way up in this 6 quart pot. If using canned crushed tomatoes, I would use at least two large 28 oz cans for a single meal for 4-6 people.

The following are the ingredients I used for my quantity of tomatoes:

3 quarts tomatoes, peeled, seeded, crushed by hand or vegetable masher

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

6-8 large cloves garlic, chopped or grated (you can see the small chunks of garlic in the video)

1/4 cup dried or 1 cup fresh chopped parsley

1 tablespoon dried oregano (or basil if you prefer)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Optional: 1 small can tomato paste, added after meatballs are cooked (see below)

Place all ingredients in a large pot over medium heat while making the meatball mix.

Ingredients with garlic
Ingredients with garlic


1 1/4 lbs ground beef, 80% lean

2 cloves garlic, grated

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 egg

1/4-1/3 cup milk, half and half, or condensed milk—I used half and half, but you could use stock if you don’t like to cook meat with milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Optional: herbs to match what you use in the sauce

Mix all ingredients by hand as you would for meatloaf. If you use dry breadcrumbs instead of fresh, you might want to let them sit in the milk for a few minutes to soften. Form into meatballs, dropping them into the sauce as you make them. Don’t worry if they come to the top of your sauce and are not covered; they will cook fine that way. Do not stir at this point, so you don’t break up the meatballs. Cover pot and simmer for about a half hour before stirring to allow the meatballs to hold their shape. simmer for another hour, for a total of 1 1/2 hours, covered.

Meatballs dropped in sauce

Remove the meatballs and raise the heat from simmer to low. Cook the sauce, uncovered, to desired thickness. Add up to one small can of tomato paste to further thicken or enrich the sauce. I did add one can because the majority of my tomatoes were not plum tomatoes, and thus were a little more watery. Return the meatballs to reheat when you are happy with the sauce consistency. Serve with pasta and more Parmesan for garnish. I used Barilla Plus® angel hair pasta, a pasta with extra protein and fiber. The meatballs are very tender cooked this way. The sauce is not one of those intense, heavy red sauces, but one with a lot of fresh tomato flavor and pieces of tomato. It seems lighter, but that’s probably just me fooling myself.