Photo: KP Suwannasuk (Shutterstock)
Making really good meatballs isn’t exactly rocket surgery. As long as you season them aggressively and use a light touch while mixing, you’ll be good to go. But I recently discovered an easy way to make an already delicious dish even better: Just toss in some anchovies.
This addition is kind of a no-brainer when you think about it. Anchovies are basically pure umami; just as you’d expect, they add a ton of savoriness to meatballs. (This is clutch when you’re out of parmesan, which I almost always am.) But they also add some serious richness, which I think might be even more important. Anchovies are greasy little buggers on their own and almost always come packed in olive oil; that extra fat translates to extra flavor and tenderness, both of which are excellent insurance against dry, crumbly balls.
They also won’t make your meatballs taste fishy. (I know that literally every recipe that includes anchovies says this, and sometimes it’s transparently bogus, but not here.) Anchovies pair so nicely with the usual Italian-American meatball seasonings (garlic, parsley, crushed red pepper, lemon zest, parmesan) that they melt right in without a trace. I recently added an entire two-ounce tin of ‘chovies to meatballs made with two pounds of bland-ass ground turkey and couldn’t pick them out in the finished product at all; if you’re using stronger-flavored meat like beef or lamb, even blended with something mild like pork or veal, there’s no chance you’ll taste fish. I promise. (And if you’re still wary, you don’t have to use the whole tin.)
There are a few different ways to incorporate anchovies into the meatball mix. You can simply toss them in as-is and mix them up with the rest of the ingredients, which is quick and easy but can leave the bones intact. Anchovy bones are completely safe to eat and aren’t a choking hazard, but if they present a textural element you’d rather avoid, you have two options. If you use raw aromatics in your meatball mix, just mince up the anchovies along with the onions, garlic, and herbs. Personally, I prefer cooked aromatics, so I’ll just dump the whole tin in the pan and cook everything down together. Either one of these options will fully break down the bones, allowing the anchovies to disappear without a trace.