I Tried This Clever Hack for Super-Moist Meatballs — Here’s What Happened
When it comes to meatballs or meatloaf, juicier is always better in my book. The juiciest of all are xiao long bao, Chinese soup dumplings stuffed not only with a meaty filling, but also a gelatinized stock that turns into a flavorful soup as the dumplings cook. They’re so juicy that eating the dumplings requires careful and strategic nibbling and use of a spoon so that no drop of soup is wasted. So when I saw this Instagram video by chefdavidkuo that showed him using gelatinized stock in meatballs to make them juicier, I was immediately intrigued. Would it really work — especially if there was no wrapper to keep all the soup in? I whipped up a batch of meatballs to find out.
The video didn’t give any amounts or ratios for ingredients, so I just did my best and winged it. I heated up one cup of low-sodium chicken broth, then whisked in one packet of powdered gelatin until it was fully dissolved. It solidified in the refrigerator after a few hours into a solid (but still slightly jiggly) mass.
Next came making the meatball mixture. I used the winning recipe from our meatball showdown, Anne Burrell’s excellent meatballs. After I put together the mixture, I divided it in half and put 1/4 cup of the gelatinized stock into the other half. Following the video, I pushed it through a fine-mesh strainer to break it up into tiny pieces, but I found the stock so stiff that it didn’t go through easily. I ended up mashing it up as best I could until each piece was no bigger than a peppercorn, then mixed that into the meatball mixture.
I left the remaining half of the meatball mixture plain without gelatin so I could really compare and contrast and see if there was a difference. Because I wasn’t sure if frying or simmering the meatballs would make any difference in terms of the cooking method, I decided to try both. I fried a few meatballs on the stovetop from each batch, then finished cooking them by baking them in the oven. I also fried, then simmered a few meatballs in tomato sauce.
I took a taste from all the various cooking methods and batches to see if there were any notable differences. The meatballs with the gelatinized stock, both cooked in and not in sauce, were noticeably more moist and softer than the meatballs without. But it wasn’t like soup dumplings where there’s a separation of soup and filling.
The breadcrumbs in the meatballs with the gelatinized stock absorbed the moisture and held onto it instead, but those meatballs were almost too soft and verging on spongy. Flavor-wise, I didn’t notice a huge difference across all the meatballs. I wasn’t that impressed with the results and the extra amount of work and dishes were not really worth the payoff.
It’s hard to say whether or not adding even more gelatinized broth to the meatballs would have made a more noticeable difference, but I think the texture of the meatball would probably veer into too-soft territory. If the chef can give clearer ratios or amounts on this technique, I might give it another shot. But for now, I’m going to stick to adding gelatinized broth only to soup dumplings if I want a super-juicy eating experience.