Quickie Meatballs = A Melty, Any-Night-of-the-Week Sandwich

February 20, 2018

Like good take-out, this recipe cuts to the chase: It turns a one-pound package of 80% lean ground beef into a meatball sandwich. And it skips an entire step—browning the meatballs on the stovetop or the oven first—to get there faster.

This pragmatic recipe services my yearning for those meatball grinders (also called meatball subs, meatball hoagies...) of my East Coast youth, the ones available at any Greek-style pizza shop. Since there aren’t any to be found where I live now, in the rural West, I resort to making them myself on a regular basis.

We're easier—or more fun, at least—than takeout. Photo by Julia Gartland

First, the meat. Traditional meatloaf and derivative meatball recipes combine pork, beef, and sometimes veal. But when I used equal parts ground pork with beef, I did not experience a major flavor advantage in the finished sandwich. I was also left with a half-pound of each ground meat, which would only be convenient if I was going for a double batch. Given the full flavors of the grass-fed ground beef widely available today, an all-beef meatball allows anyone to buy a pound and use it all at once to make a batch of 12 meatballs, or four finished sandwiches. Sufficient, I thought, and in proportion to the sauté pan full of tomato sauce.

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Now, the method. It’s certainly unconventional to omit a step that browns the meat proteins to their most delicious state. (Yes, you know, the Maillard reaction.) To be clear, I’m not advocating eliminating pan-fried or baked meatballs altogether. But in this instance, it makes a lot of sense. As you form the meatballs, you plop them into the simmering sauce. Now, it may seem weird to put raw meatballs into your tomato sauce. You may wonder: Will they cook all the way through? Will they fall apart?

Not only do they cook through, given sufficient simmering time, they make the sauce taste even better. Simmering the meatballs directly in the sauce imparts flavors into a sauce that would otherwise just be lost. The meatballs and sauce marry from the get-go and give you toothsome, tender meatballs with much less labor.

The hardest part is deciding on the best bread—neither too hard nor too soft—and sliced melting cheese for your own ideal meatball sandwich. My only advice is for you to do what the grinder shops do: Soak the open sides of the toasted bread with some of the sauce and crack the meatballs before layering on the cheese—be it fontina, provolone, or fresh mozzarella.

What are your favorite ways to eat grinders/hoagies/subs? Let us know in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I wake up thinking, What's for dinner? The answer comes from the stocking as much local food as I can store, buying dry goods in bulk and shopping for seasonal produce. Pickling and canning, sourdough bread baking and grilling are also key parts of the mix as I improvise meals for my family.

1 Comment

AntoniaJames February 20, 2018
Plopping the meatballs into the simmering sauce doesn't sound odd at all. It's how one makes albondigas -- at least the way Diana Kennedy suggests making them. This is an excellent recipe, by the way, for so many reason.

Those who consider the Maillard effect essential can put meat about the size of one meatball, broken into tiny bits, into the skillet toward the end of the onion's cooking time. Cook on high, stirring frequently, until the bits are brow; then, pick up the recipe as drafted. ;o)