Off-Script With Sohla

Sohla Is Changing How We Make Meatballs

Think: spiced lamb with tahini sauce and herby onion salad. Heck yes.

June  7, 2021

Every month, in Off-Script With Sohla, pro chef and flavor whisperer Sohla El-Waylly will introduce you to a must-know cooking technique—and then teach you how to detour toward new adventures.

I didn’t grow up with the meatballs I saw on TV. You know, the kind that are perfectly round and covered in red sauce on a plate of spaghetti. Instead, I ate charred lamb kofta with saffron rice or pollock balls stewed in a creamy korma. That’s why I think outside the beef. With my riffable technique, any minced meat or fish can transform into flavorful, tender, and moist meatballs.

The Meatball Moistmaker

The secret to better, juicier meatballs is a panade, aka a mixture of starch and liquid that gets kneaded into minced meat. No, starch isn’t added just to stretch the meat—it sneaks in moisture, too, Trojan horse–style. Make sure to mix your panade until the liquid is totally incorporated, with no dry spots. Then allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes, so the starch is fully hydrated.

Depending on the meat, I like to change it up using various combinations of liquids and starches. Start with torn bread, dried bread crumbs, or stale crackers. Then cover with milk, yogurt, or even juice. In the mood for some sweet-and-savory meatballs with tropical flair? Use Hawaiian-roll crumbs and pineapple juice! Need to add fat to lean ground chicken? Try heavy cream and buttery Ritz cracker crumbs!

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Another thing I do is add all of the spices, eggs, etc to the rested panade, then I mix it with the meat in my mixer. Works like a charm. Spices are evenly distributed and it’s ready to rest in the fridge. ”
— DelicateFlowah

What’s more: You can adjust the panade quantity to fine-tune the meatballs’ texture. If you want ultra-tender, pillowy meatballs, use more. If you like meatier, denser meatballs, use less.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle. Food Stylist: Pearl Jones.

Take Me To Flavortown

Sure, you could mix meat with a panade and salt and call it a day. But the bonus ingredients are where you can really play around and have fun. Do it! Have fun! Bring brightness with tender herbs (like dill or cilantro), minced ginger, ground pecorino, or grated citrus zest. Play up meaty depth with deeply caramelized vegetables, like long-cooked onions, garlic, or carrots. Add dimension with toasted and ground spices—from garam masala to Old Bay Seasoning to furikake. Whatever you pick, keep the mix-ins chopped fine, so they evenly incorporate into the meat. And be sure to cook any aromatics you’d rather not bite into raw.

Knead Like Bread Dough

Meatballs are essentially hand-formed sausages, so you want to mix enthusiastically to ensure the ingredients are emulsified. This means the mixture will hold on to moisture and fat when cooked, staying juicy as can be, without you worrying about going over a precise internal temperature.

To achieve this, knead your meatball mixture like bread dough. You can mix it by hand or using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer. The mixture might start out looking wet and loose, but it will become springy and sticky, easily holding together.

Don’t be scared to pick it up and slam it back into your bowl to knock out excess air pockets. Meatballs are the perfect dish to make when surrounded by things that are getting on your nerves.

Give It A Rest

The secret to 99 percent of my recipes is time. Meatballs are no different. While some people like to mix, then immediately shape and cook meatballs (and many recipes will tell you to do just that), hang on a second. Actually, hang on...a day.

Resting the mixture for at least 24 hours (or up to 3 days) will send your dinner to infinity and beyond! The rest allows everything to hydrate and chill out, making the mixture easier to shape and roll. The salt denatures proteins, improving tenderness. The aromatics and seasonings will meld, and the flavors will deepen. No wrong can come from a good rest for both you and your meatballs.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle. Food Stylist: Pearl Jones.

Brown All Around

Once that the meatballs have been panade-ed, seasoned, kneaded, rested, and formed (phew), they’re ready to cook. You did it!

The panade allows a great deal of wiggle room, so I don’t worry about overcooking them. Focus instead on getting as much deep color as possible. Whether you grill, fry, or broil them, keep cooking and turning until crusty and browned all around. That’s the final step to really taking the flavor over the edge.

Go Off-Script

Now that you’ve graduated from Meatball University, get creative and come up with your own dream meatballs. Here are a few combinations to get you started, inspired by some of my favorite dishes:

  • Shrimp Fra Diavolo: minced shrimp + Italian bread crumbs and shrimp stock panade + tomato paste + chile flakes + cooked onions, carrots, and garlic
  • Chicken Kiev: ground chicken + butter crackers and cream panade + minced garlic, parsley, and chives
  • Miso Pork: ground pork + rice cracker and dashi panade + minced scallion, ginger, miso, and soy sauce

And don’t forget to try my spiced lamb and turmeric cod meatballs, too!

What should Sohla cook up next? Share requests in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Pleasantgal
  • adamsteve
  • Lmabascal
  • Anne Glenn
    Anne Glenn
  • DelicateFlowah
Sohla El-Waylly is a Food52 Resident, sharing new riffable recipes every month that'll help you get creative in the kitchen. Watch her cook on YouTube in her new series, Off-Script With Sohla. Before she started developing fun recipes for home cooks, she worked as a chef in N.Y.C. and L.A., briefly owning a restaurant in Brooklyn with her husband and fellow chef, Ham El-Waylly. She lives in the East Village with Ham, their two dogs, and cat. Find out what else she's up to on Instagram @sohlae


Pleasantgal October 22, 2022
Thank you for this. I am trying to go towards a non processed meat direction steering towards fresh like lamb or fish and this is perfect! Going to try to make these for my son when he visits. He is going to love them! He was my inspiration to start avoiding sausage and other processed meats. The cod or fish is great to grind up myself… can’t wait to do a test run.
adamsteve August 13, 2021
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Lmabascal June 19, 2021
Thank you for the tip. Lucia
Anne G. June 19, 2021
I took this in a bratwurst direction -->. used torn up hamburger buns and milk for the panade, and spices scaled down from this recipe: and local ground pork. I poached the meatballs in a beer/onion bath for 12 minutes to cook, then browned them up on the grill and served in a hot dog roll w/ sauerkraut and mustard. Missed the snap of the casing but otherwise delicious!
Lmabascal June 15, 2021
Hi, I love how your meatballs look. Could you send me quantities for the ingredients. Thanks
DelicateFlowah June 15, 2021
I love using the stand mixer to mix it all together. Another thing I do is add all of the spices, eggs, etc to the rested panade, then I mix it with the meat in my mixer. Works like a charm. Spices are evenly distributed and it’s ready to rest in the fridge.
plevee June 14, 2021
Does the panade and knead also apply to meatloaf?
DelicateFlowah June 15, 2021
Yes! I’d had a meatloaf all ready for the oven. Hubby walked in with really good Chinese takeout so I wrapped it up, tossed it in the fridge and made it the next night. It was the best I’d ever made!
vikrampaul93 June 10, 2021
I read this article! I hope you will continue to have such articles to share with everyone! thank you!