Something about this year got me to buy a smallish chest freezer (9 cu ft) and step up my support of local food producers—people like Matt and Sarah of North Bridger Bison and Alena, Amanda, and their families of Kvichak Fish Company. But when you commit to 80 pounds of ground bison, you need to know how to turn it into dinner…regularly. And that’s where these succulent meatballs come in! Made with equal parts ground bison, beef, and pork, and enhanced with sautéed onions, garlic and the usual meatball stuff of breadcrumbs, eggs, and half and half (ok, that’s not usual, but that’s why these are so good!)
One batch of these yields 70 meatballs, enough for dinner tonight and a couple more dinners to share or stash in the freezer. Thanks to the Canal House duo of Melissa Hamilton and Christopher HIrsheimer for the original recipe (this one is from their book Cook Something).
If you don’t have access to bison, substitute additional beef (or elk if you’re lucky! Looking at you CP!)—the key to proportions is 2 parts leaner meat to 1 part fattier. For the fattier, I like ground pork and for that we have at least two great local options: John Smith Ranch and Amaltheia. I encourage you to find regenerative ag ranchers in your area.
Meatballs with Three Montana Meats
adapted from C.Hirscheimer and M. Hamilton of Canal House
makes 70 meatballs
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion large (or 2 smalls)
- 1 garlic clove, minced and mashed with ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 lb. ground bison North Bridger Bison (let me know if you'd like to try some!)
- 1 lb. ground beef I like Yellowstone GFB, Bar77, B-Bar Ranch, Barney Creek Livestock
- 1 lb. ground pork Amaltheia, John Smith Ranch
- 1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs the finer, the better—get out the food processor or dry blade Vitamix container for best results
- 2 eggs large
- ½ cup half and half
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally with wooden spatula, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook a couple minutes longer—you're going for translucence, not browning.
Preheat oven to 375° F and get out two sheet pans, four if you have them.
Gently mix together the ground meats, cooked onions, breadcrumbs, half and half, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg until just combined. Using a scooper and damp hands, portion meatballs into heaping tablespoon-sized balls, gently round them using your hands, and load up onto a sheet pan or two.
(I find that it is best to proceed through cooking the meatballs, then cooling them and freezing them, but you can freeze the frozen uncooked meatballs if you wish. I just like being able to take fully cooked meatballs from the freezer and warm them in marinara for a quick dinner.)
Line a sheet pan with baking parchment or foil and space out 20 meatballs. Bake for 20 minutes at 375°. (I usually bake two sheet pans at once, so I only need to do two baking rounds for this amount of meat.) Repeat baking remaining meatballs. Let cool before popping in freezer bags, if you're doing that.
Alternatively, you can pan fry the meatballs in olive oil, about ½ - inch deep, about 8 minutes per batch say the chefs. I have never done this because—what a mess! And it would take forever to cook 70 meatballs. However, they would be super crispy and delicious, so maybe I'll try it sometime. Until then, I can say that sheet pans in the oven is the way to go.