Dense meatballs got you down? Despite your attempts at rolling well-mixed yet tender meatballs, do you end up with rubber super balls every time? All that’s about to change, and it starts with the mix. To help encourage a crumbly blend, use tofu.
Tough meatballs are a result of over-mixing and too much binding agent. Your first order of business is to be light-handed as you mix. That’s why most chefs recommend using your hands instead of a spoon and avoiding food processors. After that, it comes down to reducing the binding ingredients in your mix (like eggs and bread crumbs) or adding elements to break up the meat—and tofu is a great option for the latter. As the proteins in the meat cook, they tighten up and squeeze out moisture, which can lead to dryness. Not only will the tofu crumbles break up the tightening proteins throughout your mixture, they’ll add moisture to keep the meatballs from becoming dry as they cook.
If you’re concerned about tofu taking bland or the white color throwing off the meatball mixture, there’s an easy fix for both. Before you create your greater meat mixture, prepare the amount of tofu you need by marinating it. I use about three or four ounces of extra firm tofu for every pound of meat. But before marinating, you need to take out moisture. Line a colander, mesh strainer, or bowl with a few layers of paper towel, crumble the tofu into pea-sized chunks, and drop them into the paper towel. Cover the crumbs with more paper towel and press to take out moisture.
In a small bowl, mix two tablespoons of soy sauce with a couple dashes of Worcester sauce, and add your dried out tofu. Toss to coat. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes or up to a few hours; the tofu will become flavorful and turn a nice meaty-brown color. When you’re ready to assemble your full mixture, you can use a slotted spoon to lift the tofu out of the marinade, though most of the moisture will be soaked up (and I usually just add any residual juice to my meatball mix anyway). Lightly mix and shape your meatballs and cook them as you normally would.
Other non-binding ingredients, like chopped pine nuts, finely chopped onions, or peppers, provide similar benefits, but I’ve found crumbled tofu delivers the best texture time and again. Combine it with a light touch when mixing, and you’ll never again have to wrestle apart another meatball.