The Secret To Perfect Meatballs, According To Scott Conant - Exclusive

Italian American cuisine may be one of the most distinctively beloved genres of food in the country. From fettuccine Alfredo to New York pizza and so many comforting classics in between, this cuisine has a life and a heart of its own. It's not authentically Italian — and chefs like Scott Conant would be the first to assert that fact — but rather inspired by the immigrants who put down roots here and adapted to the ingredients and conditions around them. It stands proud, helping define the American food landscape.

And you'd be hard-pressed to find another Italian American dish that is more universally popular than meatballs. There are few Italian restaurants in the U.S. that don't offer some creatively crafted version of them on their menu, and it's not hard to see why. Meatballs are tasty and filling, but they are so versatile as well. You can make them with pretty much any protein, season them with just about anything your heart desires, toss them into a pasta or soup, or simply serve them up with a good sauce.

Of course, not every meatball is created equal. It's very possible to mess them up on either end of the spectrum, ending up with a dish that's either too mushy or too dense and dry — and that's before you even worry about the flavor. Luckily, Italian American culinary experts like Conant have plenty of trade secrets for mastering meatballs every time. While speaking exclusively with Tasting Table at the Food Network New York City Wine and Food Festival presented by Capital One, Conant shared his advice for making meatballs that would make any Italian American mom proud — including his own.

Amazing meatballs are less about the meat and more about the bread

Scott Conant was quick to agree that meatballs are one of the signature dishes every Italian American chef needs to get right — though that's a lot easier said than done sometimes. As for how you customize your meatballs, "It depends on what you want," he said. "I don't like beef in my meatballs. My mother makes meatballs with beef and they're great, so I don't want to disparage my mom," he added, noting that he will always devour and enjoy a beef meatball when his mother is making them. But on his own, "I make mine with ground veal and ground pork." Still, the rules for good meatballs apply whether you're making them with beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, or beyond.

For starters, it's important to use the highest quality meat possible. It's also a good idea to sauté your vegetables and aromatics before adding them to your mixture to ensure a more even texture. Of course, don't forget to add salt — season your meatballs, please.

But according to Conant, the secret to great meatballs comes down to the bread you add to the mixture. A lot of recipes call for breadcrumbs to add texture and substance, but Conant pulls inspiration from authentic Italian cuisine and says you need to make panna. The technique is simple, but it makes all the difference. "You take bread and soak it in milk or cream, squeeze out the excess liquid, and mix that in your meatball," he said. The result is a meatball mixture that "becomes really soft and palatable," and ends up perfectly balanced and moist by the end of the cooking process.

For the latest from chef Scott Conant, follow him on Instagram. Plus, click here to learn more about the annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented by Capital One, and be sure to check out the highlights from this year's event.