Take Your Meatballs To The Next Level With Anchovies

Whether you consider them an Italian classic or just a saucy version of bite-sized meatloaf, meatballs are the epitome of comfort food. Still, like meatloaf, more is required than just breadcrumbs and meat to create a delicious dinner. Herbs and spices are all safe bets from pumping up the flavor on their meatballs, but what takes it to the next level are the ingredients that bring the umami, that magical fifth taste. Chefs have added umami-rich ingredients to their meatball mix for years, from parmesan to mushroom powder. But perhaps no other ingredient supercharges the flavor of meatballs like the tiny fish with the big flavor: anchovy. 

Often sold in cans and packed in oil, anchovies solve two problems common to dull balls — bland flavor and dry texture. The rich saltiness and oleaginous quality of these small filets bring moisture and flavor to almost any recipe and are perfect as part of a meatball formula. So how should you go about adding this powerful ingredient to your meatball recipe?  

Upping the umami with anchovies

It's a relatively simple process. To add anchovies to your meatball mix, finely chop a few filets for quick and easy dispersal, and stir them into the batch. If working from a recipe that doesn't include anchovies, you may need to adjust your other seasoning ingredients because the fish are particularly salty. Consider subbing in two or three anchovies in place of ¼ cup of parmesan (if the recipe calls for it) or reducing the amount of salt called for. If you're worried about seasoning, fry off a tester meatball to check the sodium level. If you happen to have anchovy paste in your pantry rather than anchovy filets in oil, it's no problem. Just remember that 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste equals about 1 chopped anchovy filet, and if needed, you can compensate by adding a glug of olive oil to the mix.

For the anchovy-phobic, know that for this application, anchovies translate into meatiness and umami, not fishiness. For example, if you've ever splashed the fermented condiment Worcestershire sauce over your meatloaf or steak, you were likely struck with the way the flavor of the spice blend complemented the meat's flavor, not the fishiness of its main ingredient, anchovies. 

So unless you want to condemn yourself to a bland experience, you should never skip the anchovies in your recipe. If you're ready to pump up the savory goodness of your meatballs, anchovies are the fast, cheap, and delicious choice.