All That Rice In Your Pantry Actually Makes For A Perfect Meatball Binder

There's a decent chance you have a bunch of rice in your pantry that you have absolutely no idea what to do with. There's only so many times you can make rice as a side or add to soup before you get tired of it. But those are hardly the only uses for rice, and you should keep it in mind for meatball night because it makes an excellent binder. Meatballs are usually bound with bread crumbs, but rice (cooked or uncooked) is a solid alternative. The reasons are twofold — 1) Thanks to the grain's starchiness, rice will cling to the ground meat and help it maintain its structure during cooking, and 2) Rice also takes on a lot of moisture, which makes it great for keeping meatballs tender. You don't, however, want to use rice to bind anything intended for frying because that high moisture content will work against you in that case. 

Rice also has the benefit of providing you with a blank slate on which to build flavor. Where some breadcrumbs can come pre-seasoned, plain rice lacks any noticeable flavor. Therefore, it can blend in seamlessly with the meat and allow you to play with different spices and seasonings. 

Making meatballs with rice

First things first, you'll want to make sure you are using the right kind of rice. Long grain is recommended over short grain for binding meatballs. While short grain does have a higher starch content, it tends to be a little too glutinous; and while great for sushi, it's not the best choice here. Long grain has just enough starch to bind the meatballs without making them overly pasty. 

You'll also want to decide whether you are going to use cooked or uncooked rice. Uncooked rice will still bind the meatballs together, though not nearly as well as cooked rice will. Depending on which you choose, you're going to need to watch your measurements. Generally, it's half a cup of uncooked rice added to a pound of ground beef, plus half a cup of water to help steam the rice as the meatballs cook. If you use cooked rice, increase the measurement to a full cup and omit the water. This will stretch the meat and keep any grains from sticking out the side of the meatballs. And for cooked rice, you can steam, bake, pan fry, braise, or pressure cook the meatballs to your heart's desire. Depending on meat choice and seasonings, they pair perfectly with a classic marinara, pesto, buffalo, chipotle, and any number of sauces.