Make-Ahead Sweet & Sour Cocktail Meatballs

December 14, 2009 | By andrea | Filed in: Appetizer, Beef, Pork, Recipes.

cocktail-meatballs-2Every party needs a few meaty appetizers to keep the festivities rolling. That’s why I brought these Sweet & Sour Cocktail Meatballs to a party recently. Sure, you can buy store-bought meatballs but I thought these were delicious and worth the effort to make (they are firmer in texture than some spongy, store-bought types). Plus, you can make the meatballs and sauce ahead of time and freeze them for up to a month…a bonus when it comes to preparing for a party!

I was getting lazy towards the end of the meatball rolling process so I started making them a bit bigger. Because of that, I only got 74 meatballs instead of 80 (no big deal, though). I used a regular-sized jar of Smucker’s Apricot-Pineapple Preserves (about 2 cups) and added a splash of cider vinegar to make the sauce a bit more tangy. The smaller you mince the onions, the better because you don’t want chunks of onion the size of the meatballs. And remember to buy the toothpicks to spear them with. 

Make-Ahead Sweet and Sour Cocktail Meatballs
-recipe from Cook’s Country Magazine (December 2009)

We wanted to do as much advance preparation as possible so the meatballs could come together in a hurry the night of a party. We needed a sweet, tangy sauce without any hints of artificial candy flavor and meatballs that wouldn’t dry out in the freezer. Here’s what we discovered:
•Browning the meatballs in a skillet was a pain. Baking them in the oven was much faster and ensured the meatballs browned evenly.
•We found that all of the most common binders—bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, and even cornflake crumbs—dried out the meatballs. We settled on a panade, a paste made from bread softened in milk, to protect our meatballs from the dry cold of the freezer.
•Too much seasoning will overpower the meatballs, but too little will be lost in the sauce. The right balance of salt, pepper, garlic, and parsley complimented the sweet and sour flavor of the sauce perfectly.
•Tomato sauce doctored up with red pepper flakes, Dijon mustard, and a few other key ingredients took care of the sour portion of the sauce. For the sweet, we tested every type of jam and jelly we could think of and settled on one standout.
•Freezing the meatballs and sauce in separate containers eliminates almost all of the last-minute prep work. When it’s time to serve, simply reheat the sauce, dump in the frozen meatballs, and you’re done.
•Use a 1 1/4-inch melon baller or a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon to form the meatballs.

Serves 20.
4 slices hearty white sandwich bread , torn into pieces 
1/2 cup whole milk  
2 large egg yolks  
1/2 pound ground pork  
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley  
2 garlic cloves , minced 
1 teaspoon salt  
2 teaspoons pepper  
2 1/2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef  

1 tablespoon vegetable oil  
1 onion , minced 
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce  
2 1/2 cups apricot preserves  
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar  
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce  
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard  
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes  

MAKE MEATBALLS: Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 450 degrees. Using fork, mash bread, milk, and egg yolks in large bowl until smooth. Add pork, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper and mix until incorporated. Add beef and knead gently until combined.

BAKE MEATBALLS: Form mixture into 1¼-inch meatballs (you should have about 80). Bake meatballs on 2 rimmed baking sheets until cooked through and beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through cooking. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Transfer to large zipper-lock freezer bag and freeze for up to 1 month.

MAKE SAUCE: Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in tomato sauce, preserves, sugar, Worcestershire, mustard, and pepper flakes and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer to airtight container and freeze for up to 1 month.

TO SERVE: Reheat sauce, covered and stirring occasionally, in Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Once sauce reaches simmer, stir in frozen meatballs and cook until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve.

STEP BY STEP: Make-Ahead Magic
1. Bake the meatballs, cool them on the counter, and refrigerate.
2. Place the chilled meatballs in zipper-lock bags and freeze. 
3. To reheat, dump the frozen meatballs directly into the simmering sauce.

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