The 2-Ingredient Secret to Better Meatloaf and Meatballs

A panade is easier to make than it is to pronounce.

This is another one of those times that I'd almost like to rename something… just to stop the word from scaring people off. Making a panade is as easy as 1, 2… there isn't even a 3!! All it is is a mixture of bread or bread crumbs and liquid. It really is that easy.

Now why in the world would I be suggesting to you that this (admittedly, unattractive) mixture would be something you need to add to your kitchen bag of tricks? The simplest answer is to tell you that you'll never have to eat a tough meatball or meatloaf again. And I think that's a pretty good reason.

A little bit of history: When Italian immigrants came to the U.S., they discovered that meat, frequently very expensive and/or in short supply back home, was overabundant and much less expensive here. And they began to discard the "extenders" often used with ground meat. Panade being one of the prime examples. All-meat meatballs etc. were a lot firmer. Meatier flavor perhaps, but hard and almost "bouncy." People began to notice that the panade didn't just make meat go further, it also made for a much softer, more delicate texture. The panade, people discovered, allowed the meatballs to stay together without becoming hard and rubbery.

Spaghetti and meatballs in a white dish

So what is a panade? It's simply bread, or bread crumbs, moistened with dairy (milk or cream), water, or stock. You can either use a lot of liquid and squeeze most of it out, or use just enough to moisten. Then add this to your ground meat mixture, and shape/cook as usual. The results seem almost too good to be true. But there is science to back it up. When meat is exposed to heat, the proteins and fibers contract, or tighten. If you've ever noticed a pork chop curl, or another piece of meat seem to almost lift up in the saute pan, that's the tightening I'm referring to. The panade interrupts this process, so the meat can cook without pulling together and tightening.

Another benefit of a panade is that you don't need to use much to have the desired effect, so you will only be altering the texture, not the flavor. So there's no need to radically change your recipe. The only radical change you'll encounter will be when you taste it, and discover the moist, perfectly tender quality. You'll be able to forever banish memories of tough, springy meatballs, and dry, too-firm meatloaf. Panade sounds fancy and difficult. But in reality, it's a truly simple game-changer.

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