What Are Veal Meatballs?

Christian Petersen

Veal meatballs are a traditional dish, primarily from Italian cuisine, that consists of ground veal formed into spherical ball shapes and cooked. Veal is meat from very young beef cattle and is similar to regular beef. It has a pale pink color, however, and a less robust, more delicate flavor than beef. Meatballs are generally made by mixing the raw ground meat with seasonings and some kind of binder, like egg and bread or cracker crumbs. The mixture is rolled into balls and may be cooked in a variety of ways.

Veal is beef taken from a young calf.
Veal is beef taken from a young calf.

Recipes for meatballs are almost as varied as the cooks who make them, and while it is easy to quickly find dozens of veal meatball recipes on the Internet, most share a few basic characteristics. First among these is a reliance on veal. Veal meatballs must be made primarily from ground veal, although some recipes may call for a combination with other meats, such as regular ground beef or ground pork. If veal is not the primary meat ingredient, however, they may not properly be called veal meatballs.

Another common characteristic of all veal meatball recipes is the binder that helps the meatballs maintain their shape and hold together during cooking. This is almost always a combination of egg and some kind of starch, such as bread or cracker crumbs, although others are possible, such as par-cooked rice or even dried potato flakes. These are mixed with the raw meat before the balls are formed.

Seasonings are an important part of any veal meatball recipe. Most meatballs are well seasoned, typically with salt and pepper and, perhaps, savory herbs such as parsley, thyme, and oregano. Garlic is another common seasoning as well. Some recipes call for other ingredients like shredded Parmesan cheese, minced mushrooms or even a cube of cheese, stuffed in the center. Veal meatballs are usually less heavily seasoned than other meatballs because of the meat's more delicate flavor.

Cooking techniques for veal meatballs include browning in a skillet, pan-frying, and even deep frying. Meatballs can be formed to any size desired, but larger meat balls are usually browned or fried then finished by simmering or baking in some kind of liquid. Regular meatballs made from ground beef or pork are usually served in a rich tomato sauce typical of Italian cuisine, and veal meatballs may certainly be served this way. Many cooks prefer to serve them in other ways, however, to prevent the strong flavor of tomato sauce from hiding the flavor of the veal. They can be served with caramelized onions, in soup, or with lighter cream or white wine sauces, for example.

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