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How To Avoid Overcooking Meatballs When Adding Them To Soup

Meatballs in a bowl of sauce
Meatballs in a bowl of sauce - xiaoxiao9119/Shutterstock

On so many cold winter days, there seems to be no reprieve from endless gray skies. Thankfully, someone long ago had their head in the game and came up with a bowl of pure warmth and deliciousness to get us through the day. Highly improvisational, soups have the merit of inviting many ingredients to be added to the mixture, one of which is the mighty meatball. However, like so much else in cooking, timing is key. What looks like a perfectly good meatball one minute can become an overcooked glob the next. Cooking meatballs is an art in a sense, mostly due to its surrounding elements. Whether simmering in a sauce or the primary ingredient for a soup, there are many ways that these tasty morsels can be overcooked. Thankfully, there is a way to counteract this kitchen disaster.

One of the best ways to avoid overcooking the meat for your meatball recipe is to par-cook them beforehand. They only need to be lightly seared or broiled. While this may seem like a red flag to many cooks in the kitchen, this is actually the preferred method. No one wants a soup full of food poisoning because of undercooked meat, but there is no danger of that with this strategy. Cooking meatballs only slightly is the best method that not only ensures they will not overcook but also remain moist and delicious.

Read more: 11 Of The Best Cooking Tips From Bobby Flay

Meatballs Can Overcook In A Soup

Raw meatballs on a countertop with herbs and vegetables
Raw meatballs on a countertop with herbs and vegetables - Mironov Vladimir/Shutterstock

Most cooks know the old saying that cooking is an art and baking is a science. Although cooking is not as specific as baking, it does require a basic understanding of scientific principles. It might not seem like adding fully cooked meatballs to a soup pot could do significant damage, but you might be surprised by what hot liquid does to a meatball. If they're left in stock, sauce, or soup for too long, they will become soggy and unappetizing. You should only cook them until they are browned before adding them to your soup to finish cooking. By doing this, you can reach the sweet spot of cooking them in the soup until they are just right.

This reaction is why slightly under-searing the meatballs before adding them to soup is important. You only need to cook them slightly -- a nice char on the outside will do. Don't worry about the possibility of serving undercooked meat in your soup: Par-cooked meatballs will continue to cook in the hot soup. A good rule of thumb is to cook soup meatballs until they reach their minimum internal temperature. This temperature gauges how much you should cook a specific food source before safely eating it. The USDA recommends cooking ground meat until it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why You Should Brown Your Meatballs Before Adding Them To A Soup

Meatballs in vegetable soup
Meatballs in vegetable soup - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

When dropping uncooked meatballs into a soup, they will eventually be cooked through enough to avoid food poisoning, but that is not always enough to complete a dish. In fact, doing so could be one of many mistakes you could make with meatballs. There is a much more satisfying way to transform meat into a delectable meal. This transformation involves time, heat, and moisture, which can only be achieved efficiently by browning the meat. Browning produces the Maillard reaction, a chemical change to meat and other foods. It lets the brain know that not only is the food safe to eat, but it is also downright delicious. This occurs when proteins and sugars combine during the process of cooking. Thanks to high heat, a reaction occurs that transforms a drab piece of meat into a tasty cut full of flavors that were absent previously.

The Maillard reaction is achieved most commonly by cooking steaks and burgers on a pan or grill. Browning the meat creates the crust that always seems so appetizing to humans. Picture a boiled steak next to one seared and basted in butter. This crust on the outer layer of meatballs and the like appeals to meat lovers and locks in juices to create an even more delicious meal.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.