The silly name becomes apparent when these tender meatballs are pulled from the oven. For a satisfying entree portion, we like to make jumbo meatballs, but you may roll them smaller if preferred.
Meatballs are classic comfort food, for sure. These quirky meatballs, however, have the ability to truly satisfy while stimulating some light-hearted banter at the dinner table!
But the added value does not stop there!
Those who have taken on the added task of homeschooling their children during the quarantine could use this easy recipe as an engaging science project. The tried-and-true meal is equally worthy of adding to the weekly lineup if you’re simply looking for a fresh idea that relies on pantry staples.
Believe it or not, my college roommate, Steph, gave this recipe to me when we were still in college. To the delight of Steph and her siblings, their awesome mom, Loretta, made this recipe many, many times as they were growing up.
The quirky meatballs whip up in minutes and bake in a simple, tomato-based sauce that serves to flavor and tenderize the meatballs. It also provides the moisture needed to cook the one somewhat unusual ingredient…
When you read the recipe instructions, you may naturally question the wisdom of using raw rice in these unconventional meatballs.
Rest assured, it works!
In the years since I received the recipe, I’ve adjusted the liquid ingredients just a bit, and the result is a meal my family adores. The jumbo meatballs are tender and satisfying, and the pan sauce provides added flavor.
If your family enjoys meatloaf, Salisbury steak, or meatballs in general, I’m willing to bet they will welcome this meal.
Watching the transformation of the dried rice as it cooks provides a certain fun factor for kids－and adults for that matter! When the meatballs are mixed, the raw rice is noticeable but certainly not noteworthy. ⇧⇧
When the finished meatballs are removed from the oven, however, the comical name makes sense. After absorbing the extra liquid mixed into both the raw meat mixture as well as the sauce, the cooked rice pops out and resembles the spiny quills of a porcupine. ⇩⇩
We often enjoy the meatballs with mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli or green beans. They’re equally delicious with roasted cabbage for twist on unstuffed cabbage rolls. One friend with whom I shared this recipe recently mentioned that she placed thick wedges of cabbage over the meatballs and let everything cook together. I though that was a great idea and want to try it next time.
If you’d like to serve the porcupine balls over pasta like traditional meatballs, you may want to make 1½ times the sauce recipe in order to have plenty to coat the noodles. I hesitate to suggest doubling the sauce recipe, as it may be too much liquid and not reduce enough. In any case, take on either change knowing that I haven’t tried it myself－and as always, please report back with the results of any experimentation!
As mentioned, my family enjoys the jumbo meatball option, which also happens to be quicker to prepare. Because the jumbo portion is generous, for smaller appetites I slice one of the meatballs in half and serve it cut side down. This way, it still looks like a big, complete meatball, and nobody feels slighted.
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 cup long grain white rice, uncooked*
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ cup minced yellow onion
- 2 level teaspoons kosher salt (use 1½ teaspoons if using table salt)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth (may substitute water plus an extra pinch or two of salt)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350℉.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the rice, water, onion, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add the ground beef and mix to incorporate. To fully combine without over-mixing, I find it easiest to use my hands. Shape the mixture into 6 jumbo or 12 large meatballs. (You could certainly opt for 8 or another number or choice.) Helpful hint: To evenly size, divide the meat mixture in half, once or twice depending on desired number of meatballs, and then in thirds.
- Place the meatballs in a Dutch oven, casserole or baking dish that will fit them closely together in one layer. You don’t want too much extra room around the meatballs because you want the tomato sauce mixture to cover as much of the meatballs as possible (aim for a little over halfway as in the prep photo.)
- In a medium bowl or Pyrex measure, stir together the tomato sauce, broth and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over the meatballs, making sure to coat the tops.
- Cover tightly with a lid or tin foil and bake for 1 hour or until the meatballs are cooked through and the rice is tender. Allow to rest for 5 minutes or so, and then serve with a spoonful of sauce over the top.
*A cup of uncooked rice is considered to be 180 grams, which actually measures in just under the fill line of most standard measuring cups. To ensure the right rice-to-liquid ration, shake off the rice so that it fills the cup to a level slightly below what it would be if you leveled it with the straight edge of a knife.
*In case you’re second guessing yourself – yes, you are supposed to use raw rice! Regular long grain white rice is recommended so that it is fully cooked by the time the meat is done. (I have also used white Basmati with good results.) The grains will absorb moisture and poke out like porcupine quills as the meatballs cook.