Porcupine Meatballs

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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.

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…

raw rice!

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.

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.

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. ⇩⇩ 

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.

In this recent batch, I used white Basmati rice, as it was what I had on hand. When cooked, I thought it looked just a bit spikier compared to the standard long-grained white rice, which is pictured just above the recipe card. Both, however, tasted delicious and any long grain white rice should work. Before serving, I spoon some of the sauce, which cooks down a lot over the course of cooking time, over the meatballs.

 

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!

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.

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.

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.

Basic pantry ingredients combine with ground beef in this family-friendly dinner that delights and satisfies at any age.

Porcupine Meatballs
Yield: 6 jumbo or 12 regular-size meatballs
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. Alternatively, for a smaller portion that still feels big, slice the jumbo meatballs in half and serve cut-side down.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350℉.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Notes & Helpful Hints

*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.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

 

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Comments

  1. Maya

    Do you know if riced cauliflower could be substituted for regular rice in this recipe? Not sure if it could reproduce the porcupine effect. I sometimes use riced cauliflower in soups as a substitute for rice & in terms of looks it makes a great substitute. But would riced cauliflower have the same effect in this recipe?

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Maya, I wouldn’t recommend riced cauliflower in this specific recipe for a couple of reasons. Raw rice absorbs a lot of liquid. Riced cauliflower wouldn’t do that, so the ingredients would need to be adjusted. Also, the porcupine effect happens when the rice absorbs that liquid and grows in size. If I were to experiment with cauliflower, I’d first try removing the water in the meatballs and reducing the chicken broth in the sauce by about half. Figuring that one cup of raw rice turns into three cups cooked, I’d go no higher than 3 cups of cauliflower rice. Again, I haven’t tried this, but if you decide to give it a go, I’d love to know how you make out!

      Reply
  2. Tara Post author

    Made these last night and they were delicious. I love your idea of slicing the jumbo meatballs in half and serving with the cut side down. My little ones felt like they were eating fun jumbo meatballs like everyone else!

    Reply
  3. Michelle Post author

    Made them today for the first time! The grocery stores have been low on rice for weeks, so I used what I had on hand– jasmine rice. Didn’t have tomato sauce, so subbed crushed tomatoes, and used vegetable stock. Yummy!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Michelle, I’m so glad you made them and and used what you had on hand. Your adjustments sound perfect!

      Reply
  4. Ted Post author

    I made them for lunch and they are awesome!!! I just ate some leftover meatballs by crumbling them up in a pot with some of the sauce and ate them sloppy joe-style. They got even better with the re-heat. Thanks for sharing these great recipes!!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Great news, Ted! So happy you made and liked…and I agree that they improve with age. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  5. Joan

    I’ve been eating or these for 65 years, but we always used a can of mushroom soup. My mom never used a tomato based sauce. Will be interesting to try. Thanks.

    Reply
      1. Ann Post author

        Hi Joan, I love a recipe that has stood the test of time. Sixty five years is impressive. Thank you for mentioning how your mom made these. If you try this variation, I hope you enjoy it as well!

        Reply
  6. Edwin Sharp

    These were a dinner staple at our house and at several friends’ houses when I was growing up in Indiana in the late 70s/early 80s.

    Reply
  7. Nadja

    Hi Ann, I first prepared this during lockdown, so in my family this sells under “Corona meatballs” 😉 They were an instant hit. I’ve made these meatballs a couple of times now (using the black enamel pot that I bought for goose) and the Basmati option turns out much spikier indeed. The next time I’ll try a different brand of Basmati rice though (I found that the Basmati rice was a bit tougher than regular long grain rice, but no-one seemed to mind). All best, Nadja

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Nadja, So good to “hear” from you. I’m delighted you’ve enjoyed these meatballs several times and that they have a new name! Thank you for the thoughtful feedback, and I hope you and your family are doing well.

      Reply