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I was watching a cooking show yesterday where the chef used a process I have never seen before, without explaining why. I've been wondering about it and can't come up with a satisfactory answer, which is where you guys come in.

The recipe revolved around meatballs (in this case made from minced chicken, egg, breadcrumb and green herbs) which the chef boiled until cooked in a pan of water and then afterwards browned in butter.

Can anyone tell me what the benefits would be of this reversal of the normal process where you sear/fry the meatballs first and then cook them in a jus, sauce, or oven?

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There's a few reasons for utilizing this method:

  1. You'll end up with a juicier meatball, as it is cooked in liquid.
  2. It'll be rounder and more plump because it was cooked in a liquid.
  3. You'll be 100% sure that it was cooked thoroughly without being burned.

The reason for the pan browning is just a reverse sear - purely for color/crunchiness and perhaps some flavor from a browned meat and the butter.

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    My guess is that this particular method was used specifically because these are chicken meatballs. Without much fat to keep them moist, they'd dry out if cooked using the "standard method". – logophobe Feb 20 '15 at 19:55
  • It's a bit reminiscent of the ground beef meatball method where you bake them in liquid, so its applicable to all kinds of meatball, not just chicken meatballs. Though its a valid assessment that with a leaner meat like chicken the meatballs might dry out if just fried for example – jsanc623 Feb 20 '15 at 20:21
  • Cooking meat in liquid doesn't make it juicier. Meat's juiciness is a direct function of its temperature, nothing else. – David Rice yesterday
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My Mother has always cooked her meatballs in water. Why? Well, first the meatballs had rice in the the meatball, parsley and depending on the cook prepared it, some other spices like minced garlic and all the indgredients listed above. She was making a soup with the liquid she was cooking the meatballs in and the meatballs were the size of tangerines, perfectly round and very unappetizing in color. That's why the meatballs stayed in the soup pot, the broth was very delicious, the meatballs were great and in Armenian cuisine called "kufta" (meatball) soup, Many various types of "kuftas", fried and then out into a broth and again delicious served. Sometimes a little bit of tomatoes paste was put in the water/broth when cooking to add not only flavor but color. So that was a reason why some people cooked in water and another reason was they did this because it was cheaper than frying it in oil and so they were able to make it into 2 meals and stretch they money. This could be more of the "poor mans meal" even though it is alot of work and hearty but back in the day people had to make due and be more creative. Even today. if you make smaller meatballs, you can add potatoes, carrots, onions and have a great hearty soup. Albondigas soup is a great example of this and so is tortilla soup. It is all good. The flavor sets in from the beginning and there is no loss of meat and you do not have all the extra fat from frying the meat in oil or baking you loss what is there to begin with.

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The only benefit I can think of is that it would be faster than pan-frying, because surrounding them with boiling water will get more heat into them more quickly. But from a flavor standpoint, they will not turn out as well, because some of the flavor of the meatballs will leach into the water you're cooking them in. This isn't a problem with frying, then braising them because the braising liquid is the sauce you're going to eat them with. But if you're cooking them in water and then throwing out the water, you're throwing out some good meatball flavor with it.

I have to disagree with bullet points 1 and 2 in jsanc623's answer, the meatball may seem "juicier" but that "juice" is just the cooking water.

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    To address your concerns - the cooking water doesn't always have to be water. I have a habit of boiling my beef meatballs in chicken stock and fresh basil leaves, then baking them in tomato sauce. – jsanc623 Feb 24 '15 at 16:49
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    Excellent point. I just hope you are able to re-use your chicken broth. It's very rich after your cooking the meatballs and all you have to do is strain it and freeze it and use it again for soup. – user33210 Feb 26 '15 at 18:55
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Boiling would set the shape of the meatballs and cook them more thoroughly, but you would lose a lot of the flavor! Baking would be a better way to cook them through.

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My second generation Italian American mother always made her tomato "gravy" & added raw meatballs to that sauce. The result is a perfectly round meat ball, moist & full of flavor. She soaked any grease from the meat (in the sauce) up with thinly sliced potatoes floated on top for about 1/2 hr. My dad ate the potatoes as a snack!

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I recently cooked beef meatballs in beef broth, following a combination of Polish recipes. They baked in a tomato sauce after the broth. They were fantastic, tender and juicy. I was wondering why, which led me to this page.

I think the broth may have removed some of the fat, and added flavor rather than taking it away.

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