How do you stop meatballs from falling apart?

Knead it: Working the mince results in better meatballs.
Knead it: Working the mince results in better meatballs. Photo: Marina Oliphant

My 87-year-old husband loves meatballs, which he makes himself, but they keep falling apart when being turned over. Any tips? B. Rose

People often ask if the questions in Brain Food are made up. How could I possibly make up an 87-year-old cook who is having trouble with his meatballs? Tell your husband to give his meat mix a really good squeeze with his hands. If you work minced meat it releases a protein that sets quite firm when cooked. Sometimes you see old-fashioned butchers up to their armpits in sausage meat working in all the seasoning. They keep mixing well past the point of all the ingredients being well mixed and don't stop until the mixture has become quite sticky. So tell Mr Rose to wash his hands well and give his meatball mix a good kneading for five to 10 minutes, depending on the quantity of meat, and he's not to stop until it gets sticky. Let us know how you go.

I was surprised to see a chef recently suggesting serving kangaroo carpaccio. I thought raw roo was a source of toxoplasmosis. L. Harris

Raw kangaroo, lamb and pork are all sources of toxoplasmosis, as are cat faeces and raw milk. Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a tiny parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The parasites form cysts in the body and are normally destroyed by the immune system if they escape from these cysts. People with lowered immunity, including pregnant women, may not be able to fend off an attack. Our friends at the Australian Food Safety Information Council recommend that if you have a compromised immune system or are pregnant you should steer clear of raw meat altogether.

My pressure cooker is set, on its highest setting, to 1 bar. What does this mean? J. Myers

Many of us share memories of a science teacher with patches on their jacket elbows and a salt-and-pepper beard trying to teach us about air pressure. We may even recall  being taught that, at sea level, the boiling point of water is 100°C as yet another spitball was hurled against the blackboard. And do you remember that the higher in altitude one goes, the lower the air pressure and the lower the boiling point of water? Well, Ms Myers, your pressure cooker doesn't let water vapour out until the air pressure inside has reached 1 bar, which is 15 pounds per square inch or 100  kilopascals above air pressure at sea level. This means that the boiling point of the water inside the pressure cooker is increased to 120°C, making food cook faster. Now – who flicked that rubber band?

What is an abbacchio? R. Lehmann

It's an Italian milk-fed lamb. While the word for sheep in Italian is pecora and the lamb one eats is agnello, a milk-fed lamb is abbacchio. The word most likely comes from the Latin ad baculum or "to the stick" in reference to the tether the mother was tied. The dish called abbacchio alla romana is an Italian spring dish often served at Easter in which chunks of lamb on the bone are slowly roasted over a bed of wine and vegetables. As the liquid under the lamb boils, it creates steam that reaches no more than 100°C, allowing the lamb to cook slowly without drying out. The result is tender chunks of sweet tender and fragrant lamb.


We are calling it "Mayogate", the controversy raging over the various ways mayonnaise can be made. S. Brockhoff is stoking the raging fires with this missive: "Years ago I did a cooking class with Stephanie Alexander. She got us making three lots of mayo with identical ingredients but using a wooden spoon with one batch, a metal hand whisk with another and finally a food processor for the third batch. They were outstanding in their difference. By far the nicest was the one made with the wooden spoon, then the whisk and finally, the food processor."

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