For all you non-hunters, you can easily substitute domestic duck or goose, or just make these meatballs the traditional way—with a combination of beef and pork. If you do this, omit the pork fat, as it will already be mixed into the pre-ground meats.
This recipe was inspired by Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
Makes between 18 and 22 large meatballs
• 2 ½ pounds duck meat, skinned
• 1 pound pork fat
• 2⁄3 cup milk
• 2 to 3 slices of good but stale bread, crusts removed
• 2 eggs
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon black pepper
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
• 4 tablespoons grated cheese (Pecorino or Parmigiano)
• 1 ½ cups bread crumbs
• vegetable oil for frying
Chill the duck meat and pork fat until it is almost freezing by sticking it in the freezer for an hour.
Cut both the meat and fat into half-inch chunks.
Grind through your fine die in a meat grinder. If you do not have a meat grinder, you can use a food processor, set on pulse. Don't crowd the processor and chop the meat in pulses until you get something that looks like ground meat—it will not be as good as with a grinder, but it is easier than hand-mincing everything, which is also an option.
Put the meat in the fridge.
Pour the milk into a pot and set it on low heat.
Cut the crusts off the stale bread and break it into pieces. Add it to the pot. It will begin to absorb the milk. When it does, turn off the heat and mash everything into a paste. Let it cool to room temperature.
In the meat bowl, add the salt and spices and herbs, as well as the cheese. Crack the eggs into the bowl, then pour the bread-milk mixture in.
With clean hands, gently mix everything together. Do not knead it like bread, and do not squeeze things together. Just gently work the mixture—think cake, not bread.
When it is mostly combined—you need not get everything perfect—grab a palm-full and roll it into a ball with your palms, not your fingers. You want meatballs about one to one and a half inches across.
Gently roll the meatballs in the bread crumbs. You may need to re-shape them before putting them onto a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.
When the meatballs are all made, get a large pan ready; I use a big old cast-iron frying pan. Fill it with about a quarter-inch of oil. I use a combination of canola and olive oil. Bring it up to temperature over medium-high heat. When a drop of water splashed in the oil immediately sizzles away, drop the heat to medium and add the meatballs. Do not crowd them.
You want the oil to come up halfway on the meatballs. Add a little oil if need be; don't worry, you can reuse the oil. Fry on medium heat for four to six minutes. You want them golden brown.
Turn only once. The other side will need three to five minutes.
When cooked, set the meatballs on a paper towel or wire rack to drain. They can be used right away or cooled and then refrigerated for a week, or frozen for several months.
How to serve? In a standard red sauce—you could try my ducky tomato sauce—as I did, with stewed savoy cabbage and tomatoes, or any old way you want. Red wine is a must, though!
To read Hank's story about preparing meatballs so good they make him say "Yeah, baby, yeah," click here.