Tag Archives: porcupine meatballs

PORCUPINES IN MUSHROOM GRAVY

Here’s another riff on comfort food of the past.  For many mothers of the 1950s, -60s, and -70s, porcupine meatballs or just porcupines were a standby and family favorite. The recipe was included in The Joy of Cooking at least as early as 1943 and as late as 1974, but it had disappeared by 1997. I haven’t been able to find a recipe in contemporary cook books, but there are still several versions on the internet.

My first experience with porcupines came during my graduate school days. I lived with the family of one of my best grade school friends who had moved to Houston. The mother was a very good cook, but her meals were very much of the era. She knew dozens of ways to fix ground beef, and there was nothing that couldn’t be improved with a can of tomato or cream of mushroom soup.

Porcupine meatballs were one of her specialties. Whenever she made them, cheers would go up from the younger children in the family as well as me. The version in the Joy of Cooking called for a can of condensed tomato soup. Her version was more refined, using a can of tomato sauce with seasonings. Both recipes, however, called for rolling the meatballs in rice before cooking them. Internet recipes combine raw rice in the meatball. The recipe that follows uses Mrs. M.’s method.

I have also made two significant changes: first, I have made what are basically hamburgers instead of meatballs (much easier) and second, instead of some kind of tomato sauce, I have used a brown sauce with mushrooms. In part, this is because lately we have been eating lots of Italian dishes with tomato sauces, and I’m getting a little tired of tomato sauce of any sort on any thing.

Sorry, the images are not my best. I confess that the finished dish does not look like much, but I promise that it tastes good – almost as good as at Mrs. M’s table.

RECIPE

Porcupines in Mushroom Gravy

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 medium white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ small onion, diced finely
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • dash ground bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • ½ cup long grain rice
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour until well combined. Cook until the mixture is bubbling, about 5 minutes. Do not allow to color. Whisk in the beef stock, stirring vigorously to break up any lumps. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture is thickened. Stir in the tomato paste and mushrooms. Cook for another 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to the lowest setting to keep the sauce warm until you are ready to add it to the porcupines.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, onion, egg, bread crumbs, garlic powder, bay, and thyme. Use your well-washed hands and mix gently until well combined.
  3. Divide the mixture into 4 equal-sized pieces. Shape each into a patty about 5 inches across and ¾ inch thick.
  4. Place the raw rice in a bowl large enough to accommodate the patties. Individually, place the patties in the rice, pressing down with your hand to make sure the rice sticks to the surface and turning until the patty is completely and evenly coated with rice. Repeat the process with all four patties
  5. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed cooking pot with lid. Add the rice-covered patties and allow them to brown lightly, turning once. Stir in the warm mushroom sauce slowly to avoid any flare-up. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 30 – 40 minutes until the rice is done. Check from time to time during the cooking.
  6. Serve one or two patties to each diner with a good helping of the sauce.
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PORCUPINE MEATBALLS

When I was in my graduate program, I lived with the family of an old school friend. The mother was a good cook of the Betty Crocker/Good Housekeeping school, and there were still young kids living at home. We often had many of the classics – tuna-noodle casserole, macaroni and cheese, meat loaf – but a cheer would go up from the kids when they learned that dinner would include porcupine meatballs. It was even a celebratory dish for birthdays or good report cards.

The meatballs get their name not from being made from porcupine meat but from the rice on their surfaces that supposedly sticks up like the quills on a porcupine’s back. You clearly need the imagination of a child for this creation.

Honestly, I think that the reputation of the dish was overblown, but it really is something to make when you have run out of ideas for what to do with a pound of ground beef.  And that’s exactly what happened. I had a pound of ground beef to use up, and I didn’t feel like the usual hamburgers or pasta with meat sauce.

Then I thought of porcupine meatballs even though I hadn’t had them since my college days. They are easy to make with the single challenging step being the tomato sauce in which the meatballs cook. If you insist, you can make a very elaborate sauce. Alternatively, you can open a can of plain tomato sauce. Those two options run the gamut of hard to ridiculously easy and of tasty to why-bother. Fortunately, there is a middle road. I bought a large jar of Rao’s tomato/basil pasta sauce (straight from the world-famous Manhattan restaurant, according to the label), and that worked perfectly to make this an easy, one-pot meal.

Put a green salad on the side, and you have all your food groups.

RECIPE

Porcupine Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 thick slice sourdough bread, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/4 teasoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 quart jar commercial pasta sauce
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. In a large mixing bowl, soak the bread, torn into pieces, in the milk. Use a fork to mash the bread into a paste.
  2. Add the ground beef, egg, and tomato paste, and with your hands, mix until completely combined. Stir in the bell pepper, onion, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and mix until completely combined.
  3. Form the mixture into 8 meatballs.
  4. Place the rice in a shallow dish. Roll the meatballs in the rice until they are completely covered.
  5. In a large pot,  brown the meatballs in the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta sauce, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Some of the rice will have fallen off the meatballs into the sauce.
  6. Serve while still hot, topped with grated Parmesan cheese

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