What’s a ‘Panade’ and How Can it Help You Make Great Meatballs?

A Panade (pronounced pan-odd) is a great way to make your meatballs tender and moist.

A French word with the equivalent meaning of “bread pudding”, a panade is a mixture of a liquid and a starch, traditionally bread and milk.

When mixed in with meat such as beef or pork, this starchy mixture helps the meatball hold on to moisture while also keeping it tender

The Science Behind a Moist and Tender Meatball

When meat is cooked, the added energy from the heat activates proteins (specifically actin and myosin) that contract and squeeze the muscle fibers. This squeezing can force out moisture from the meat, leading to a tougher and drier eating experience.

With tender cuts of meat like steaks, pork chops, or hamburgers, excessive moisture loss can be avoided by only cooking to a doneness between rare to medium well (125 to 150°F). The lower temperature limits the amount of moisture squeezed out of the meat; also, resting the meat for a few minutes after cooking allows the proteins to relax and reabsorb some of the moisture.

When cooking meatballs or meatloaf, it’s harder to achieve a gentle cook due to their shape and size. By the time the center of the meatball or meatloaf reaches a desired doneness level, the outer portions would be overcooked and dry.

So to avoid this, we need to add something to allow the meat to hold onto its moisture while it cooks through. This is where a panade steps up to the plate.

The starches in the panade get in between the meat proteins and limit the amount that they can link together and contract. Fat can also do this, which is why fatty meats are generally more moist and tender.

But unlike fat, the liquid starch mixture expands when heated and absorbs moisture as it gelatinizes. This helps balance the contraction and expulsion of moisture that happens in the meat, thereby holding onto moisture and limiting shrinkage.

The liquid part of the panade not only provides moisture for the meatball, it is also a great way to add depth of flavor. Whether it be milk, stock, or a sauce, the liquid provides opportunities for increasing the flavor of the meatball.

Making a Meatball with a Panade

What you will need:

  • Meat: 1 pound of Ground Beef or Ground Pork
  • Bread: 1 slice of whatever bread you have on hand
  • Liquid: A few tablespoons of Milk or Broth. Water will also work if you have nothing else.
  • Seasonings: Depending on where you want to go with flavors you can season meatballs however you like. For a simple all-purpose seasoning mix, use: 1 teaspoon Salt, 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder, 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper.
  • Hardware: Mixing bowl, 9×9 or bigger baking dish, food processor (optional), mixing spoon (optional)

If you plan on baking your meatballs, preheat your oven to 375°F.

Start by making your panade. Giving the bread time to absorb the liquid will help make your meatballs as moist as possible.

If you have a food processor handy, tear up the bread into chunks and place them in along with the seasonings sprinkled on top. Process the bread until it is broken up into coarse bread crumbs. Dump the seasoned breadcrumbs into a mixing bowl and add 2 to 4 tablespoons of your chosen liquid, enough to fully saturate the bread.

Using the food processor helps break the bread down into small pieces while also mixing in the seasonings. This helps make meatballs with evenly distributed flavor and a smooth texture.

If you don’t have a food processor, simply tear the bread into small chunks and place in bowl. Add your liquid to fully saturate the bread.

The goal with the liquid is to add just enough that a tiny bit is left at the bottom of the bowl after the bread has fully soaked up the liquid. Too much liquid will interfere with the ability of the meatball to hold together and cook properly.

When the bread has soaked up liquid for a few minutes, sprinkle the seasonings over it and then use a mixing spoon or your fingers to mix up and break up the bread into a paste.

With the panade ready to go, add your ground beef or pork to the bowl. The easiest way to mix up the meat and panade is to use your hands but a sturdy mixing spoon can also be used.

The goal is to evenly mix the panade into the meat without over-working it. Extra mixing will release more sticky proteins that will make your meatballs tougher.

I find the best way to mix is to spread the meat out and then fold and combine the mixture, repeating until the panade is evenly distributed.

When you have the meat mixed well, form it into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls, about the size of a golf ball, and place in a baking dish, leaving room between the meatballs.

When all the meatballs have been formed, place the baking dish, uncovered, in the 375°F oven for 25 minutes to cook. You can make your meatballs smaller or larger as desired, adjusting cooking time to ensure that the meatballs are cooked properly.

Baking is the easiest method to get the meatballs cooked with a nice even browned exterior.

Pan-frying is another option but takes more work to get them browned evenly and cooked all the way through. It does provide opportunities for creating pan sauces.

If you are going for moist and tender, simmering the meatballs in a sauce or cooking them in an Instant Pot is another good cooking method.

Whatever method you choose, we hope you find the use of a panade improves your meatball making experience!

John and Sarah Gilbert farm with their family in North Central Iowa. They care for pigs, cows, and the land to bring you beef and pork you can love. They have a passion for cooking and helping others develop the skills they need to put healthy and delicious home-cooked meals on the table. They can be contacted by email and through Facebook and Instagram.