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italian meatballs recipe
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5 from 2 votes

Classic Italian Duck Meatballs

This is a great recipe for ”garbage ducks” that may have off flavors if you ate them roasted simply. I’m talking about sea ducks, some diver ducks, most spoonies as well as Ross’ and snow geese. Hell, Canada geese can often be sketchy tasting. And who doesn’t love meatballs? They are a classic comfort food and easy to make. Non hunters, just make these meatballs the traditional way — with a combination of beef and pork. (NOTE: If you do this, omit the pork fat, as it will already be mixed into the pre-ground meats.)
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: duck, elk, meatballs, pork, venison
Servings: 20 large meatballs
Calories: 181kcal
Author: Hank Shaw


  • 2 1/2 pounds lean meat (any kind)
  • 1 pound pork belly or fatty pork shoulder
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3 slices bread, crusts removed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons grated cheese, pecorino or parmigiana
  • 1 1/2 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 1-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 1 to 1 1/2 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 1/4 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 4 to 6 minutes. You are looking for golden brown. Turn only once. The other side will need 3 or 4 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? You could do worse with a marinara sauce, or my Tomato Sauce with Fennel.


Calories: 181kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 78mg | Sodium: 505mg | Potassium: 317mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 54IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 56mg | Iron: 3mg