Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
All-Star meatballs' secret ingredient: pork jowls
Some journalists cover wars. Some cover politics. Some taste-test special All-Star Game meatball subs at Citi Field.
So it was Wednesday morning that I found myself in the Caesars Club, sampling a miniature version of the All-Star Meatball Hero that will be unveiled specifically for next month’s festivities at the Mets’ ballyard.
Price: $14. Location: Near section 138.
(Full disclosure: I partook of other samples of Citi Field foods at a lavish lunchtime buffet attended by Mr. and Mrs. Met and assorted journalist, p.r. and business executive types, but the meatballs were the featured attraction.)
The All-Star meatballs are the personal project of Robert Flowers, now in his third season as Aramark’s executive chef at Citi Field, who shared what he described as a centuries-old family recipe from Sicily, using ground beef, pork and veal simmered in sweet red sauce and topped by buffalo mozzarella.
“The general manager came to me and said we need to come up with something that’s going to be big for the All-Star Game, because it’s been a long time since it’s been back in New York,’’ Flowers said. “We needed to come up with something that’s going to be ballpark-y enough – not too pretentious. So I went to my father and got our old culinary cookbooks from back in the day and we were able to pull this recipe out. The technique that we’re using is from 300 years ago.’’
One of the secrets: pork jowls.
They provide a “more earthy flavor,’’ Flowers said.
Previously the recipe had been limited to family functions, where inevitably there would be “the sauce and the rigatoni and meatballs.’’
Now the world can share it.
“We’re using Pat LaFrieda’s meat and it gives it a wonderful flavor with the meat,’’ he said. “And we put in a little parsley, a little basil, some garlic. We fold the sauce into the meatball to add some flavor. Another thing that gives the actual sandwich itself flavor is the actual mozzarella that we’re using. It’s a specialty mozzarella, gives it a little bit of a tinge in the back that really brings it over the top. And it’s the bread we’re using as well. We rub it with garlic and butter and put that together.’’
Standing Wednesday near stations offering an array of ballpark goodies, from the exotic to the traditional, Flowers said the evolution of stadium food has been “amazing.’’
“It’s come leaps and bounds just in the last 10 years,’’ he said. “I think it’s phenomenal. It’s no longer about the flat beer and cold hot dog. We’re really bringing the food to the forefront. Especially being in New York, you’re scrutinized even more when it comes to food.’’
Flowers said fans in seats at every price level have proven willing to spend a little more for more interesting, high quality offerings than traditional ballpark food.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “For example, Pat LaFrieda’s steak sandwich – a $15 filet mignon sandwich. We had to open up another stand it was so popular, up on the promenade, just because the people on the promenade were coming down and waiting two, three innings in line for the steak sandwich.
“To see that, that they’d rather wait in line to get the steak sandwich than watch the baseball game, I think that speaks volumes.’’
Flowers estimates that during the All-Star Game and its surrounding activities, Aramark will go through 37,000 hot dogs, 12,500 burgers, 2,000 pounds of cheese, 900 pounds of filet mignon, 700 pounds of shrimp, 3,000 pounds of chicken tenders, 15,000 pounds of French fries, 7,800 bags of peanuts, 13,700 soft pretzels, 1,700 orders of nachos, 28,357 bottles of water, 10,000 pounds of ice and 7,000 pounds of pastrami.