Easy Chicken Meatballs

Happy New Year!  As we get ready to roll into 2011, I thought I’d share a recipe for an appetizer since many of you might be hosting NYE parties where food and drink will surely abound.

Earlier this school year, I made these for a little faculty gathering we had at one of my colleagues’ homes for new teachers and their mentors. I was asked to “bring something not sweet” (her words, not mine), so I decided to hunt down something savory to bring that wasn’t your run of the mill crock pot full o’ weenies in barbecue sauce or pigs in blankets.  I mean, I enjoy a good dose of lowbrow cuisine just as much as the next gal but as I was making a dish to impress a roomful of people I didn’t know particularly well (and ones that I did know but had not previously cooked for), I thought I should step up my game a bit.

Here was the result:

Quick, meaty mouth morsels that can be adapted for any cuisine. And hey, they're pretty healthy too!

These were tasty, easy to make and can be adapted for pretty much any cuisine. The recipe I used is below, adapted from one found here: http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/10/baked-chicken-meatballs/

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs (any will do, panko was what I had on hand)
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 large egg
  • 1 pound ground chicken breast (if you don’t have ground chicken available, just put a pound of chicken breasts through a food processor.  It’s probably cheaper, anyway!)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (I suppose curly would work here too, but I used flat leaf)

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Moisten the breadcrumbs with the milk. It’s okay if they don’t all get wet with the milk–they will with everything else!

Sweat the onions, and garlic in the oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, tomato paste, breadcrumbs, onions/garlic and parsley in the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium speed until everything is combined. Alternately, you could use your hands, but I really didn’t want chicken grease and such under my fingernails. Besides, the mixer did a really good job of making sure everything was evenly distributed in the mixture.

Now to make the size you see above, I used a 1 tablespoon scoop (like the kind seen here: http://www.surlatable.com/product/stainless+steel+spring-loaded+scoops+.do?keyword=scoop&sortby=ourPicks#). Since these were intended to be finger food, I wanted to keep them small. The original recipe says that you should get 12 usual sized meatballs from one batch; I doubled the recipe and got approximately 72 1-tablespoon sized meatballs (about 4-5 per person, I estimate this works out to 2 actual size meatballs).

I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper and arranged the meatballs on the sheet. If you’ve never cooked with parchment paper…START NOW. Meat does NOT stick to it, and cleanup is a snap!

Anyway, once you’ve got the little buggers on the baking sheet, bake in the upper third of your oven for about 18 minutes. This ensures the chicken is cooked through. You can eat them right out of the oven as they are, or serve them with a dipping sauce (barbecue is good, but a good marinara would also be tasty here with this particular recipe).

The original recipe calls for pancetta, but I left it out since I was unsure of whether or not there would be people in attendance who did not eat pork. I have a feeling that if it were there, it would add more salt, moisture and flavor. Maybe next time.

After I made this recipe, I started thinking of modifications you could make to adapt it to any cuisine:
for Asian meatballs, sub scallions for the parsley, add in a couple of tablespoons of grated ginger and a 1/4 cup soy sauce.
for Mexican meatballs, add ancho or guajillo powder (a teaspoon), cumin powder (a teaspoon) and sub cilantro for the parsley
for French meatballs, add quatre-epices powder (a teaspoon) and use French breadcrumbs from a day old baguette, also add a bit of bacon

These would make a good quick dinner, and freeze well.  Ground turkey could also be used but would impart a very different flavor.

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