Fresh-Herb Chicken Meatballs

#RecipeUpTop (details below):

  • 700 grams (1.5lbs, roughly) ground dark-meat chicken, with skin (preferably home-ground);
  • 70 grams plain, unseasoned bread crumbs;
  • 35 grams grated parmasan cheese;
  • 7 grams salt;
  • 7 grams freshly chopped parsley;
  • 1 large egg;
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil;

Combine the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and set aside (refrigerate) for at least half an hour. Form into balls and roast in an oiled cast iron skillet or casserole dish at 400F for thirty (30) minutes, or until the meatballs reach an internal temp of 165F.

The Details

We’ve been in need of some comfort food here on the mountain, and just today our youngest voiced his first ever dinner request: spaghetti and meatballs. And, hey, who am I to say no to that?

As you may know from some of our prior posts, our philosophy up here is to get as much as we can out of raw, whole ingredients, a large part of which involves breaking down our own chickens and putting every molecule to good use.

One of the shocking byproducts of this process has been our discovery of ground chicken, specifically from skin-on dark meat, which yields a product with an 80-20 lean-to-fat ratio that mimics, oddly enough, ground pork shoulder. As we’ve noted before, our dark ground chicken is the most versatile protein in our kitchen, but its purest and best expression is meatballs.

They are so cheap, so easy, and so, so delicious, I’m still wracking my brain why these are not the go-to standard, in place of those elaborate pre-ground mixes at the meat counter.

Anyway, enough pontificating, on to the production.

Step one: mix your ingredients. Of note, this recipe uses 700 grams of chicken (about a pound and a half) only because… well, that’s what the freezer portion weighed.

It’s important because the rest of the recipe ingredients are ratios of that first weight. That way, if you’re using more or less chicken, you can adjust the other ingredients accordingly. The ratio (by weight) is:

  • 100% chicken;
  • 10% breadcrumbs;
  • 5% parm;
  • 1% salt;
  • 1% fresh parsley;
  • 1 egg. Always 1 egg. More on that later.

With this ratio, you can quickly scale up or down depending on how many people you’re feeding, how many meatballs you want for leftovers (oh yeah, you want leftovers), or… just how much a particular bag from the freezer weighs when you start cooking.

Anyway, harvest your parsley:

Get it chopped, and get all of the ingredients into the bowl, including the egg.

About that egg… I only use one, no matter the size of the batch. It’s in there to provide some structure, but more than one tends to make things… weird.

Using your hands, combine thoroughly:

Now, get this into the refrigerator and let it sit for at least half an hour. Why? The breadcrumbs here are doing two specific, slightly related things. First, they’re soaking up some of the natural liquid from the chicken (of which there’s plenty, which differs from some other ground meats), but we want to retain that moisture and provide some structure to actually be able to form the balls. Letting the mixture sit will give the breadcrumbs time to soak up some of that initial flavor and moisture, and will firm up the mixture.

The second thing the breadcrumbs will be doing is catching all the delicious juices as the meatballs cook, and keeping it all in one place. The result is a tender, juicy, flavorful product instead of a bunch of meatballs swimming in grease.

Step two: form the meatballs and cook. One big evolution in my meatball cookery has been foregoing the initial sear, as well as the need to “finish them” in a sauce. Frankly, these are so moist they don’t need the latter, and delicious they don’t require the former. It’s pretty straight ahead here. Get your olive oil into a skillet or casserole pan. I’m using – of course – ol’ faithful:

You only want a tiny layer of oil to keep the meatballs from sticking. As for the balls themselves… well, size is a personal thing. I like to go slightly smaller than a golf ball, but you do you:

And into the oven for thirty (30) minutes, or until they hit an internal temp of 165F. The good news about these is you have a lot of insurance against overcooking, between the breadcrumbs, the egg, even the very nature of dark meat chicken. So, go have a glass of wine and enjoy the aromas that will fill your house.

Serving suggestions? Well, we’re doing the hard-to-beat spaghetti and meatballs with a fresh tomato sauce, but these are really great sliced thin in a sandwich (I’d suggest grilled cheese), or on a pizza, or with toothpicks as a cocktail party snack… if we ever have those again.

Anyway, enjoy!

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