These two-bite chicken and pancetta meatballs (Italian version of bacon) have quickly become a client favorite. They’re little flavor bombs, yet a bit lighter than their beefy cousins. They’re versatile, to boot. They make a great appetizer or midday nosh on their own, or can be paired with your favorite pasta or even your favorite Asian noods for a satisfying meal. My personal go-to is serving them atop bucatini pasta with some good parm, a drizzle of olive oil and a couple of shakes of crushed red pepper. Nice and simple, and yet—perfection. You won’t miss the beef one bit, I promise. The mushroom powder will lend meaty and salty notes to remedy that. And both the pancetta and panade will guarantee juicy and tender bites of awesomeness every time.
Mini Chicken Meatballs
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion or 2-3 small onions, small dice
- 2 celery stalks, quartered and sliced into half moons
- 3 garlic cloves, grated with a zester
- 1-2 pinches of red pepper flakes
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp ground fennel
- ½ tsp mushroom powder (optional)
- 1 ½ cup milk
- 1 ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup grated good quality Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, minced (or about 4 tsp dried)
- 2 lbs ground chicken
- 4 oz of pancetta minced, or preferably ground in your processor
In a small bowl, combine your seasonings – the salt, pepper, oregano, fennel and mushroom powder (if using) and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onion and celery until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until fragrant, another 30-60 seconds. Add in the red pepper flakes and a generous sprinkling of the spice mix, combine thoroughly and sauté another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Pour the milk over the panko in a small bowl, add the other half of the spice mix and stir, set aside while continuing to prep the rest of the meatball mix. The breadcrumbs will gradually absorb the milk. This mixture is called a panade, a liquid and starch paste that keeps ground meat tender and seals in moisture. Adding the spice here will help distribute it evenly, as well as minimize additional handling of the meatball mix.
Whisk the eggs together with the Parmesan and parsley. Add the reserved sauté vegetables and mix thoroughly, then add the panade.
Put on gloves if preferred and add the ground meat, gently mix and fold in with ingredients until evenly combined. Avoid overworking the meat, try to pinch the mix between fingers rather than kneading it.
Gently roll meat between your hands to form 1.5” meatballs or 1–1 ¼ oz balls. Place them on a lined sheet tray and place in freezer until firm, about 1 hour, or until ready to cook (freeze up to 1 month). Freezing will help set and hold the spherical shape with minimal flattening on the bottom.
Bake at 375°F for 12-15 minutes. Turn on broiler and cook another 2-3 minutes, or until browned and a nice golden crust is achieved. Watch carefully as broiler temps can vary. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center meatball should read 165°F.
Patty Rodriguez, a Miami native and personal chef, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University.
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