Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lemon + Basil Chicken Meatballs

chicken meatballs, sorrel pesto spaghetti

When I get an idea for a meal, I have a very, very hard time letting that idea float back into the ether. These meatballs bounced around like a ping pong ball in my head for two weeks (two weeks!) before I had a chance to make them. The thing is, I wanted meatballs, but the traditional type with three kinds of meat, woody oregano, heaps of garlic, long-simmered tomato sauce... nah. It is just too dang hot outside for classic meatballs.

fully squozen

I wanted something appropriate for the summer weather that has finally arrived here in the northeast, so I turned to basil, the summeriest herb. I started out with this recipe but I made some alterations because I wanted them to be fresh and citrusy... and I didn't have any milk in the house. Turns out I didn't need it. Lemon juice softened up the breadcrumbs just fine and I didn't miss the dairy fat because I used DUCK FAT!


I had duck leftover from my creative practicum for school (I made duck rillettes as part of my alternative charcuterie plate) and now I look for opportunities to use it. It's an animal fat so it's not as light as, say, olive oil, but since ground chicken tends to be pretty lean, adding back some fat really enriches the meatballs. If you don't have any duck fat or chicken fat (maybe saved from a roast), butter or oil would be just fine. No matter what fat you choose to use, you should try these meatballs.

chicken meatballs

Lemon and Basil Chicken Meatballs
serves 4, or 2 twice

The first day we ate these over spaghetti tossed with some sorrel pesto, but later in the week I split open a baguette, smeared it heavily with basil pesto (frozen from last summer, I'm trying to make room in the freezer for this year's haul), topped it with shredded mozzarella and stuck it under the broiler until the cheese bubbled. They were so good I didn't even get a chance to take a picture. I also think these would be excellent as cocktail nibbles, maybe with basil oil drizzled over or a pesto dip. 

1 cup fresh bread crumbs (from about 3 slices white sandwich bread)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 a medium onion, very finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon duck fat or chicken fat if you have them, butter or oil if not
salt and pepper
1 egg
1 pound ground chicken
4 tablespoons basil, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Combine the breadcrumbs with the juice of the lemon and set aside.

Heat a saute pan over medium low heat and heat the fat or oil. Gently cook the onion until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another thirty seconds or until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. If you move the onions to another bowl, save the fat in the pan.

Combine the chicken, egg, lemon zest, lemony breadcrumbs and cooked onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste (at least 1/2 a teaspoon of each). Use your hands to gently mix the ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Heat a little more fat in the saute pan or use what's leftover in the pan to saute a little patty of the mixture and taste it. Does it need more salt or more lemon? Adjust the seasoning if you need to.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat (incidentally, you should use separate mats for savory and sweet cooking, those things absorb smells and flavors and cookies that taste like onion are... not delicious).

Roll the meat into small balls, about an inch in diameter, trying not to compress them too much as you roll. Easy does it, ok? Line them up on the sheet pan as you form them. Bake the meatballs for 20-30 minutes or until bits are golden brown and the meatballs are cooked through. Enjoy with pasta or as a meatball sub or on toothpicks with pesto for dipping, yum.


  1. These look amazing...I must make them! One suggestion for baking meatballs: mini muffin tin. You make them just big enough that they touch the sides and "float" above the bottom, and voila: no flat meatball bottoms!

  2. I love meatballs but not in the summer. Looks like a delicious way to get both :-)

  3. wow. perfect summer adaptation! and i love the sandwich with pesto :)