I love playing with the sensory pleasures of Asian cuisines. Although as a chef I never trained specifically in cooking Cantonese and other Chinese cuisines, the remarkable dance of sweet, spicy, salty and umami has always inspired experimentation in my kitchen.
A Cal – Chinese meatball recipe for any occasion
Although my Asian chicken meatballs recipe is as much Californian as it is Chinese, this Asian-inspired recipe’s dance of flavors is owed entirely to Cantonese hoisin sauce. If you love hoisin as much as I do, prepare to have your taste buds tickled.
Tips for making these easy ground chicken meatballs
This Asian-style chicken meatball recipe couldn’t be easier. If you’ve ever made any kind of meatball, you know the trick is to keep the texture fluffy, not dense.
My solution is to use panko breadcrumbs folded into a pound of lean ground chicken meat. Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb product traditionally used to bread fried foods. But it’s also a great substitution for traditional breadcrumbs in meatballs and meatloaf. (It definitely works well to make meatballs Asian-style!)
Panko breadcrumbs are lighter and crunchier than regular breadcrumbs. They also don’t absorb as much oil. This not only makes them great for frying, but it means they tend to stay more fluffy inside the meatballs. The result is a meatball with a light texture that’s easy to cut and almost melts on the tongue.
The meatballs bake fairly quickly on a baking sheet in the oven, so be careful not to overbake as this will dry them out.
What is hoisin sauce?
My secret weapon for making these meatballs an unforgettable addition to any meal is hoisin sauce. So what is it?
If you’ve ever eaten Peking duck, then you’re familiar with hoisin. It’s the intensely flavored, reddish-brown sauce served with the duck and pancakes.
It is typically made from a base of fermented soybeans. But the flavor builds with a complex combination of ingredients including sesame oil, vinegar, garlic, chiles and some sort of sweetener. Although my use of hoisin in this chicken Asian meatballs recipe is for meat lovers, the sauce itself is typically vegan, not to mention gluten-free. (Always check the labels, as ingredients can vary slightly.)
Although it is bottled hoisin sauce that brings my ground chicken meatballs recipe to life, what inspired me to create it was actually produce from the farm.
Serving suggestions for these healthy, baked chicken meatballs
This meatball recipe was actually inspired by a crisp head of romaine delivered in my CSA box.
If you never thought lettuce could be sexy, you should feast your eyes on this. I’ve enjoyed the whole leaves as a crisp counter point to rich and spicy flavors, like these Chinese chicken balls with their sticky, sweet, salty sauce.
Although my recipe adopts some of the same principles as lettuce cups, I think you’ll appreciate that these hoisin and ginger meatballs can be served with the crisp romaine, or on their own as party food with the Hoisin sauce for dipping. (Note that you can make these Asian chicken balls as ground pork meatballs if you prefer.)
They’re great as the star of Asian meatball sandwiches, the bun loaded with green onions and shredded veggies. Use them to top veggie fried rice. You could also add a bowl of udon and make a rich meal of protein-rich meatballs and slippery noodles. The possibilities are almost endless!
These are also date-night meatballs. Sure, the name meatball may be distinctly un-sexy, but these spicy, sticky, not to mention healthy meatballs could be the food your next date night at home is looking for.
Chicken may not be an aphrodisiac, but this recipe includes the aphrodisiacs of garlic, fresh ginger and the heat of super-sexy chile flakes. It’s the use of these bold, not to mention fun ingredients that make this simple, baked meatball recipe so successful for date night or any night.
Spicy Asian Chicken Meatballs
- 1 pound lean ground chicken
- 1 egg
- 1 cup Japanese Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 8 large romaine leaves washed a trimmed
- 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix together the ground chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, onion, half of the garlic and half of the hoisin sauce in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix to combine.
- Roll mixture, about 2 tablespoons, into balls, and place on a baking sheet.
- Bake in oven for about 5 minutes, until meatballs start to become slightly firm.
- Meanwhile, mix together the remaining hoisen, garlic and ginger in a small bowl.
- Remove meatballs from the oven, and using a pastry brush, lightly brush the sauce on the partially cooked meatballs.
- Return to oven and continue to bake for another 5 minutes, or until meatballs are very firm to the touch and cooked through.
- To serve: place meatballs on romaine leaves, top with grated carrots and cilantro, and enjoy right away.
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