Chef John's Chicken Meatballs


My take on an A16 Cookbook recipe by Chef Nate. Perfectly tender, moist, and flavorful meatballs that taste just like the real thing or maybe even better!

Prep Time:
40 mins
Cook Time:
20 mins
Freeze Time:
15 mins
Cool Time:
1 hrs
Total Time:
2 hrs 15 mins

Chicken Meatballs – Moral Dilemma Sold Separately

I've had a lot of turkey and chicken meatballs over the years, and virtually none of them were good. Keep in mind, I'm really not that picky, and easily impressed, but halfway through one of these usually dry, oddly textured balls, I'd always be wondering why they didn't just use some nice fatty, red meat. Well, that wasn't the case here. These were as good as any meatballs I've made, or eaten, in a very long time.

Of course, we have to cheat a little bit, but I'm fine with that, and hope you are as well. And by "cheat," I mean add some pork fat into the mix. I went with bacon, since it's easy to procure, and I enjoy the rest of the package fried with eggs, but some pork belly, or shoulder fat would work just the same, albeit without that little touch of smoky goodness.

Please make sure your meat is very cold, as in partially frozen when you grind it in the food processer. That's really a key here, as is using fresh, and not bone-dry breadcrumbs. By the way, these meatballs are so good, that unless you tell people, they will not know you used chicken. So, should you tell them? And if you do, do you tell them you had to cheat with some pork? These aren't questions I can answer, so I'll just finish by saying, I really hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!


  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 3 ounces pork fat, or fatty bacon, diced

  • 3 ounces crumbled fresh French breadcrumbs

  • cup sautéed onions (Optional)

  • 1 large egg, beaten

  • 1 tablespoon white wine

  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced

  • ¼ cup chopped parsley

  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes

  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

  • 4 cups prepared tomato sauce (Optional)

  • olive oil or cooking spray for greasing baking sheet


  1. Mix chicken and pork together on a plate or tray, and place in the freezer for about 15 minutes, or until firm and very cold. Partially frozen is okay.

  2. Add breadcrumbs to the bowl of a food processor (this should be crumbled from the inside of a loaf of fresh or day old French bread – no crust!). Add sauteed onions, egg, white wine, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, chili flakes, and crushed fennel seeds. Add chilled chicken mixture on top.

  3. Pulse on and off in the food processor as shown until the mixture resembles ground meat. Stopping occasionally and scraping the bowl of food processor during the process is recommended.

  4. Transfer mixture to fridge and chill for 1 hour before shaping.

  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease with olive oil.

  6. Divide mixture into 12 portions, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Use damp hands to roll into smooth balls.

  7. Bake in the preheated oven until meatballs are cooked through, about 18 minutes. For some additional browning, turn broiler to high, and broil meatballs for 1 to 2 minutes.

  8. Meatballs can be served immediately, or transferred into tomato sauce set over low heat. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes to flavor sauce.

    chicken meatballs with tomato sauce over polenta
    Chef John

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

430 Calories
27g Fat
17g Carbs
28g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 4
Calories 430
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 27g 35%
Saturated Fat 9g 44%
Cholesterol 153mg 51%
Sodium 996mg 43%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Protein 28g
Potassium 376mg 8%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

** Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available nutrient data.

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a medically restrictive diet, please consult your doctor or registered dietitian before preparing this recipe for personal consumption.

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