A ground turkey or chicken meatball with a great texture, moist yet firm, slightly yielding and tender, juicy with a great flavor? How about all of the above and great baked, sautéed or served in a sauce or in a soup? Impossible? Not anymore, and not with these Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs.
I first tried chicken meatballs in 2002, a recipe by a celebrity chef – and I called up my sister and ranted on about how awful they were! I asked her if she remembered, and she was like “OMG, yes!” I must have really ranted because that was 13 years ago! The recipe was dated, online and was brand new when I made it so I know the date. I remember my sister was like, “Why would you make a chicken meatball?!”
About Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs:
I was absolutely inspired to make a ground chicken or turkey meatball because I wanted something a little different, a little healthier and I knew that it chicken meatballs could be delish and take on so many different flavors than we so often put in our standard beef or beef and pork meatballs.
And so began a series of experiments involving a lot of chicken meatballs. Finally, I hit on the perfect meatball, one that stands up to the heat and stays perfectly moist. But that wasn’t all…right about that time I came across a post from Audry at Lady Melady about her meatballs with Ricotta. I had to try my Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs with Ricotta (hence the name, lol) and it rocked! I rethought my recipe and made a few hundred more! Just to make sure they were good, mind you. They were even better! I couldn’t stop eating them!
I absolutely adore my Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs, and I think you’ll love them, too! You’ll love them in Italian Wedding Soup, cooked in or served with Marinara, and you’ll love them with my Herbed Yogurt Sauce, the same one I use for my Summer Squash. (The lemon in the sauce works so well with the spices in the meatballs.)
You’ll love them just plain, cold from the fridge, maybe in the middle of the night. Don’t ask how I know this. I *just* do.
My Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs have an Italian lean. There’s ricotta cheese in them, but what really makes them is the blend of spices, fennel, coriander and crushed white peppercorns that’s so unusual and so addicting. That blend came from a recipe from Chef Michael Chiarello and I mix it up as a Michael Chiarello’s Spice Blend and use it on so many things. (And I don’t even like fennel that much but I love that blend.) You’ll want to make a batch of that up before you make the meatballs.
Making Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs:
Just in case you don’t want to make ricotta meatballs, as in the recipe below, I also included notes to make the meatballs without the ricotta in the recipe notes. I prefer to start with my own ground chicken or turkey (see safety, below) but and ground turkey or chicken is just fine in the recipe. You’ll want to check them with a thermometer.
When the meatballs are mixed up, the mixture is super soft. Just stick in in the fridge for a while to firm up a bit and then measure it out with a scoop, That makes it super easy to plop these meatballs out in minutes! The meatballs probably are not going to be perfectly round; that’s the trade off for such a moist meatball, but they’re close enough.
Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs are so versatile, I like to double or triple the recipe and keep them in my freezer. These meatballs may be cooked off in the oven and then browned, later, if desired (or not); they hold together when dropped in soup raw or cooked and they can just be sautéed until done. It’s interesting how different elements of flavor come through with a change in the cooking method, but all are delicious. I prefer to bake them and keep them on hand for whatever end for them comes to mind.
Notes on Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs
A few notes on the recipe:
- The spice Fennel Spice Rub will need to be made ahead for this recipe. Feel free to cut the recipe down, but you’ll be surprised at how good it is in so many things – and I don’t even like Fennel.
- I have made chicken meatballs in many variations, with dairy and without, with bread crumbs and without, with different herbs, with and without cooking the onion and so on, and found the best texture includes the elements, here, in the recipe.
- Although ground turkey or chicken will work, the best texture (and I think the safest product) is also dependant on pulsing your own in the food processor. No judging if you just buy it ground, though.
- You may wish to double or triple and keep them, after being baked in the freezer for handy meals.
Safety with Turkey or Chicken Ricotta Meatballs:
I tried many recipes for turkey or chicken meatballs, patties and burgers over the years, and I found out a dirty little secret no one ever mentions. I’d follow the directions, they’d look cooked & white throughout, and I’d think they were done. But when checked with a thermometer they ALL hovered around 140 to 145. Too low! Invariably. And when cooked until safe, they were dry as sawdust and tasteless.
You need a thermometer if you cook ground chicken or turkey. Both products, purchased from the store are a product that can come with a lot of potential safety issues if not cooked thoroughly. As a matter of fact, the point that “white” is not properly cooked was driven home as I cleaned up after my chicken meatball experiments. The hot tap water turned all the raw bits of chicken in the sink perfectly white & that water wasn’t hot enough to cook chicken through; I bake with yeast so I’ve checked the water temperature before and it’s around 111 degrees F.
As a matter of fact, rather than using commercially processed ground chicken or turkey, I prefer to whip my own up in the food processor. I like the texture you can get in the food processor, I like the taste better and I like knowing that it’s fresh and knowing exactly what’s in it. Not only can ground turkey or chicken be questionable as far as safety, but both are also products that can be very fatty, fattier even than ground beef. Bonus: Making your own is cheaper than buying, too!
Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs
- 1 pound cold boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut in chunks
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons olive oil plus extra for the pan
- 1 slice of bread, preferably in crumbs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup Ricotta (may use cottage cheese that’s been blended) *
- 1 slightly heaping tablespoon Michael Chiarello’s Fennel Spice Rub
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
In a food processor, working with about half of the chicken at a time, process into fine bits with some pasty chicken and some noticeable small chunks. (See photo.) Place in refrigerator while you continue with the recipe.
In a small pan, heat oil, add onion, cover and cook over medium heat for two to three minutes, uncover and stir occasionally until softened. Add garlic and cook for a moment. Add to a bowl.
To the onions, add the rest of ingredients except chicken and the additional oil for the pan. Mix together well, then add the chicken, thoroughly mixing. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour to allow time for it to firm up enough to work with.
Heavily oil a cookie sheet, lower an oven rack to the lowest setting and preheat to 400 degrees. Portion out the chicken into balls the size of a level tablespoon using two spoons or a scoop. They do not need to be perfectly round, and it may be likely that they will not hold a perfectly round shape. Bake about 12 minutes or until thermometer registers 165 degrees in the center of several meatballs.
After meatballs are baked, they may be sautéed until nicely browned. If making soup, the pan the meatballs are cooked on may be deglazed with wine, stock or water and the resulting liquid (defatted if desired) added to the finished dish.
Heat a little oil in a skillet or electric frying pan and saute until the desired temperature is reached. The pan may be deglazed with wine, stock or water and added to the finished dish.
Drop into simmering broth or water and cook for about 10 minutes.
* Note: original recipe without Ricotta used 2 cups bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of milk, 1 garlic clove, and 2 teaspoons spice rub. Notice the fewer spices; that’s correct. The meatballs with cheese needed more.
A scoop is going to cut your work time considerably! It will take just minutes to form the meatballs!