Chicken (or Turkey) Ricotta Meatballs

A 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 in a soup? Impossible? Not any more!

Chicken Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt Sauce
Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt Sauce & Kale

You’ll love these meatballs! 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 just works with the spices in the meatballs. You’ll love them just plain, cold from the fridge, perhaps in the middle of the night. Don’t ask how I know this. I *just* do.

I first tried chicken meatballs in 2002, a recipe by a respected celebrity chef  – I know this because I called up my sister and ranted on about how awful they were! I asked her last week if she remembered that phone call, and she was like OMG, yes! This doomed recipe was followed by a variety of “healthier” chicken meatballs, burgers, patties, etc. I found that even though they looked perfectly cooked, a check with a thermometer showed them hovering around 140 to 145.

Chicken Meatballs w Marinara
Chicken Meatballs w Marinara

A temperature of 165 left them dry and tasteless. If you cook ground chicken, you need a thermometer. This really made sense to me when I noticed the hot water from my cleanup turned all the little pieces perfectly white, and that water wasn’t nearly hot enough to cook with.

And so began a series of experiments involving a lot of chicken meatballs. Finally I hit on the perfect formula, one which stood up to the heat and stayed perfectly moist. I was just ready to blog about it when I came across multiple posts on Lady Melady on meatballs with Ricotta. Wow. Thank you Audrey! She wasn’t kidding on just how good meatballs with Ricotta are! I had to rethink my recipe and cook a few hundred more! 🙂 Just to make sure they were good, mind you.

Michael Chiarello's Fennel Spice Rub
Michael Chiarello’s Fennel Spice Rub

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 or they can 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 what ever end for them comes to mind.

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 these 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 chicken in the food processor.
  • You may wish to double or triple and keep them, after being baked or before, in the freezer for handy meals.
Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken Ricotta Meatballs.
Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken Ricotta Meatballs.


Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs

  • Servings: abt 50
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 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.

When ready to cook, heavily oil a cookie sheet, lower an oven rack to the lowest setting and preheat oven 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 one of the meatballs. Preferably check more than one, particularly ones near the center of the sheet.

Alternatively, heat oil in a skillet or electric frying pan and saute until desired temperature is reached. May simply be dropped into simmering broth or water and cooked for about 10 minutes.

After meatballs are baked, they may be sautéed until nicely browned. If making soup, the pan the meatballs are cooked on or in may be deglazed with wine, stock or water and the resulting liquid (defatted if desired) added to the finished dish.

* Note: original recipe without Ricotta used 2 cups bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of milk, 1 garlic clove and 2 teaspoons spice rub. The cheese dulled the flavors considerably, so they had to be increased.

from the kitchen of

Kitchen & Cooking Hacks:

A scoop is going to cut your work time considerably! It will take just minutes to form the meatballs!

Scoops portion perfectly and helps to avoid mess.
Scoops portion perfectly and helps to avoid mess.

27 thoughts on “Chicken (or Turkey) Ricotta Meatballs”

  1. It was lovely of you to give me credit for the ricotta trick! I got it from Michael Symon on The Chew and never looked back. I can’t make meatballs without ricotta now, they’re just the best. Actually they are the best at midnight, cold, eaten with fingers right out of the fridge. Meet you there!

    1. LOL! And n/p, you deserve the credit for recognizing and perfecting! Although it took me awhile to get the flavors just right with the chicken meatballs, I was the same way – it’s my go to now!

  2. Meatballs in the middle of the night?! 🙂 That sounds delicious on it’s own! The meatballs looks delicious!

    1. HA! I probably should have just asked around for one, but I swear this little meatball has given me so many problems over the years! 🙂 Really, I’ve liked that taste of most, it was always the dryness or the texture…==

    1. Thanks, Liz. The ricotta does. They seem too moist but firm up enough to scoop. Interesting about the rub! Talk about a few odd ingredients, but it is pretty amazing. Kindred spirits?!

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