So juicy, tender, and easy to make, these delicious Chicken Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce make a terrific weeknight meal for the whole family. Would you also serve these as an appetizer at a party? I say you should!
Every cuisine has its own version of meatballs. What type of meatball recipe did you grow up with? For me, it was these Chicken Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce that my mom often put in my bento (lunch box). I especially loved the sweet and sour sauce called Amazu (甘酢) – a Chinese-style sauce adapted to Japanese tastes.
Cooking this chicken meatball recipe always brings back fond images of my mom in the kitchen. It really brings me joy to make it now for my children to pass on this tradition.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
1. A Total Crowd Pleaser
Smothered in a flavorful sauce, these juicy chicken meatballs are so good that the pickiest eater in the house would give the recipe a big thumbs-up. You can serve the meatballs with steamed rice or noodles, or even as an appetizer at a party. Just be ready to share the recipe when someone asks for it. 🙂
2. Easy-to-find Ingredients
You don’t need fancy Japanese ingredients to make this recipe, but I hope you already have soy sauce (and rice vinegar, as regular white vinegar is much stronger than rice vinegar).
Too busy to cook every day? Make these meatballs in a large batch and freeze the leftovers for your kids’ lunch, your bring-to-work lunch, or emergency food.
5 Cooking Tips
1. Knead the meat mixture until pale in color
You might have seen this tip in my gyoza or Tsukune (Japanese meatball) recipes, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to knead the mixture well. If you don’t want to touch the raw meat mixture, get these plastic gloves. I use them to make kimchi and knead meat mixture like this.
2. Utilize cookie dough scoop
I’m not much of a baker who makes cookies all year round, yet I utilize my cookie dough scoop as much as those cookie-making bakers! Why? Because it is great to make uniformly-size meatballs, as well as keeping your hands clean.
3. Refrigerate meatballs
After shaping the meatballs, let them rest in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes. Your warm hands melt the fat (umami) of the mixture, so this helps to re-solidify the meatballs before cooking.
4. Boil the meatballs
In the classic Chinese recipe, the meatballs are usually deep-fried (and they are delicious!). However, many of you prefer healthier, easier, and no deep-frying recipes so I tried boiling meatballs. It may sound unnecessary, but boiling yields a fantastic texture if you choose not to deep-fry.
I learned that all the delicious flavors that might leak into the water eventually get absorbed back into the meatballs when we cook them without water. Inside the meatballs stay juicy and tender, and I am happy to find a good alternative to the deep frying method.
5. Make extra sauce
As you may already know Japanese eat bento at room temperature at school. I remember all the savory sauce on the main dish tasted better when it has more sauce/seasoning on it, especially when you eat plain cold rice.
In this recipe, you may find there is slightly more sauce than you may need. That’s because I think you’re going to enjoy the extra saucy meatballs with your rice or noodles! You can freeze the leftovers too if you like.
Sake Pairing for This Recipe
Takara Sakes are renowned for their premium quality and delicious sake, especially when paired with food. To go with the tangy and flavorful chicken meatballs, we selected the mouthwatering Sho Chiku Bai SHO Junmai Organic.
It is a dry sake so it contrasted the sweetness of the sauce very well, and the flavor is different from regular sakes you might have tried. It is a full-bodied sake with hints of oatmeal, spice, mushroom, and bread so it goes very well with savory dishes. The texture of the sake is very creamy and cuts right through the chicken grease so you can eat more. This sake is recommended to be served warm but chilled also works.
Other dishes to try with Sho Chiku Bai SHO Junmai Organic include steak, grilled mushrooms, or truffle fries.
Chicken Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1 lb ground chicken (or use ground beef, pork, or turkey; each type of meat yields a different texture, and we like ground chicken and pork)
- ½ onion (4 oz, 113 g)
- 1 large egg (50 g each w/o shell)
- 3 Tbsp panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 1 Tbsp potato starch or cornstarch
- 1 Tbsp sake
- ½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- water (for steaming)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Make the Sauce
- In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine 6 Tbsp ketchup, 4 Tbsp mirin, 4 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp rice vinegar (unseasoned), 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp sake, and 1 tsp potato starch or cornstarch and whisk well.
To Make the Meatballs
- Mince ½ onion into fine pieces.
- In a bowl, combine 1 lb ground chicken, the minced onion, 1 large egg (50 g each w/o shell), 3 Tbsp panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), 1 Tbsp potato starch or cornstarch, 1 Tbsp sake, ½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt, and ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper. Knead the mixture well with your hand until the mixture is pale in color and very sticky.
- Apply a small amount of cooking oil to your hands and make a ping-pong ball size shape with the mixture. If you have a cookie scooper, it helps to make equal-size balls.
- Once you make a ball, place it on a tray or plate lined with a sheet of parchment paper. Once you finish shaping, cover the tray/plate with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes so the melted fat on the meatballs will solidify.
- Put ½ inch (roughly 1 cm) water in a large frying pan and bring it to boil. Carefully place the meatballs in the water.
- Cover and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and let the water evaporate while you continue cooking the meatballs on medium high heat, turning the meatballs once in a while.
- As the water evaporates, the meatballs will turn brown. If the frying pan gets a burnt spot, wipe off with a paper towel.
- Add the sweet and sour sauce and coat the meatballs well with the sauce. Turn off the heat and serve.