Vietnamese-Inspired Chicken Meatballs are a delicious appetizer to serve when you’re looking to transport your guests around the world. A little sweet, a little sour, and a lot satisfying!
Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs
I’m always awed by how certain flavors can instantly transport us to distant lands or another time. Vietnamese food is an expert balance of of savory, sweet, and sour and always reminds me of my mom’s kitchen!
Inspired by flavors my mom incorporates into her dishes, this chicken meatball appetizer is very approachable. It’s a great way to bring a little flavor of Vietnam to your table.
Gather Your Meatball Ingredients
- Ground chicken — I recommend ground chicken that is 92/93% lean. Ground breast meat (roughly 98% lean) will work, but there is a higher risk of drying out.
- Lemongrass — look for this in the Asian vegetable section of your grocer’s produce aisle, or at an international market.
- Additional aromatics — shallot, garlic and green onions also go into the meatball mixture.
- Sugar — you’ll use this in the meatballs and pickling solution.
- Fish sauce — Vietnamese fish sauce if you can find it. If not readily available, Thai-style fish sauce is often available at your mainstream grocery store.
- Sesame oil — provides both a little fat and seasoning to the chicken.
- Avocado oil — for pan-frying the meatballs. You can use coconut or vegetable oil as well.
- Mini cucumbers — these get quick pickled and provide that sour counterpart to the meatballs.
- Rice vinegar — for the pickling solution. You can use plain white vinegar or white wine vinegar as well.
- Kosher salt + fresh cracked black pepper
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Quick Pickled Cucumbers
Pickled vegetables are a staple of Vietnamese cuisine and these cucumber ribbons add the perfect touch of sour.
- Slice the cucumbers into long, thin ribbons using a knife or mandolin. Layer them in a shallow dish.
- Combine warm water, rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl until dissolved, then pour over the cucumbers. Set aside as you make the meatballs.
How To Make Asian Chicken Meatballs
- Combine the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Form them into 16 golf ball size meatballs.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering hot, add the meatballs. Cook for about 10 minutes (or when the internal temperature reaches 165°F), rotating often to brown all over. Remove to a serving dish.
- Thread a cucumber ribbon onto a small pick, then spear it onto a meatball.
Helpful Recipe Tips
Combine the cucumbers and pickling liquid, cover and store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs and 1) cover and store in the fridge until you want to form and cook the meatballs, or 2) form the meatballs, place in a dish, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook them.
If you’re unable to find fresh lemongrass, you can use lemongrass paste (found in the produce aisle) or the zest of one lemon or lime. These don’t impart quite the same flavor, but will still be delicious. Chicken isn’t your only option for these Vietnamese-style meatballs. Ground pork is the obvious substitution, but ground turkey works, too.
Remove the cucumber ribbons and store separately as you won’t want to reheat them with the meatballs. Store cooked meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Keep in mind, the cucumber will be very soft. You can also store the pickling liquid in a small jar in the fridge and make a new batch of cucumber ribbons for leftovers.
The lemongrass, shallot and garlic should be finely minced. Rather than mince them individually, give them a rough chop then toss them all together into the bowl of mini food processor. Pulse to finely mince.
The outer leaves and the top half of lemongrass stalks are fibrous + woody. Start by slicing off the bulb end of the stalk, then peel away the outer leaves until you reach the section that is more tender. Cut the tough, top section of the lemongrass off; you can save this for soup stock. Working with the white, soft part, halve the lemongrass lengthwise, then thinly slice it across. You can pop this in a food processor to further mince or continue rocking your knife across to mince it by hand. If you’re a visual learner, view this quick video tutorial!
- Add a dipping sauce to your platter — like sweet chili or nuoc mam!
- Sprinkle additional garnishes around your platter, like sliced scallions or fresh cilantro.
- Present them in little lettuce cups. Little Gem lettuce would be ideal for an appetizer serving. Just tuck a cucumber ribbon in next to the meatball.
- Serve them as a main course with white rice or rice noodles, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs and fish sauce.
- Mix up some Green Tea Yuzu Sour Mocktails to enjoy with your appetizer!
Love Asian Flavors? Check Out These Recipes…
- Rotisserie Chicken Pho in the Instant Pot
- Easy Chili Crisp Dipping Sauce
- Spicy Whisky Glazed Chicken Wings
- Banh Mi Chicken Burgers with Scallion Mayonnaise (using this meatball recipe!)
Vietnamese-Inspired Chicken Meatball Appetizer
- 2 mini cucumbers
- 4 tbsp warm water
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 lb ground chicken 93/93% lean
- 2 stalks lemongrass outer layers + top section discarded, finely mince the softer white part
- 1 tbsp shallot finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 green onion sliced thin
- 1½ tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ½ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 tbsp avocado oil or coconut / vegetable oil
- Slice the cucumbers into long, thin ribbons (from end to end), using a mandolin or knife. Layer them in a shallow dish. Stir water, rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl until the granules are dissolved. Pour this over the cucumber ribbons and set aside while you make the meatballs.
- Combine the ground chicken through the black pepper together in a large bowl. Form into 16 meatballs.
- Heat the avocado oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pan fry the meatballs, rotating them to brown all over. Fry for 10 to 13 minutes, until cooked all the way through. Remove them to a serving dish.
- Thread one cucumber ribbon onto a pick (in a back and forth pattern, like a paper fan) and spear a meatball. You may have a few cucumbers left, which can be enjoyed on the side.
Nutritional values are estimated and provided as a general guideline only. I earn a commission from Instacart from qualifying ingredient purchases.
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