Thai inspired Chicken meatballs, packed with flavor and simmered in a sweet, slightly spicy red curry sauce, are perfect for brunch, appetizers, or served over rice for a delicious dinner!
Making food from Asian Cultures
How did I, a Korean American, come to cook Thai Chicken Meatballs? Good question. I’m glad I asked. My relationship to Asian cooking has a lot to do with my relationship to my own Asian-ness. It has taken me most of my life to feel comfortable saying that I am Korean. My father is Irish from Mississippi and my mother was from Korea. But because most people don’t immediately recognize me as Asian, I’ve never felt that I could claim that identity. My identity. Such is the common struggle of being mixed race 🤷🏻♀️ It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter who other people think I am, it matters who I know I am, and I am Korean! Being a cook and a food blogger, part of my self-discovery has been eating and cooking foods from other Asian cultures. I want to understand the similarities and the differences in our ingredients and our flavors, and maybe understand more about myself at the same time. Thus, delicious meatballs.
I try to write about foods that have meaning to me, and my exploration and acceptance of my identity is naturally going to include food. To say that I cook “Asian food” would be a bold and ridiculous statement. Asia encompasses more than 17 million square miles and is home to over 60% of the world’s population. I don’t have the time, nor the expertise, to cook all that food! But as a Korean-American cook, I have a lifetime of experience in the essential flavors that are present in a lot of Asian cooking. Common flavors in most Asian cooking include sour, salty, sweet, and spicy. I tried to bring those elements to these delicious Thai Chicken Meatballs with Red Curry Peanut Sauce.
Ingredients in Thai Chicken Meatballs with Red Curry Peanut Sauce
I recognize that not everyone has access to some of the ingredients found in Thai cooking. I live very close to one of the largest Asian grocers on the East Coast and even I have trouble finding them at times. But, even in scarcely stocked stores and without the patience to wait for an online order, flavor must prevail! For that reason, I’ve included some substitutions for ingredients that you may not find near you. Will it be exactly the same? Nah. Will it be delicious? Oh yeah!
In the Thai Chicken Meatballs:
- Serrano peppers The chilis most commonly used in Thai cooking are… Thai chilis! (Also known as bird’s eye chilis.) These are incredibly spicy (50,000-100,000 Scoville units 🌶) and the recipe only calls for one. I had difficulty finding them in less than a 2 pound bag, so I substituted a Serrano pepper. These aren’t as hot, but bring a nice bit of heat to the meatballs.
- Lime zest The first time I made these I used very finely chopped makrut lime leaves, but they are difficult to find, so I’ve substituted with lime zest, which has a nice bright note.
- Fish sauce Even people who cook with fish sauce all the time will tell you this stuff has an aroma. I mean, it’s called fish sauce, what did you expect? But the sweet, salty, fishy funkiness just can’t be found anywhere else. You could leave it out if you didn’t want to buy it, but there is no substitute. I find this in the international aisle of my local Mega Market.
- Red curry paste The three curries found most often in Thai cooking are red, green, and yellow. Besides using green and yellow chilis, green gets its bight color and flavor from basil, lime leaf, and cilantro, while yellow gets its color and flavor from turmeric. Red curry is a blend of up to twenty different red chilis along with other spices and is sometimes used with coconut milk for a creamy, mildly spicy flavor. That’s what we’re going for today. We use just a tablespoon of the red curry in the meatballs, to marry the meatballs and the sauce. I also find this in the International aisle.
In the Red Curry Peanut Sauce:
- Red curry paste I mean, it’s a red curry sauce. I buy this in small 4 ounce jars, put a tablespoon in the meatballs and add the rest to my sauce.
- Coconut milk I use a 13.5 ounce can of full fat, unsweetened coconut milk in the sauce. Some cans will say unsweetened and some won’t. What you need to avoid, and what The Boy once bought on accident, is Cream of Coconut, which is what is used to make a Piña Colada. Delicious, but not here, not now.
- Peanut butter There is no peanut butter in authentic Thai cooking. They use a combination of red curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind, sugar and ground peanuts, but I’m using a common shortcut.
- Brown sugar Thai recipes usually call for palm sugar, but that was another difficult to find ingredient, so we’re using the more common brown sugar to bring just a touch of sweetness.
How to make this recipe
- Mixing the meatballs Almost every recipe writer/food photographer will take a pretty picture of the ingredients, all laid out for you, but it isn’t always the way we want you to do it. When it comes to meatballs, or meatloaf, the goal is to not overmix the meat, to avoid making it too dense and tough when it’s cooked. I recommend that you place the meat in a medium bowl, mix the rest of the meatball ingredients together in a smaller bowl and add those ingredients to the meat after mixing. Then you can gently combine the meat and the flavorings together. Let the finished meatball mixture chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, to allow the breadcrumbs to absorb the moisture and start to bind everything together.
- Forming the meatballs I like to use a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop to make meatballs of a consistent size, so they all bake evenly. After scooping, I like to barely dampen my hands and gently round out each ball, so they aren’t flat on one side, making it easier to flip them later.
- Bake The meatballs bake at 400° F for 20-25 minutes, flipping them over halfway through. The internal temperature of a meatball should read at least 160° F with an instant read thermometer. They will come up to 165° F (food safe temp for chicken) when they are added to the sauce.
- Making the sauce So easy, but fast. While your meatballs are chilling, cut your red bell peppers, grate your garlic and ginger, and measure out all your other ingredients. You will sauté your red bell peppers for a few minutes, toss in your ginger and garlic and give them a quick stir, and then add in all your other ingredients, in the order listed, and simmer until you have a rich, creamy, flavorful sauce. Let the meatballs join in the party and swim around a few minutes and you are ready to eat! Just top off with some garnishes and serve.
How to serve Thai Chicken Meatballs
These meatballs make an amazing appetizer, brunch, or potluck dish. They can be served on small plates or with toothpicks for a quick easy bite. I also love them over rice, with a sprinkling of chives, cilantro, and crushed peanuts, for an amazing dinner.
How to store leftovers
If you have leftover meatballs and sauce, store them together in an airtight container for up to 4 days. I would not recommend freezing this dish as the coconut milk might separate during the thawing process.
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Making this recipe?
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Thai Chicken Meatballs with Red Curry Peanut Sauce
- 1 lb ground chicken
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 3 tbs cream
- 2 cloves garlic grated
- 1 tbs ginger grated
- 2 tbs chives finely chopped
- 1 Thai chili seeded and finely chopped (can substitute Serrano chili)
- Zest of lime
- 2 tbs cilantro chopped
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- 1 tbs Thai red curry paste
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
Red Curry Peanut Sauce
- 2 red bell peppers sliced thin
- 4 cloves garlic grated
- 1 tsp ginger grated
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 3 tbs red curry paste
- ½ tsp coriander
- 13.5 ounce can coconut milk full fat
- Juice and zest of lime
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- 2 tbs peanut butter
- 2 tbs brown sugar
- 2 tbs cilantro chopped
- Chopped chives
- Cilantro leaves
- Crushed peanuts
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
- Place chicken in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine the panko, egg, cream, garlic, ginger, chives, chili pepper, lime zest, cilantro, fish sauce, coriander and curry paste, salt, and pepper and mix well. Add the mixzture to the chicken. Use your hands or a rubber spatula to gently mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Allow to chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes while you prep all your sauce ingredients.
- Scoop meatballs into 2 tbs balls and transfer to parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted into a meatball reads 160° F. Flip meatballs once, halfway through the baking time.
- Whisk 2 tsp cornstarch into 1 cup of chicken broth. Set aside. Sauté peppers for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger to pan and sauté for one more minute. Deglaze pan with chicken broth slurry. Stir in curry paste, coriander, coconut milk, fish sauce, lime zest and lime juice. Mix in the peanut butter and brown sugar until completely incorporated. Allow to simmer and reduce for five minutes. When meatballs are done cooking, transfer them to the skillet and gently toss to coat. Allow to simmer for a few minutes until desired consistency is reached. Stir in chopped cilantro.
- Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro, chopped chives, and crushed peanuts.